Interview: Hillary Rankin of 918 Plate
I first met Hillary Rankin of 918 Plate (virtually, we’ve yet to meet in person!) through my job at Hal Smith Restaurants. In the months since, I’ve come to be a legitimate fan of hers. Her Instagram feed is airy and fabulous, and her website provides a serious treasure trove of information. She’s not a vegetarian, but she does feature a ton of vegetarian recipes (and she clearly labels recipes that can be modified into vegetarian versions, which is helpful). I was also in Tulsa for a wedding recently, and she was kind enough to offer a brunch suggestion (read more about Oren, her brunch pick, here).
I recently spoke with Hillary via email about her love of cheese and pasta, a disastrous recipe feat. Meghan Markle (for real) and why OKCers should take a trip up the turnpike for a slice of pizza.
Tell me about how 918 Plate came into being.
Hillary Rankin: When I was in college, it seemed to be the “Golden Age” of food blogging. I spent a lot of time devouring food blogs and photos from people like Smitten Kitchen and The Pioneer Woman. I thought, “I can do this...” and started my first food blog. I used it throughout the next couple of years, and it started taking up a significant chunk of time. I decided it was time to “go big or go home” and started up 918 Plate in May of 2015!
What are the five ingredients you cook with most often?
HR: Probably garlic, eggs, pasta, cheese and bacon. Actually, that all sounds like my recipe for carbonara. Hahaha! But in the summer, tomatoes should definitely be added in there also. I grow them in my garden.
What's one of the recipes on your blog that you're most proud of?
HR: I love recreating recipes that have a memory. I recreate and improve lots of family recipes or things I’ve tried in restaurants. But I think my favorite recreation was the Oatmeal Creme Pies, because my husband loved them, and I practiced them loads before uploading them. And I’m not really a baker, so I was pretty proud of that process.
Tell me about your recipe development process.
HR: As I mentioned, I don’t do a lot of baking. And I think baking requires way more recipe development than dinner-type cooking. I sometimes make things two times, if I forget to write something down, but generally I write as I go, and then tweak at the end. I don’t know if that is a generally accepted food blogging principle, but nobody has told me anything is gross yet, so that’s promising! Something I do take the time to work on is ratios for cocktails. There was a lot of development in the Cry Baby Punch Grapefruit Cocktail. I tried two different alcohols and different ratios of juices to see what yielded the best taste. Although my taste testers weren’t that picky after too long...
Where do you do your grocery shopping?
HR: I primarily shop at local Tulsa chain Reasor’s and the Tulsa Farmers Market. I used to do a lot of shopping at Sprouts, also, especially back when we were making lots of our own peanut butter. But then construction around there deterred me for awhile. It’s probably safe to try again. Ha!
What's your favorite part about being a food blogger?
HR: The best part about blogging is receiving tags and photos from people who make my food. It shows me that I’m not just writing to a void. People I don’t expect snap pics to me and it makes my heart sing. But also I’ve made a great community of influencers and bloggers online and not only have the resources enriched my blogging skills, but I have made some great friendships as well.
You meet someone who has never been to Tulsa. Go! Where should they eat breakfast, lunch and dinner?
HR: Here’s just a snapshot of what we eat a lot of....
Breakfast: Bramble. They have really good quiche.
Lunch: Lone Wolf Banh Mi. Get the Jam fried rice bowl. It’s fried rice with candied bacon and a fried egg (Ugh I know this is a veggie blog...everything else is good too. The mushroom one is really yum!) and get their soft serve ice cream.
Dinner: Andolini’s Sliced. They serve pizza by the slice in many varieties. My favorite is the NYC Street Slice or Demarco of Brooklyn. They also have authentic woodfFired individual pizzas that are amazing. I just even love the plain Marinara pizza or Margherita! (Although the mushroom one is also stellar.) Then defo get gelato. The dark chocolate, pistachio, or hazelnut are my top 3 faves. I hope OKCers will hop down the turnpike and come eat pizza with me!
Have you ever created a recipe that you thought sounded amazing but just ended up totally failing?
HR: TOTALLY. But I actually still put it on the blog! I made the zucchini sauce that everyone was raving about that Meghan Markle invented. But it was terrible. It took 4 hours and wasn’t what I expected at all. I decided to still put it on the blog because (1) I didn’t have anything else planned and (2) I didn’t see many people trying it out yet so I wanted to be a good go-to source to let people know if they should give it a whirl or not.
What are your favorite restaurants in OKC?
I really loved Chae. I’m so sad it’s gone, but am excited to try out their new cafe! I ate recently with Greg of I Ate Oklahoma at the new Ned’s Starlite Lounge and it was incredible food! Other than that, I mostly come to Oklahoma City to visit my grandma and she loves Charleston’s and Johnnie’s hamburgers.
You have some great vegetarian recipes on your website. Why did you decide to highlight these recipes?
HR: I eat veggie a lot at home! Mostly because it saves money, and also because my favorite foods are like...pasta and cheese. So, that takes care of a lot of dinners around here! I try to have something for everyone and have started to code the titles so that people can know what recipes fit in their lifestyle (I do V for Veggie & Vegan, DF for dairy free, GF for gluten free, and then I throw in a little m for modify if you can modify the recipe to fit the category.). But I do eat a lot of bacon, so sorry!! Haha. ALSO I eat a lot of veggie because I’m super bad at eating meat leftovers. They gross me out. Now you know all my secrets.
What are some pieces of advice for people who are trying to build their Instagram following?
HR: I think posting consistently, and being involved in your community (commenting and engaging) will grow it, slowly but surely. I just hit 2,100 last month. Don’t buy any followers, be genuine, and use it socially, and not just for self promotion. People want to see the real you. There are lots of strategies for people surrounding hash tagging and all that, but I just try to make sure I’m putting out good content for my people. More will eventually come! I’ve also started putting locations instead of just tagging a place’s IG when I go somewhere on Stories. That way, it will be in the feed for other people to go to the places you go to! For example, I was in New Orleans this weekend and got a few likes and follows from NOLA people after tagging a popular foodie tourist stop!
Any food photography tips?
Practice, man. Learn lighting. I’m still learning, I just started using artificial light and it’s a learning curve for sure. Make sure you’re digesting a lot of food styling in the form of people you like to follow already and admire to help find qualities you can emulate. But at the end of the day, it’s important to have your own style. You don’t want to be a copy of Minimalist Baker. But you can take pointers from them. Does that make sense? I tend to be on the low end of styling/prop usage (partly because #budget), but I’ve come to realize that’s kind of my gig and I kind of like it that way! I’m letting the food speak for itself, in a way.
For more information, visit 918plate.com.