Meet Sandra Gutierrez, the author of four cookbooks, including Empanadas: The Hand-Held Pies of Latin America, Latin American Street FoodThe New Southern-Latino Table, and Beans & Field Peas: A Savor the South Cookbook. Sandra is not only a member of our Advisory Board but she was a two time attendee before that. She came to the Symposium focused and ready to make big moves for her career as a food writer and cookbook author.

Interview conducted by Andrea King Collier

You attended the Symposium in the past. In what capacity
I attended in 2007 and in 2011 as a participant.

What drew you to the Symposium? 
I had heard of the Symposium years before I decided to go. Its reputation for honing writers' skills and for creating conviviality among the writing community were very inviting for me.

Before attending, it was a pretty lonely career for me. Fear of not being good enough held me back for years.  One day, shortly after I had just resigned my position as food editor for a newspaper and was starting a freelance career, my friend Nancie McDermott recommended that I go to the Symposium with her. She thought I was ready to start writing books and she was kind to e-introduce me to agent extraordinaire, Lisa Ekus. Lisa was going to be a speaker and agreed to meet me there. I have to thank Nancie for being my cheerleader and for guiding me towards the Symposium and a cookbook writing career. Lisa Ekus signed me as her client after we met there. 

How did SPFW live up to your expectations?
The Symposium met my expectations and then some. I've never felt so nurtured, challenged, inspired, and empowered to make my writing dreams come true. To say that it changed my life, is to put it mildly. 

The courses are truly valuable: the writing exercises, panels with experts, discussions of business strategy, break-out sessions, etc. However, that is only part of what happens at the Symposium, for in the evenings, starting at dinner when we all partake together (both participants and presenters), deep conversations, true mentorships, and strong friendships are formed. 

Toni Allegra creates a very democratic conference, where everyone is on a first name basis, and titles are left at the front door. She has the most amazing way of creating an environment in which we all want to share with each other, support and cheer-lead one another, and ask advice/questions without fear of ridicule or retribution. We are invited to share our opinions, hone our voices (both literally and figuratively), and to take risks in a safe environment. I am always humbled by my peers and in awe of who they all are. Everyone searches to belong somewhere, and at the Symposium everyone achieves that sense of belonging.

As if this wasn't enough--the magic continues, as groups break into impromptu conversations about anything and everything related to our profession. These last through the late hours of the night and sometimes into dawn. This is what I call the "magical hours" of this Symposium, when deep bonding occurs between participants. No other conference I've attended can offer this. Toni's magic touch makes it happen: her true belief in us, even before some of us believe in ourselves. It is her inspiration that makes us want to help each other long after the Symposium is over. 

Friendships made at the Symposium are life-long. Mentors really mentor. That's why I can't wait to attend this year! Anyone who is looking for a real food writers' community, needs to look no further. I hope to see you at the Symposium in September!

In this changing food writing environment, what do you think people need to learn to stay ahead of the game?
Our food writing environment is in dire need of rescuing if we want to make a living out of it. As long as content continues to devalue monetarily, food writers will struggle.

 We now must stay ahead of the curve when it comes to social media, ability to teach (through words, through images, and in person), and fearless in our marketing and promotional efforts.

We must wear more hats than ever before to maintain and grow our value. Video, photography, and didactic opportunities must be seized, in order for us to be able to differentiate ourselves from the writers who are giving away their content for free.

More than ever, we must become experts in what we write about and then we must become the best salespeople possible. I remain optimistic that after this whirlwind of content-givers dies off, we will still be in demand. We must not give up, so if we want to stay ahead of the game, we'll need plenty of inspiration and even more perspiration. 

What are your biggest challenges as an accomplished cookbook author and writer in this current climate?
My challenges are the same as anyone else's. I'm only as good as my last book (last class, last meal, etc.), so staying current and visible is key for me. I've had to learn to say "no" to unpaid work. I haven't found a way for "exposure" to pay my bills.

I guess my biggest challenge is to convince editors, publishers, and companies that I'm worth investing in, while living in a world were so many are willing to give it away for free. 

You are very prolific. What's next for you?
I am super busy promoting my four cookbooks. They were so close in proximity that I am still involved with projects around all of them--which is good. My first book, The New Southern-Latino Table, is getting much attention from museums and educational institutions, so believe it or not, this next half of the year will be dedicated heavily to promoting it again.

I'll have exciting news about this soon that I can't openly disclose right now but let's just say that even those dreams that I haven't dared to dream are coming true. I plan to do more lectures, freelance writing, online classes, and culinary instruction. I also have ideas for more cookbook proposals. Who knows what awaits me, but let me tell you that I'm walking towards my future with enthusiasm and joy. I am sure that after attending this year's Symposium in Ohio, I will gain even more perspective as to what I should do next.

To learn more about Sandra, and her work, click