With blunt, expletive-drenched writing, the voice of Thug Kitchen stands out in the world of healthy living and cooking websites. The duo behind the site, as well as the forthcoming Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook from Rodale, spoke to PW by phone on the condition of anonymity, but they won’t be anonymous much longer. Their identities will be revealed in an online food-focused outlet (which also is being kept secret for now) around the cookbook’s October 7 release date.
In August 2012, the two decided they wanted a creative outlet from their mundane desk jobs and a chance to work on their photography and cooking skills. Thus began the Thug Kitchen site on Tumblr, which encouraged visitors to grill romaine hearts (“Yeah, I grill the shit out of lettuce,” shouts a close-up image of charred and wilted romaine leaves) or give “motherfucking lavender lemonade” a try. “We curse a lot in our real lives,” explained one of the authors. “So if people are put off by it, then those aren’t the people we’re looking to attract. And honestly, we think the word ‘fuck’ is funny.”
The Thug Kitchen name and concept came about when the two were looking for something "more approachable" than many other food and lifestyle blogs. "We were honestly just talking about what the blog would be like and were like, ‘Fuck you, eat a salad,’ one of the authors recalled. "So many cooking and healthy living blogs are aspirational, and we just wanted to show that we don’t take ourselves too seriously and we want to have a good time.”
The authors maintain that the site is “about the food,” and not about them, though their online anonymity was more accidental than by design. “We didn’t even realize we were anonymous until people started asking about it," said one. "Other cooking blogs have so many pictures of people on their site, and you have to go through so much about them before you even get to an effing recipe. That’s not what we’re about.”
Casual browsers of Thug Kitchen may not immediately recognize that the recipes on the site focus exclusively on a plant-based diet. “We get a lot of emails from readers, and they say things like, ‘I read through so many pages before I realized your recipes were vegan,’ ” said one of the authors. “We want readers to have good, well-rounded dishes. We want them to eat the dishes not because it’s healthy but because it’s delicious.” Alex Postman, executive editor at Rodale and the book’s editor added, “The authors made a conscious decision not to declare a certain way of eating because they don’t want to identify with a certain tribe or food affiliation. Also, labeling a recipe or cookbook as vegan can be intimidating to some. Instead, they say their recipes are made of real food for real people. They use whole, fresh ingredients, and write simple recipes.”
While healthy, tasty food is important to the authors, accessibility is, too: their goal is to use foods that are affordable and can be found in any ordinary, non-specialty grocery store. “We feature what’s in season,” one of the contributors noted. “But also what’s on sale at the grocery store.”
Word Gets Out
Even the cleverest marketing and publicity campaigns can’t plan for serendipity and sheer luck. Thug Kitchen got lucky just eight months after the site first went up. When the April 4, 2013, issue of Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s weekly e-newsletter, went out to more than half a million subscribers, it contained a link to Thug Kitchen, along with a note reading, “This might be my favorite thing ever.” Then on April 15, Paltrow appeared on Rachael Ray and gave another shout-out to Thug Kitchen, calling it “brilliant.”
The Thug Kitchen team didn’t know any of these plugs were coming and said they couldn’t have been taken more off-guard. “We were in our day jobs and people who knew we did the blog were telling us, ‘Gwyneth Paltrow is talking about you,’ " one of the authors told PW. The website now averages around 300,000 views per month, but the duo has seen numbers as high as 800,000. They interact with their readers a great deal on Facebook, averaging about 850,000 page views, likes, comments, and shares each month.
Postman first saw Thug Kitchen in a post on her Facebook feed in early 2013 and immediately knew she wanted to create a cookbook with the authors. “Thug Kitchen sends up the sanctimony of healthy eating. They make fun of the quinoa trend, but they follow up their jokes with great plant-based recipes,” she said. “The tone of voice was so different from everything else that I had read, and it was such a refreshing change, so I emailed them and pledged my love and hoped for a response.” Just a few weeks later, the team at Thug Kitchen contacted Postman to say that they were working on a book proposal, which arrived on Postman's desk six months later.
When Thug Kitchen’s popularity began to skyrocket, the authors said that several publishers reached out to them. “Once we got our heads above water, we sent out a proposal to everyone who contacted us," said one. "We actually didn’t know how that worked until we were in it.” They loved Postman’s enthusiasm and her vision for the book, so signing with her and Rodale was an easy decision. Once the contract was finalized, the two quit their jobs to focus on the book. “We took the idea of creating a book very seriously, and the turnaround time for the book was really tight so we knew we couldn’t do it with full-time jobs.”
The authors didn’t want to change the voice and feel of the website for the book, and they don’t mince words while promoting the benefits of a vegan lifestyle. In the book’s introduction, under the heading ‘Hold the Fuck Up, Where’s the Meat?,’ they dispense the following advice: “We know you have been making the same five things for dinner for years. Time to drop some of that meat, cheese, and eggs and mix shit up. Eat like you give a fuck and your whole body will thank you.”
They also made sure to include a range of recipes for all levels of cooks: “We also wanted recipes that grow with our readers. We don’t want accomplished home cooks to say there’s nothing in the book for them.”
Recipes run the gamut from breakfast (“Carpe Fucking Diem”) to dessert (“Sweet Talk”) and everything between. “We also have a few cocktails in there, because everyone deserves to let their hair down once in a while,” said one author. One favorite recipe from the book is the chickpeas and dumplings stew. “It’s phenomenal, especially in the wintertime. It’s a great comfort food that you wouldn’t expect from a plant-based recipe.”
The Future of Thug
The authors will head out on a promotional tour for the release of the book, with stops that include Los Angeles; New York City; San Francisco; Portland, Ore.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; Austin; and Vancouver. On October 6, the authors will attend a bookstore event at powerHouse Books in Brooklyn, N.Y., and later stops will include working with local restaurants to create Thug Kitchen–inspired menu items.
Rodale has already been promoting the book and Thug Kitchen brand for a while, with a food truck takeover of a vegan food truck in Brooklyn during the Food Book Fair this past spring, as well as ads in PW’s Show Daily during BookExpo America. Additional advertising will appear in Rodale magazines and other regional and national outlets this fall, and a book trailer will be released later this month.
As the authors prepare to promote the release, they’re also thinking about the future of the site. “First, the brand needs to evolve out of a free Tumblr account,” one admitted. “But we want to take the best steps to do that, evolving as it should.” Posting on the site has been sparse as the duo worked on the book, but they claim that new recipes and information about the book will appear as the book's release date approaches. Whatever the future holds for Thug Kitchen, for its creators, it all comes down to one thing: “The end goal is people eating more vegetables.”
Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook: Eat Like You Give a F*ck. Rodale, Oct. ISBN 978-1-62336-358-1