When Eric and Shanna Jones met a decade ago, they instantly knew their relationship was going places. After a marriage, two children, and two thriving careers, the pair decided to kick it up a notch yet again. They merged their unique talents to create Dude That Cookz, a thoughtful and accessible cooking blog with photography as delicious as the food. With Shanna taking the lead on strategy and Eric bringing endless creative energy, the pair is poised to be unstoppable. Their first cookbook, Healthier Southern Cooking--featuring sixty brand-new, meticulously tested recipes--will hit shelves March 22.
Dude That Cookz: A Fresh Twist on an Old Tradition
To those that know them, this trajectory probably comes as no surprise. To hear the pair speak of the last few years, it was simply a natural progression. Eric and Shanna had always loved to cook. Beginning early in their relationship they often skipped Valentine's Day dinner out to stage cooking competitions with each other. But when Shanna became pregnant, this give-and-take dynamic had to shift. High blood pressure left her bedridden, and Eric was put in charge of their day-to-day meals. With the kitchen newly all to himself, Eric found passion in cooking as a creative outlet. "It became a test kitchen," Shanna said.
Shanna found herself in a new role as well--that of taste tester. The trend continued long after the pregnancy. At the time, Shanna was a blogger covering local Houston restaurants and food trends. After sampling a new menu, Eric would try and figure out how to make the same recipes at home, and, often, how to make them better.
Growing up in Louisiana, Eric was cooking for himself by the age of six, although, he admits, his early dishes were quite simple. But even so, he found power in being able to make himself something like breakfast. Soon his senses began to take over in the kitchen, with his sense of smell leading the way. "I may take three spices together and just run them across the front of my nose to see what kind of aroma those three come together a lot," Eric said. "So I'll feel flavors based on what I kind of smell."
Home Cooking Meets Home Blogging
Shanna, a Houston-native, always enjoyed cooking, but never found the creative expression in it that her husband did. But after watching him blossom as a cook, Shanna became convinced other people wanted to see what he was making, too. "When you think about the chef world, it is very male-dominated," Shanna said. "But when you think about the home cooking, recipe blogging world, it's very female dominated." She saw an opportunity. And so was born the Dude That Cookz.
Eric may be the face of the Dude That Cookz brand (he is the Dude who cooks, after all), but the blog and their forthcoming cookbook have provided the couple with a new way to connect to their digital community, and--perhaps most importantly--with each other. Shanna pushed Eric to become more comfortable in the spotlight, all the while bringing in the skills she already had from other blogs and learning entirely new ones, like food photography.
Eric and Shanna say the community they've found through the website has been exceptional. One reader told the Joneses that she'd always struggled with getting her kids to even sit down at the dinner table, much less convince them to eat healthily. But after one month of cooking recipes from Dude That Cookz, she emailed them, "you really have changed the way my family breaks bread."
"We really are helping people," Eric said with a smile. "It's amazing when we hear that."
Healthy Eating Without the Sacrifice
The recipes featured in Dude That Cookz and Healthier Southern Cooking are focused on retaining flavor while keeping things as healthy as possible, as the couple's relationship with their work is also shaped by grief. Both of Eric's parents, as well as Shanna's father, passed away too early in life with health-related complications. In the last months of Shanna's dad's life, he began to tell her, "We need to be more conscious about the food that we're putting in our bodies." The pair took these lessons to heart.
Healthier Southern Cooking
But even when influenced and inspired by past pain, Eric and Shanna find joy in their work. As Eric told me, "I look at cooking as an art. You can take different ingredients and spaces just like different colors of paint. Start throwing them at the canvas and you see what happens."
Healthier Southern Cooking hits shelves on March 22.