For Michelle Tam, what started as a lifestyle change back in 2010 has turned into a popular blog and app, a bestselling cookbook—and an action figure.
Tam, a food-loving pharmacist, began her journey into the world of Paleo eating after seeing the results her husband, Henry Fong, had with the diet, coupled with a CrossFit exercise routine. At the time, Tam was working the night shift as a hospital pharmacist, chasing after two young children; she worked out daily but still felt tired and unhealthy. After seeing fellow passengers with oxygen tanks lining up for the buffet lines while on a cruise to Alaska, Tam made the decision to go Paleo.
The Nom Nom Paleo blog was born shortly after, when Tam, an avid reader of food blogs herself, wanted to see her lifestyle reflected online. The Paleo diet consists of eating whole foods like vegetables, meat, seafood, and some nuts and fruit while avoiding processed foods, seed oils, grains, legumes, dairy, and added sugar. Essentially, it’s eating the way our Paleolithic hunter-gather ancestors might have eaten.
Four years later, Tam and her husband still work together on the blog, and it’s become a popular destination for Paleo and non-Paleo readers alike. “Every January since the blog was launched we see a doubling of all of our site statistics,” Fong told PW. “I think it’s the whole ‘New Year, New You’ thing.” The site was getting 20,000 hits a day back in January 2011. It hit 60,000 in January 2013, and this past January that number jumped to 150,000 hits. After January, the number inevitably slowed down. “It’s now in the 80,000 to 90,000 range daily,” said Fong.
“A lot of married couples might have hobbies that they do together like gardening, but ours is the blog,” he continued. “The food and recipes are all Michelle, and I’m primarily responsible for the illustrations and the photos.” Tam said she doesn’t plan any of the posts ahead of time—which she admits might not be the smartest thing. Rather, she comes up with an idea for a dish, and she and Fong will cook, test, and photograph it over the weekend. They strive to post at least twice a week. “Three times a week when I’m more organized,” said Tam.
From Web, to App, to Print
Once the site started picking up steam, Tam and Fong were approached by several publishers to do a cookbook, but none of the deals appealed to the couple. Around the same time, Tam read an article in the New York Times about how apps were the new cookbooks. “Henry said we should do an app, but we didn’t have any idea how to do one,” said Tam. “We reached out to development companies and got a bunch of quotes that were really high, but then we lucked upon Y Media Labs.” Tam noted that “Because we were so naïve about creating apps, we didn’t realize we were asking for the moon. But they gave it all to us.” The app was released in April 2012 and retails for $5.99.
Once the couple brought the app to market, they again considered creating a print cookbook. They were intent on self-publishing, since they had friends who had gone that route with success. “We had no timeline for publishing the book,” said Tam, “but when we were about 70% done with the book, we were approached by Andrews McMeel.” Tam and Fong finally agreed to work with a traditional publisher because the fit felt right for their vision and aesthetic. “What I loved about them is that they have all these great comic books and they also have great cookbooks,” said Fong.
Jean Lucas, senior editor at McMeel, said the Nom Nom Paleo site immediately appealed to her. “It crossed over two of our core publishing categories—cooking and comics—and it had a very fresh look and approach, so I knew it was going to be a winner.” Lucas describes Nom Nom Paleo as “one of the easiest books I’ve ever worked on.” The reason? “Henry had already started laying out the book when it was acquired, so they were well on their way when we came on the scene.”
The book reads as part memoir, part Paleo reference guide, part comic book, and part cookbook. Recipes include offerings that mimic non-Paleo staples, such as “rice” dishes made from ground cauliflower, as well as meat-centric meals like Slow Cooker Korean Short Ribs and Crispy Smashed Chicken.
Tam said that one of her goals in creating the book was having it appeal to kids. “We were hoping that parents could leave the book on the counter and the kids would want to read it and maybe ask their parents to make them something from the book for dinner.”
Tam and Fong’s own children, Owen and Ollie, are featured throughout the blog and in the cookbook, both in comic form, as well as in photos. “Paleo is something that is still pretty fringe, but if we go to a CrossFit event and they get recognized, they think it’s a little weird,” said Tam. “But because the blog has been a part of their lives for the past four years, the boys are pretty used to it.”
Bringing the Book to Market
Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans went on sale last December and currently has 150,000 copies in print. “We’re at least in the sixth or seventh printing of the book, and it’s been doing great right out of the gate,” said editor Lucas. The book launched with an 11-city tour, a social media campaign using the hashtag #food4humans, a Paleo blogger campaign that included giveaways and contests, as well as national radio, online and print campaigns.
Tam and Fong met nearly 2,000 book buyers during their tour, which began with a sold-out, standing-room-only launch party in San Francisco, near where the couple is based. Tam also appeared at a variety of book-signing events at restaurants, CrossFit gyms, and bookstores. Each event included giveaways of slow cookers, Nom Nom Paleo branded merchandise, and limited-edition vinyl action figures that come with cooking accessories and a miniature version of the cookbook. Fong worked with Toronto-based toy manufacturer Happy Worker to execute their vision for the action figures.
“It’s a money loser for us, but it’s something that people are having fun with,” he said. The figures can be purchased on the Nom Nom Paleo website and can also be spotted on Tam’s Instagram feed, helping show off the family’s recent meals.
The success of the blog, app, and cookbook has taken the couple by surprise. “It’s all weird and surreal,” said Tam. In fact, she hadn’t told any of her co-workers about her hobby and was surprised when they asked her about it. “When people at the hospital found out about this I was like, ‘How did you find out about my secret identity?’ I kept it a secret because I didn’t want them to think I was crazy.”
Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong. Andrews McMeel, Dec. 2013. ISBN 978-1-4494-5033-5