Podcast Episode 97

The ‘Skinnytaste’ Formula: How Gina Homolka Built a Food Blog That Reaches Millions

Gina Homolka | 44 Minutes | December 5, 2023

In today’s episode, we speak with our guest Gina Homolka, founder of the award-winning food blog, “Skinnytaste,” and best-selling cookbook author.

In this episode, Gina offers an intimate insight into the genesis of Skinnytaste in 2008, a venture ignited by her desire to “slim down some of her favorite recipes.” Through the ingenious combination of seasonal produce and a mindful approach to portion control, Gina not only discovered her niche but also attracted an enormous online following. Her digital footprint boasts 2 million Instagram followers, as well as over 6 million fans on Facebook. Gina’s culinary prowess and cookbook achievements have been prominently featured in publications such as Fitness Magazine, Better Homes & Gardens, Oprah.com, and even on Good Morning America.

Listen as Gina chats about her latest book launch, how to maximize flavor with limited ingredients, and the secret behind how she scaled her successful brand.

Watch the podcast episode:

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Notes & Transcript


Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone, my name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. Today, I’m speaking with Gina Homolka, a great mind behind the award-winning blog, Skinnytaste. Since her start in 2008, she’s truly revolutionized how we think about cooking healthy and family-friendly meals that never sacrifice taste.

Gina’s food mantra really revolves around one simple idea: using seasonal, clean ingredients married with mindful portion control. You’ll find this philosophy beautifully woven into the pages of best-selling cookbooks, including her latest masterpiece, “Skinnytaste Simple: Easy, Healthy Recipes with 7 Ingredients or Fewer: A Cookbook.”

But that’s not all. Gina is a number one New York Times Best Seller, an IACP Award Finalist, and a James Beard Finalist. Her work has been featured in “Fitness Magazine,” “Better Homes & Gardens,” Oprah.com, and “Good Morning America,” just to name a few.

Over the past several years, Gina has fostered a massive online community with a staggering two million followers on Instagram and over six million devoted fans on Facebook.

So with all that said, be prepared to feel inspired, entertained, and hungry as we dive into the colorful world of Skinnytaste.

And there she is! I almost got carried away with myself there for a minute. Good morning! How are you?

Gina Homolka: Thank you. Thanks for having me, Kirk.

Kirk Bachmann: Oh gosh. Super excited. Thanks for taking time out of the day. We’ve been chatting a little bit before the show, so we know there’s little puppies rolling around. Number one, always a big thank you. [We’re] so appreciative because we know how busy you are. I can’t even fathom six million fans on Facebook. We’ll talk about that in a second.

A big shout out to Erica who now has connected us with you and our friend, Dan Pelosi, who was on the show recently.

To kick off: I’ve got this down. You live ON Long Island, not IN Long Island. I met my wife when she lived on Long Island. She was from Ohio originally, but she got it down. Boy, if I did not get that right. You’re there with your family. I always like to check in on the personal stuff. I’ve got a million questions for you, but I like to check in on the seasons and the weather. I’m here in Boulder, Colorado, and could not have been – I don’t want to jinx it – it’s been the best fall season ever. It’s chilly in the morning. The sun is bright and hot in the afternoon, and the evenings are lovely. What’s going on the East Coast?

Gina Homolka: Today we’re having a beautiful sunny day. It’s been raining every weekend this whole fall so far. Hopefully, that’s going to change because today is actually beautiful. It’s 70s. It’s warmer than normal. It’s gorgeous out.

Kirk Bachmann: Wow! 70 degrees already.

Gina Homolka: Yeah it’s a beautiful day. It’s definitely a little warmer than normal for this time of year.

A Multicultural Kitchen

Kirk Bachmann: Yeah. I love it. I love it. I was with the family. We were in Boston, Maine, playing around, in July. Other than the mosquitoes that are the size of small birds, I could not believe how beautiful the East Coast was this summer. Just really, really, really pretty.

Our podcast listeners are well aware. It’s always really important that we start our conversations about you. If you will indulge your inspiring story, your background. It sounds like you come from a multicultural background. Your father is Czech and your mother is from Colombia. Tell us what the kitchens were like growing up? Was there always a beautiful aroma coming from the stoves?

Gina Homolka: Yeah. My parents both came from different countries. They were immigrants here when they met. My father [is] a European. He also lived in Brazil for many years. My mom [is] Colombian. I definitely grew up with a lot of multicultural cuisines in my house. They both loved cooking. Everything was always made from scratch. There was nothing wasted.

We ate very unusual things compared to most Americans. I grew up eating tripe and tongue and all these things. It wasn’t negotiable; we had to eat whatever was on the plate. I actually love those things now, so it’s funny how we grew up eating. I don’t cook [it] personally, but I do enjoy it.

My father loved cooking. He would cook on the weekends, his Czech dishes. My mom always made her Latin dishes. But she took cooking classes. She loves cooking. She took cooking classes, and would make lasagna, and would bake. She was always in the kitchen cooking.

We were always a part of it, my brother and I, helping on the weekends, helping my dad make schnitzel, and my mom make lasagna. We were definitely a part of that. It was really very few nights we had takeout or went out to dinner. Everything was always home-cooked.

Kirk Bachmann: I love that. Isn’t it interesting? A similar story. My folks came over from Germany in the 60s. A lot of schnitzel, a lot of braised items. Not a ton of color on the plate.

Gina Homolka: No, that’s true.

Kirk Bachmann: It kind of was what it was, and you’re absolutely right. I have four children. It’s interesting how you have to be, at least in our house, we’re super flexible. The kitchen becomes a cafe in the morning or in the afternoon. Even in the evening. Everybody kind of gets what they want even though there is a main course. Back in those days, it was, “That’s what’s on the table.” That was it.

You have this food from your mother that I imagine was a little bit more colorful, vibrant, maybe even spicier juxtaposed against a pretty blah, braised schnitzel.

Gina Homolka: It’s certainly very different. My father’s dishes were like dumplings and roasted duck. He did a lot of roasted vegetables, a lot of things with sauerkraut and stews, and lots of soups.

My mom also made a lot of soups, too, because that’s also very Colombian culture. We had soup almost every single night, whether it was the main dish or a starter. Soup was almost always on the table. It was really an interesting way to get more vegetables in your diet. I never really thought about that until later in life. There was always a main course.

Kirk Bachmann: Kind of a sneaky way to get vegetables into your diet.

Gina Homolka: It was. Exactly.

Colombian food is really not spicy like Mexican food, but it definitely has more flavors. Just different flavors. Lots of rice. Lots of beans. Different kind of cooking.

Kirk Bachmann: Well, you were spoiled.

Gina Homolka: I don’t think I realized how spoiled I was at the time because I wanted the fast food. I wanted to try RavioliOs like my friends had. Never got to. It was actually later that I actually tried that stuff. Then I realized, “Oh, you know, my parents’ food is so much better.”

Kirk Bachmann: You were blessed. I can remember the stories. We lived above the bakery growing up in Chicago. I would always go down to the bakery on my way to school. My mom would put like a Black Forest torte in a little shell. I would get to school, and to you point – I’m older – kids were opening Snack Packs, the Hunt’s Snack Pack, the puddings, and peanut butter and jelly, where I had liverwurst spread on rye bread and things like that. It was awkward growing up because you look different. Your food was different. Your clothing was a little different as an immigrant. But I agree with you 100 percent. I wouldn’t change it for the world. It was a blessing in disguise.

Gina Homolka: It’s true. It’s what made us who we are.

Cooking for the Love of Eating

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely.

We’ll get into so much more in a bit, but I’m just curious. Thinking back on what you didn’t know that you were going to be so grateful for, how did that experience inspire you – do you think – for this love of cooking that you have?

Gina Homolka: I really love to eat. I’ve always loved cooking. Let me put it this way; I’ve always loved food. I used to, in high school, get “Gourmet” magazine. All my friends had fashion magazines; I had “Gourmet.” I would look at them. I would look at all these restaurants that I wanted to go to one day. Of course I wasn’t going with my parents. I was in high school. But I knew that if I could at least cook the foods myself I could enjoy them.

It was really about loving food and then trying to figure out how to make what I love. That’s really how it started.

Also, my mother started going to college later on in the life while I was in high school. She would leave at night. It was night school. She would leave me with having to finish dinner. I’d be like, “What?”

Kirk Bachmann: You have to eat!

Gina Homolka: “I don’t know how to do this!” That really got me having to figure it out. She would just tell me as she was out the door how to make rice, or how to do this. It got me not afraid to be in the kitchen. Then I would find foods that I loved and try to figure out ways to make it or find a recipe to recreate an Italian dish I loved.

I think it was just having them to ask questions on how to make something, and then having the desire to want to eat certain things that really inspired me to want to cook.

The Catalyst for Creativity

Kirk Bachmann: I love the independence there that came at a young age. You mentioned in an interview that I read, and I quote, “I cooked my way through many cookbooks when I was younger and still learning. I don’t think I’ve always been creative. I think that came later.” Would you mind elaborating on that a little bit? I’d love to know what the catalyst for the creativity – when did that kick in?

Gina Homolka: I feel like I learned how to cook with my parents and with cookbooks, maybe even some television shows at the time. You really just follow the recipe, and you get the basics down.

Once you really know the basics of a recipe, then you can start playing around with it. I’ve always been one to find ways to streamline recipes because I worked. My mom’s recipes are usually a little more time consuming. They could take two days, some of her recipes. I would always try to figure out, “How can I make this quicker? How can I make this faster? How can I make this easier?”

Then when I started doing WeightWatchers before I was getting married, that’s when I started getting creative on How can I make this healthier? How can I make this lighter? That’s really where the creativity came into play, when I started actually creating recipes and writing them down. Putting them in a place where they lived so I wouldn’t forget how to make it.

Kirk Bachmann: It’s interesting that you say that. I offer this with all the love to my wife. She’s a great cook. There’s kind of an ongoing joke in the house that people come over a lot. We love to entertain. If people are enjoying – as they usually do – the meal, I always have to add, “I’m so glad that you’ve all enjoyed this because when you come over again, and Gretchen makes the exact same thing, it won’t taste the same.” She doesn’t write anything down. She forgets things. She adds things.

Gina Homolka: And that’s normal right.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s okay.

Gina Homolka: My husband used to tell me, “That was really good. Write it down.” So I had a book before I had a blog, I had a book with all my recipes. He’s like, “I want you to make it exactly the same way next time.” So I’d write down exactly what I did so I wouldn’t forget. Otherwise, you could make the same dish over and over and it will come out different if you don’t really follow your own recipe.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s the big challenge with young students that are perhaps going to go into the restaurant industry. It’s hard! Because when you go to a restaurant over and over again and you bring friends, and you have that one special dish – or many – you want it to be the same. You want it to be exactly the same. But the reality is, it’s okay if it’s a little different every single time. “Hey, I’m going to use coconut milk this time, and chicken stock this other time,” depending on who’s coming over. In my mind, it’s okay.

Gina Homolka: It’s okay.

Kirk Bachmann: Don’t be hard on yourself.

Gina Homolka: In a restaurant, it might be a challenge if you go there for that one dish and it’s different. Sometimes it’s a little disappointing, unless that’s where a special comes in, where they tweak it.

An Accidental Career

Kirk Bachmann: You have a graphic design background, which suggests to me that there’s some artistry there. There’s that creativity. I’m just curious. Did you always think that might be your end-all? That would be your career? I’m going to be an artist, a graphic designer. Or in the back of your mind, was there always a bigger plan or a different plan, or a plan that could combine the two, cooking and artistry?

Gina Homolka: No.

Kirk Bachmann: No. Okay.

Gina Homolka: I went to art school and did graphic design, and then wound up doing digital photo retouching for many years. For 20 years, I was a photo retoucher in New York City, commuted every day. I would say older folks on the train commuting. You could tell they’d been doing that commute for 30 or 40 years, and I thought that was going to be me one day. It’s the same old commute every day.

Kirk Bachmann: I’m tired hearing that.

Gina Homolka: You know what? I didn’t mind the commute. It’s actually very relaxing on the Long Island Rail Road because it’s quiet and you could read a book. I used to read a lot of books. I also really loved being able to check in and check out and go home and not really be stressed about my job. I did what I had to do while I was there, I gave it my all, and I left. Then I had my home life.

When I started doing this website, I really didn’t do it as a career change, move. I was just doing it for fun. I started a blog because I was looking for recipes. I was doing WeightWatchers, and I was looking for recipes that were healthy back in 2007, 2008. Everything I found online was really super-processed. The recipes had no photos. There just was really nothing beautiful out there. Nothing I felt like I could cook at home that I would enjoy. That’s when I was realizing, “I’m just going to take my recipes and try to figure out how to make them lighter.”

At the time, blogs were new. I remember asking my husband, “How does a person start a blog? Yeah, I think I’m just going to start a blog and put all these recipes on a blog. I’m going to try to figure out how to take pictures of my food.” It was really just a passion project that I was doing.

I remember when I got my first comment on a recipe. I was like, “Wow! People are making the recipes. They like them!” It was really something I did for fun. It was never intended to be a career. I would have never imagined that I’d be in this place right now.

Kirk Bachmann: Serendipitously, that’s probably why it worked out so magically because you were really casual, almost.

Gina Homolka: There was no pressure.

Health for Happiness: The Core of Skinnytaste

Kirk Bachmann: No pressure at all. Less than intentional.

You said 2008. So in 2008, you had this idea. “To slim down some of your favorite recipes.” I have to say, as I was looking around your website – I don’t know if this is your mission statement, but I’m turning it into your mission statement. I love this one little area where it says, “Exercise, plus a well-balanced diet, plus good sleep equals a happy life.”

Gina Homolka: Everything.

Kirk Bachmann: It’s really hard to do all three, but really, all three are simple. Just exercise a little bit. Have a balanced diet. There are so many great analogies here, even metaphors. How did this thought about slimming down some of your favorite recipes transpire? In many ways, it’s brilliant. I don’t even know if we think about that in the restaurant business.

Gina Homolka: I don’t think so. [There were] so many years when I was starting WeightWatchers that I was like, “I just wish there was a restaurant out there that I could just go and know exactly what I’m getting.”

Kirk Bachmann: And customize it if you need to.

Gina Homolka: If any of your followers are listening to this, maybe since they’re all in the restaurant industry, I think it would do so well.

You have to take it upon yourself to do it. Yes, there are a lot of places where you can buy meal prep food that’s macro-friendly, but not really so creative. It’s just grilled chicken and some sweet potatoes. Kind of boring. I like food. I like to eat. I don’t want to just eat just to consume and have the proper amount of calories. I want to enjoy my meal, because it’s so important.

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely.

Gina Homolka: I love food. I love eating. I love going out to eat.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s kind of your international background, too. That’s the way it is in Europe.

Gina Homolka: You love by giving a person a meal. You cook for them.

Kirk Bachmann: And you’re always ready to cook for them. Always ready. The worst thing in the world is you call your friends. “Hey, we’re coming over for company tonight.” And they say, “Oh, can you pick up a pizza or something.” The way we grew up, at a moment’s notice you could have a pork roast going and some apple strudel ready to be served.”

Gina Homolka: My mom has – even if you showed up right now – even though she doesn’t have her kids living with her, there is food there for anyone.

Kirk Bachmann: You would be fed. That’s important.

I will say a big kudos to the farm community that we engage with a lot at Escoffier. I think that’s a similar mentality. You walk into a farmer’s home, and guess what? There’s food, even if they have to go out to the field and pull it out of the ground.

Gina Homolka: What can be better than that?

A Hobby to 7000 Hits

Kirk Bachmann: Then you launched Skinnytaste, which is now – congratulations! – an award-winning blog. Unbelievable. Gets millions in terms of traffic every month. In the early stages – it’s a tough question. You’re super humble. Could you fathom this type of growth? Did you even think about it?

Gina Homolka: No, I could not have imagined this type of growth. I remember the first time I got Stumbled. I don’t know if you know what StumbleUpon is? I’ve been doing this so long, it was before Twitter. StumbleUpon was the biggest social media. Somebody liked your post, you got Stumbled, you got a lot of traffic. We were getting like seven thousand hits in one day. “What?! Where did all this traffic come from? What happened?” No. I could never have imagined getting the type of traffic I get now.

But I’m on the other side of the screen, so it doesn’t feel any different on my end whether I have ten followers or a million. It’s really no different. I’m still just trying to put out good content.

Kirk Bachmann: Well said. Again, the humility is so appreciated.

I do have some questions that I think are a little probing. It’s important because students raise their hands, and they see you and they see others like you, and they wonder, can that be them?

Growing. Scaling. Is there a secret to scaling? So all of a sudden the interest is pouring in. Then you’re motivated. “I’ve got to grow this thing!” Is there a secret sauce to the scaling part of it? That’s where people get hung up in business in general.

Gina Homolka: I feel like timing is right for me. I’ve filled a gap. There were no healthy websites out there. There were very few. It wasn’t a thing. I used to love going on FoodGawker and TasteSpotting. They were all these beautiful, indulgent websites with gorgeous food photography, which always was very appealing to me as a graphic designer. They were just so beautiful. But none of them were healthy. I just thought, “Maybe I could make my healthy recipes beautiful and feel like these other recipes.” So I think I filled a [gap]. There was a need for it. I didn’t realize it would grow so much.

But I’ve always been passionate about it. I was doing it. I was spending so much time on it before I was even making any income from it. I was just doing it because I loved it. I loved getting compliments on recipes. People were telling me I was helping them on their weight-loss journey. That’s really why I felt like I had to keep doing this. I was making a difference in people’s lives.

But I always embraced social media as it has everything that has popped up. Twitter. Facebook. I just jump on as everything comes out because it’s really important to just jump in when something new is out. It’s the best, easiest, fastest way to grow. To just be one of the first.

I think starting Instagram, not really paying any attention to making it perfect, just posting my life or my recipes. It just started growing. Same thing with Facebook. It just grew. I would say it was more about passion and just doing it every day.

Learning Curves and Delegating

Kirk Bachmann: That’s clearly what attracts people. The simplicity. I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about obstacles, though.

Gina Homolka: [There are] lots of obstacles on the way. I didn’t know what I was doing. I created a website, had no knowledge whatsoever. Didn’t know anything about search engine optimization. I didn’t know how to photograph food. I had to learn all that along the way. I would just go online, and I would google everything. I taught myself so much when I first started.

Also, I used to come home from work – I had a full-time job. I worked in the city, came home, cooked dinner that I was going to post on my blog. I had to beat the light, because you need to use natural light when you photograph food.

Kirk Bachmann: Sure.

Gina Homolka: So I had to photograph it before the sun went down. My family would be waiting for their food. It would be sitting there cold by the time they got it because I had to get the shot. There were definitely a lot of challenges along the way. But, you know, it’s kind of fun! It’s part of how I got where I am now.

Kirk Bachmann: How you grow. If I can ask, how has your role specifically changed in the company over time? You were the company for the longest time.

Gina Homolka: I was doing this part-time and was only working on it at night. I would go on the train and work on it on the train when I’d be commuting.

Then when I had my daughter, that was three years later – 2009. I started this in 2007. 2009, I had her. Two years later. I decided not to go back to work. That was a tough decision, but I also knew that this was doing really well, so why not take a chance. Then I was able to put all my time into it. Therefore I was able to really make this thing grow and dedicate all my time.

Now, I have help. My aunt works with me in the kitchen. I sub out the work that I’m not great at, like the photography, so that I can spend more time in the kitchen or doing the things that I love to do.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s great. Is it hard sometimes?

Gina Homolka: It’s always hard. It’s really hard when I’m working on books, because working on a book plus maintaining a website and social media is just a lot of work. But I love it. I’ve done seven books. At this point.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s the key. You love it. You love it. That’s a great message to students or anyone who just loves to cook, or whatever they’re passionate about. You’ve got to love it.

Gina Homolka: If it feels like a chore, you shouldn’t do it.

Shifting Social Media

Kirk Bachmann: A hundred percent. So I’m curious. 2007, four word loaded question. What role social media has played in this success? Obviously, a big role, but how has that role changed? Because social media today and what it was in 2007. Big difference.

Gina Homolka: It’s constantly changing. You have to not resist when they change. It’s frustrating. Sometimes all of a sudden they are favoring video instead of photos, and now you have to learn how to do videos. I’ve always just, instead of complaining about it or being frustrated, I would just learn it and figure out how to do it.

Kirk Bachmann: Embrace.

Gina Homolka: It’s great to constantly be learning and evolving. I don’t think of it as a bad thing. I just kind of find I like a challenge. I must love a challenge. I like a challenge, and it is fun to see yourself getting better at this new challenge that you have.

But it brings me so much traffic that is really so important to keep up with social media.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s great advice. As I was looking at your site, even before we planned the chat, because it is important for us to be up to speed on everything that’s going on out there. I had this sense that your true passion is the recipe development. You mentioned that earlier, too. There’s another quote I saw from an interview – can you tell that I’ve done some research? I’ve been stalking.

Gina Homolka: It’s amazing. You’re really great at finding all this information.

Recipe Development

Kirk Bachmann: Noelle helps so much with this too. We get excited. Here’s what you said. Quote: “I also love the creative process, coming up with new ideas, and getting the responses when I post something new and seeing how people react to my new recipe.” So simple, but incredibly powerful. I think what students would want to know, what listeners would want to know, is what’s the process – I’m going to say unique process – for coming up with new recipes?

You mentioned Google earlier. So many people in this world probably google whatever it is that they need. Change the oil in the car, or “what school should I send my kids to?” type of thing. Recipe development is different. It’s personal. It needs that reflection of your technique, your skills. Then it comes out. Your personality comes out. I’m curious what your process is for developing – without giving anything away.

Gina Homolka: It could be so many different things. It could be a meal out at an amazing restaurant that I want to recreate. It could be traveling to a different country and being inspired by this new culture and wanting to recreate a dish that I ate on my travels. Sometimes some of my audience asks me to make a recipe over, or make a recipe lighter. I love those challenges. They are always really well received.

My husband sometimes craves things that are really not healthy, so I’ll say, “Okay. Actually, that’s not a bad idea.” Like a giant meatball. He had asked me to make a giant meatball once. I thought, “Maybe I’ll make it with ground turkey, and I’ll do it in the oven. Let’s see how this turns out.” It’s a really popular recipe on my site. His ideas, which are usually super indulgent, me recreating them and making them a little healthier are always fun.

It’s just so many things. It could be whatever’s in season at the time. A new way to cook delicata squash. It’s so many things. It’s not one thing.

Balancing Health with Taste

Kirk Bachmann: I love the subtle kudos to your husband there, too, by the way. “He wanted a meatball!”

Not to divulge all of your secrets, but if you had to share or if you could share just a couple of tips. Like I said before, some of our aspiring cooks or culinary students, they think about these sorts of paths. I guess I would ask, how do you maximize flavor and nutrition with limited ingredients? It’s like a candy store here at a culinary school.

Gina Homolka: It must be so cool.

Kirk Bachmann: There’s stuff everywhere! You’re very intentional and specific for the learner with regard to how many ingredients. How do you maximize that flavor, again without giving away the secrets? And the nutrition piece. That’s so key.

Gina Homolka: My latest cookbook, “Skinnytaste Simple” has [been] the most challenging for me because it has seven ingredients or fewer. So that was a little more challenging to maximize flavor, yet still be healthy, and make it – well, the book is called “simple.” That is definitely my easiest cookbook for anyone who is going to use a cookbook and wants to cook light and healthy with few ingredients.

To do so, I had to really get creative by using really great condiments, in-season produce, lots of fresh herbs, spices. Meanwhile, I’m thinking about, does the dish have enough protein? Does it have enough vegetables? Am I adding fiber? Just really balancing all of those together.

Kirk Bachmann: In terms of taking it a step further, I’m really curious. How do you work with nutritionists? Is that a very specific way that you connect?

Gina Homolka: I’ve been working with Heather K. Jones. She’s a registered dietitian, since my first cookbook. We’ve been working together on all my books. She also works with me on my website. She does all the nutritional information for all the books. She fact checks everything. She’s my resource when I have questions, if an ingredient is clean. I’m also really about clean ingredients, clean eating, trying to eat organic when possible. Looking at the ingredient list on items just to make sure there are not a lot of ingredients, [and] there are ingredients you can pronounce. She’s always been very helpful when it comes to those questions.

Kirk Bachmann: I’m super curious; what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Is it the concept, the recipe, the development, and then the nutrition piece, or do you start with, “Hey, I want to go this route with the nutrition, and I add the recipe base?” Or is it kind of a blend of both?

Gina Homolka: It’s funny because I guess because I’ve been doing this so long that many recipes now I could kind of know the range. I will test a recipe, and then I’ll do the nutrition. If it’s off, if it seems like, “This could use more protein,” or “This might be a little too calorie dense, let me just tweak it.” Then I can just tweak it easily, but I already have the formula since I’ve been doing this so long. I know that if I’m going to make a fatty beef stew or pork roast, then I’m probably going to balance it with leaner, lighter vegetables, and not so much fat because there is already a lot of fat in it. It’s just all about balancing the dish.

Kirk Bachmann: The lesson there is, without even saying it, it takes time. You’ve been doing this for a long time. Some of it becomes inherently part of your DNA. Not that it’s a challenge, but the enthusiasm that young students have today. They see this happening, they’re swiping, and they want to make it happen immediately as well. The lesson there is patience.

Gina Homolka: I also have to say that you can look on someone’s social media site and see these beautiful videos, and all their recipes look amazing, and “how are they coming up with so much content?” Everything is always great, and they are so viral all the time. You don’t really see the struggles that happen behind the scenes: the stress they’re going through, how much time, all their failures. There’s a lot of failures. Not just great recipes. Some recipes can be tested up to five times if they don’t work. Sometimes it’s frustrating. “I’m so close!” Once in a while, you get lucky and you nail it on the first round. I think sometimes that comparison can be a struggle if things seem so perfect on social media, when maybe it’s really not everything it seems.

I Have Help

Kirk Bachmann: That’s well said.

We’re going to get to all things cookbooks in just a minute, but you also offer meal plans, [an] online store, so many moving parts that have come into play probably over time, different components to your business. I’m just curious. Very tough question. How do you juggle it all? Again, I’m trying to think of it from the students’ perspective. You moved away from having a full-time job, starting this, and now this is your life’s work. How do you juggle it all? How do you prioritize is a better way to say it.

Gina Homolka: I have a lot of recipes on my website, over 2000. Really, my focus is always the recipes first. People, through time, have asked me what appliance do you use? What is your favorite knife set? It’s really easy for me, instead of constantly answering the same questions, just share the links to these items on my site and have a place where they live so people can see the resource.

And I have help! I don’t do it all on my own. I have someone who helps me with the meal plans. It went from me doing everything to delegating and having people help. Whether it is somebody you’re using part-time, maybe it’s someone in your kitchen, but it’s very hard to do it all. If I am giving people the impression that I do it all, then it’s very misleading.

Kirk Bachmann: Super humble. I asked a Michelin – this is really funny. I was at a Michelin-starred restaurant, and I have a good relationship with the chef. We had an event and all this. He and I were just talking in the back, and again, same thing. There’s just a lot of moving parts. Lots of things going on. I probably asked kind of a silly question. I just said, “Hey, the menu is beautiful. The dishes, the way they come together. Do you ever let the team run the show?” His response was just, “No.” It’s all in his head, his ideas. They certainly have to execute it. It’s a lot of pressure, if everyone’s constantly looking to Gina for everything.

Gina Homolka: I feel like I feel a lot of pressure with cookbooks, because they’re paying for it. I always hope that I choose the right recipes, that I choose the right mix. Are they going to like this? Because they’re paying for it up front, a lot of them are pre-ordering. They don’t know what they’re going to get until it’s in their hands.

Every single book I’ve ever put out, I’ve always stressed about them not liking it. Or is it going to do well? And then it always worked out that they did love it, and it did go well. Every book hit the New York Times Bestseller List. I did put a lot of pressure on myself.

The Simplest Cookbook

Kirk Bachmann: And that’s probably why it worked so well. You really care. It comes through in your words and your recipes.

Let’s talk more about cookbooks. You launched your newest cookbook in September, “Skinnytaste Simple: Easy Healthy Recipes with Seven Ingredients or Fewer.” I googled “Good Morning America’s” segment, the one-pot pasta with the tomatoes and sausage. You know what I love about that? We’ve probably all done something like that. To your point, my daughter’s birthday was over the weekend, so Gretchen did [something] very similar to that, but with kale, and we used turkey instead of beef, and that sort of thing. I just have to ask some of the very cliché questions.

After six cookbooks, and all of them hitting the New York Times Bestseller, here comes number seven. What was the inspiration for this cookbook that might be a little bit different than the other cookbooks?

Gina Homolka: Out of all my cookbooks, this one is the simplest, easiest cookbook out of every single one. I constantly get people telling me they want to eat healthy, but they don’t have time to cook. That’s a big struggle for people. Also, with this economy, they’re on a budget. They’re trying to save money, so this book really solves that problem. You’re only using seven ingredients. They are easy-to-find ingredients that you can find in the supermarket. They’re not expensive. Yet, a lot of the recipes are under 30 minutes, or they’re slow cooker recipes, or they’re one-pot, one-dish. It’s really simple, and yet it’s still nutritious, and it’s still helping people cook dinner, put dinner on the table when they get home late from work. Still provide a meal for their family that is nutritious and healthy.

Kirk Bachmann: And plan ahead, too. So one of the challenges that many face, whether you’re a home cook or taking care of your family, is finding that right balance between convenience and then, of course, health. Something it’s clear that you’ve thought about. With this new book, specifically, how do you or how should someone strike that balance.

Gina Homolka: I think this book solves that problem. I think this is a great point where I could plug the book. This book is that solution. It does just that. It strikes all those things. It’s convenient; it’s inexpensive; it’s simple; it’s quick; it’s healthy. It really does just that.

Kirk Bachmann: See how we did that? That was the perfect lead-in to the plug.

Another plug, too, is it’s probably the same advice for those who – flip it the other way – to make the healthier meal, or make healthier meal choices overall without sacrificing time. And most importantly, without sacrificing taste. The book does that. You put all of that thought into that.

Gina Homolka: That’s definitely the most important part.

The Importance of Believing in Yourself

Kirk Bachmann: Yeah. I’m going to get to the most important question in just a minute. This can go on. So many questions that I know students had. As someone who’s achieved incredible success, is there that one piece of advice that you might have? I was going to ask it for aspiring chefs or culinary students, but it’s really what’s that piece of advice for anyone where you wrap the key lessons that you’ve learned along the way? Not that others should avoid those obstacles and mistakes, but if there was at least one key lesson or mistake that you wish you didn’t make, what would that be?

Gina Homolka: I think one of the things about me being a home chef and creating these New York Times best-selling cookbooks, it took me a little while to get over that imposter syndrome. “I don’t belong here. I am not good enough because I didn’t go to culinary school.” That, I think, it took me a little while to get past that challenge of realizing people are buying my books because there is a market for this. People love cooking healthy. I am definitely helping people. That, I think, was a little bit of a challenge that I think I struggled with the first book.

Being on television – it was all new to me. I was not an extrovert. I didn’t sign up for all this media. I also had to learn to be okay with that as an introvert. That was definitely probably the biggest challenge I think I had with just doing all of this.

Kirk Bachmann: I think that is an amazing answer, to be honest. I wasn’t expecting that. The message there is “believe in yourself.” Yeah.

Gina Homolka: Even though I don’t love being on television, I’ve learned to get better at it. Yet, here I keep doing new books that I know that every time I do a new book, I’m going to be on TV.

But I love doing the books so much that I’m willing to do the television. My priority is really just sharing with the world these books, and remember that it’s really just about sharing with the world. I had to shift my focus. What is it that makes me so uncomfortable about TV? I think it’s the live aspect of it. And I don’t do it every day. I do it every time a book comes out. I do it once every two or three years. I don’t really do it enough to be good at it, and I think I would like to be really at something. I think that’s the thing. Maybe the perfectionist in me wants it to be perfect. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I’m live on TV. Am I going to make a mistake? Am I going to forget what I’m going to say? I had to learn to work on that.

Gina Homolka’s Ultimate Dish

Kirk Bachmann: Well, you do really well with it. And maybe that’s why you do so well, because you take it seriously. You’re a perfectionist. You want it to go well. What I’m taking from all this is that your passion is really trying to improve the lives of others through your words and pictures. It’s a beautiful thing, Gina, and I love that.

Before I let you go – this is the toughest question of all.

Gina Homolka: I’ve been thinking about it the whole time.

Kirk Bachmann: After seven books, I know it’s going to drive you crazy.

Gina Homolka: I’m like, do I know the answer for that?

Kirk Bachmann: The Ultimate Dish. What is it, Gina?

Gina Homolka: So funny, because I could tell you a different answer. Does this ultimate dish have to be my recipe?

Kirk Bachmann: It can be anything that you want it to be. It could be a memory. Something that inspired you. Could be one of your mom’s Colombian dishes.

Gina Homolka: One of the recipes that I make all the time for my family that is probably one of the things I first learned to cook as a dinner and that people make on my website. It’s in one of my books. It’s my mom’s picadillo, which is a Cuban dish. She had learned it from a Cuban friend of hers. Growing up, she made it all the time. My friends came over for dinner. They always wanted to eat over. My kids love it, and I just love seeing so many people making her recipe. It’s just so nice to see your family’s recipes being made by thousands of people in the world. It’s really special.

Kirk Bachmann: There you go. See, that wasn’t so hard!

Gina Homolka: Not too hard.

Kirk Bachmann: You know what was really cute about that is that you asked me. “Does it have to be one of my recipes, or could it be some other recipe?” You’re a perfectionist.

Gina Homolka: What is the ultimate dish? Is it like your last dish that you want to have on your last day on earth? It could be so many things. Is it something you just enjoy cooking because other people enjoy it? It’s a tough question.

Kirk Bachmann: It is a tough question, and everyone has a different response. I’ve had people give me a seven course menu because they couldn’t just give you one answer. But most answers are the ones that come from –

Gina Homolka: I love comfort food and home cooking. Things just feel like home.

Kirk Bachmann: Well, this was an amazing chat. I love your backdrop. Your puppies were so good.

Gina Homolka: They were so good. I’m very impressed.

Kirk Bachmann: Treats for everybody. Treats for everybody. We’ll be in touch. Gina, thank you so much.

Gina Homolka: I really enjoyed it.

Kirk Bachmann: Really enjoyed this.

Gina Homolka: Thank you. Take care.

Kirk Bachmann: Bye.

And thank you for listening to the Ultimate Dish podcast, brought to you by Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Visit escoffier.edu/podcast, where you’ll find any materials mentioned during the podcast, including notes, links and other resources. And if you can, please leave us a rating on Apple or Spotify, and subscribe to support our show. This helps us to reach more aspiring individuals ready to take the next step toward their dream careers. Thanks for listening.

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