Clara Gonzales has spent the past 13 years known by hundreds of thousands of people as “Aunt Clara”, the face, camera and voice behind Aunt Clara’s Kitchen (DominicanCooking.com), the award-nominated, and award-winning food blog. Her photos, articles and recipes have appeared in magazines, books, newspapers and TV from Moscow to Denver. Read more >>
To learn more about Clara, join us for the upcoming ELLA Institute #LatinaInnovation Twitter Party on Thursday, June 26, 2014 at 6pm PST/9pn EST. Visit http://www.twtvite.com/latinainnovation.
What made you choose Industrial Designer as a career field? What does an Industrial Designer do?
Initially I wanted to be an architect, but my preferred university did not offer it, so I enrolled in my second choice: Computer Engineering. Halfway through it my university became the first and only in the country to offer Industrial Design, it seemed more fitting to my interests, so I switched.
The shortest definition of an Industrial Designer I’ve come across is “somebody that solves problems”, which really doesn’t clarify much. An Industrial designer creates products that will be produced in an industrial setting (from cars to orange juicers). It’s a highly technical career that includes knowledge of industrial processes, materials, etc, all tied up by an aesthetic sensibility, knowledge of ergonomics, marketing and design trends.
What inspired you to create DominicanCooking.com? How has your experience as an Industrial Designer prepared your for your role at DominicanCooking.com?
I love cooking (if that isn’t clear already), and my friends all knew it. Because I later worked in International Commerce I ended up working for companies which I compare to the Babel Tower. Friends, coworkers and friends online (before social media!) would ask me for traditional Dominican recipes, so I decided to put them online where they could access it. I also wrote weekly about Dominican culture, life in the DR and my experiences cooking these recipes. Basically a food blog before the platforms for them even existed.
My training as an Industrial Designer, I would like to believe, refined my knowledge of aesthetics. It also introduced me to photography. My first camera came from a pawn shop, bought to keep track of my university projects. These were the days of film, so it was a much more involved and expensive hobby for a simple student. But it was the advent of digital, and my first digital camera in 2002, that really awoke my love for food photography.
How has your work at DominicanCooking.com impacted your life or career?
It allowed me to quit a highly stressful career where I was already burned out, and gave me the freedom to do what I love. I carved out a new career for myself, in which I am able to put my child and family first. The experience has also introduced me to hundreds of people (including Ilana, my friend and blogging partner!) that I would otherwise have not met, and my life would be much poorer for it.
In what ways have you created innovative solutions to common challenges within your industry?
Frankly I am not sure everything hadn’t been invented when I came around. What I did first, and I hope well, was create a food blog with a persona at the center: Aunt Clara. I was much younger (and somehow still am!) than people thought I was, but by giving them a sense of familiarity, presenting myself as an unassuming, humorous, somewhat-loopy older relative I was able to create a sense of community and pride around our vernacular cuisine that has served us well. At the time it was common to go for “professional-looking”, believing that it would add credibility to a website.
My success — such as it is — can be credited to applying the maxim taught to me by one of my marketing professors: “Sell what you are (or wish to be), not what you do”.
What is one piece of advice that you would share with Latinas who are pursuing a similar venture?
Sell what you are. Make it personal. People like people, they want to relate to you.
Be professional. Do the absolute best you can. Right now your blog might have 5 readers, including your mom, but if you don’t take yourself seriously, nobody will.
Networking is key. Helping others pays off, in the short, or in the long run.
How have you gained support and media attention for DominicanCooking.com?
I’ve gained more than I could have ever expected!
We’re amazed daily at the attention we have gotten and continue to get. We — and by “we” I probably just mean “I” — are really very private people. Sometimes the attention is a bit overwhelming, and so far we’ve rejected TV and Radio invitations because of this. We are also a bit isolated where we live, so that makes it a great excuse. What we never reject is an invitation to wax poetic about the greatness of Dominican food! We can’t shut up about it.
How has your culture or unique life experience impacted how you innovate in your career or business?
Dominicans are all about family. Even if your family sucks — and I hasten to say that mine definitely does not! — you are still loyal to them and they’ll be loyal to you. In a country where the social safety net has so many holes, it is family that protects you, supports you, and are your biggest cheerleaders. While my family is very disconnected from this whole project (they are even more private than I am), our noms de plume hint at the connection that we wish to create with our readers. We can’t compete with Mom, or Grandma when it comes to food, but we can be the auntie that teaches you how to cook those dishes you love.
Another thing that has influenced our work, and the tone of our blog, is that Dominicans are generally courteous to a fault. While Ilana and I have a wicked sense of humor, and greatly enjoy some acerbic writers, we try to keep a friendly tone, and try to be courteous even when our patience is tried. That’s what an “auntie” would do.
To learn more about Aunt Clara’s Kitchen, visit http://www.dominicancooking.com/