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East County Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009 11 years ago

Chef signs deal with Paula Deen's literary agent

by: Michael Eng Executive Editor

LAKEWOOD RANCH — How do you get a sit-down appointment with literary agent Janis Donnaud?

If you ask Lakewood Ranch chef Jaden Hair, the recipe begins with taking your mom’s best dishes and uploading them — with your own flair — onto a food blog. Then, you teach yourself food styling and photography.

While that’s simmering, you promote relentlessly. You network on Twitter and garner more than 16,000 followers. You promote some more and top it all off with more than 500,000 monthly visitors to your blog. For garnish, you pen a cookbook, negotiate your own deal with Tuttle Publishing and snag a feature in Publishers Weekly.

Then, Donnaud calls you.

“When I walked into her office, she had these massive bookshelves with Paula Deen, the Deen boys, the Neelys — all of my favorite cookbooks were on that wall,” Hair said. “She’s one of the most sought-after agents out there.”

After about an hour, Hair walked out with a deal to promote her upcoming cookbook, “The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.”

“It went very well,” she said of the meeting. “She’s very wise and strategic. I’m more emotional and spontaneous.”

Spontaneous, perhaps. But make no mistake: This contract is just the latest step in a methodical career that started just two-and-one-half years ago.

Hair, a Greenbrook resident, began her food blog,, as a way to record her mom’s Asian recipes. But just after a few entries, she was bitten by the blog bug.

“I thought, ‘This is really cool. I want to write about food for a living,’” she said.

Hair taught herself HTML, CSS and how to manage the back end of her blog. She then bought a digital camera learned how to shoot food photography. The photos, combined with her culinary expertise and unique voice, earned her a fast following and a column in The East County Observer. Hair later expanded into the world of TV and has appeared on several networks in Tampa Bay.

Hair attributes her success to her and her husband’s work ethic and attitude.

“The way we view life — anything is possible,” she said. “We’re very good at learning.”

About a year ago, Hair began work on her first cookbook. She spent virtually every day in her kitchen — preparing, tweaking and photographing hundreds of dishes. Unlike most cookbook writers, who work in conjunction with food stylists and photographers, Hair did all the work by herself.

Hair also enlisted the help of more than 200 testers all over the world to try her recipes and offer critiques. In the end, 120 Asian-inspired recipes made the cut. Hair’s deal with Tuttle includes distribution not only in the United States but also in Japan and other Asian countries. It will be available in all major booksellers, including Barnes and Noble, Borders and Amazon.

Following the book’s release, Hair will begin a tour starting with New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. She also is in negotiations with the Food Network, but no agreement has been made.

“I’m very happy I did it (the book) completely by myself,” Hair said. “It’s truly an authentic, organic, real book.”

Contact Michael Eng at [email protected].

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