Blogger Kathy Strahs: Panini Happy

Leaving her career in marketing and advertising, this Stanford alum entered the culinary world because of a passion and love for food.

The Happy Panini Maker!Kathy Strahs channels her passion for cooking and online media into two food blogs: Panini Happy, with hundreds of creative grilled sandwich recipes and other innovative uses for the panini maker, and Cooking On the Side, featuring the recipes she finds printed on food packaging. Kathy’s work has been featured in Pillsbury Magazine, the New York Times, and Saveur, just to name a few. She has been listed among the Top 100 Mom Food Bloggers by Babble for several years. She has also served as an Executive Judge for the Grilled Cheese Invitational in Los Angeles, World Food Championships in Las Vegas and a number of San Diego County Fair cooking competitions. Her first cookbook will be published in 2013.

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Who inspired your generation of chefs, and what effect did they have on you personally?

I’m not a chef, but cooking is an important part of my livelihood, both personally and professionally. My first culinary inspirations came from the two women who cooked most often for me when I was growing up – my mom and Mrs. Davis, whose home my family would often visit after church on Sundays. They taught me that you can express love through food, and that preparing a meal is one of the kindest and most nurturing things you can do for someone.

Every day I’m inspired by my fellow bloggers who are creating and sharing from their own kitchens. I feel lucky to be part of a “social media” generation that, more than ever before, can connect and share across distances. I can observe real-time what friends are cooking on Instagram and Facebook, and vice versa. We can consult each other for cooking tips and advice. It’s a highly supportive community.

I’m also very inspired by chefs like Grant Achatz and Christina Tosi, who continually push the limits and show us something entirely new. I may not cook too often with aroma pillows or cereal milk, but their innovation and passion for the art and science of cooking still greatly inspires me to keep creating and keep pushing.

Based on your experiences, why do you feel there is an underrepresentation of African Americans in the food industry?

I don’t know what percentage of food bloggers are African American, but, anecdotally, it seems relatively small. I can’t say for sure why that is, but I think there’s an ever-increasing diversification of voices entering the scene.

What do you think it will take to both raise the profile and increase African Americans’ representation in the field?

Food blogging and social media as a whole has exploded in popularity in just the past few years. I read there were more than 10 million Thanksgiving-related photos shared on Instagram this past year. That’s a lot of people talking about food and togetherness! In the same way that MySpace raised the profile of aspiring musicians, food blogs and other visually-oriented social media are making it possible for those with culinary talent to be noticed. Someone working out of a tiny, rural kitchen can post a photo of their amazing cake on Pinterest and it has the potential to be viewed by thousands of people. I think it’s never been a better time for African Americans – or anyone, really – to make a name for themselves.

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 Did you notice any of these themes?

Blogger Kathy Strahs is one of 15 culinary insiders that we interviewed as part of a special feature on Black chefs. We identified four themes that surfaced across many of their responses and in our research. Did you notice any? Select a theme to learn more.

The Facts vs. The Facts
* Perceptions of the Industry
* The Relevance of Color
* Exposure
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