To learn more about Matthew, check out the Plating Pixels spotlight.  

Matthew Ivan, founder of Plating Pixels, has loved food and cooking since childhood. Today, his obsession combined with his visual talent as a graphic designer enables him to create and share recipes with the world, all while using photography to turn food into a visual art.

Matthew’s healthy take on comfort food recipes are accessible to anyone and strive to use common ingredients that are often stocked in the pantry or easy to find at any grocery store. Read on for Matthew’s tips on how to create unique and easy-to-follow recipes every week!

You have a new recipe up every week! What is your process for consistently coming up with unique ideas?

I’m naturally obsessed with food and cooking, so a lot of it comes from experimentation and a desire to try new things. You’ll start learning what flavors work together just by trying different combinations. When thinking of new ideas for a recipe, start with one ingredient or theme and work from there. If it’s fall, look for seasonal ingredients such as apples, then decide whether you want a savory dish, healthy or decadent dessert, baked or chilled, and so on. Naturally you’ll come up with a unique recipe.

Research and inspiration from other sources is also essential. Follow other bloggers and keep a Pinterest board of recipes that inspire you. I literally have a board called “Recipe Inspiration” and refer to often. We also have a large catalog of cookbook magazines—the ones you see in the checkout stand. At last count we had over 100. They’re easy to search by theme and help springboard you to your own unique recipe ideas.

Who/what inspired you to start cooking and creating your own recipes?

That would be my mother. Cooking and baking was a critical part of my childhood, and still is during family visits. Baking was especially fun as I’d get to taste the dough, mix the batters and generally do all the fun, messy parts. Almost every meal was homemade, and this is where I learned most of my cooking skills. After moving out, I continued that tradition and cook meals almost daily.

What made you decide to start putting your recipes on a blog?

I started as a fan of food blogs, especially the food photography. I was captivated by how beautiful food can be, and wanted to incorporate that into my own cooking. There was one particular moment that sparked it into being. We brought homemade caramel pecan thumbprint cookies to a holiday party. Everyone was raving about them and kept asking for the recipe. The was enough of a nudge and ended up being the first recipe I posted on the blog. It also helped that other bloggers were sharing their success stories. Plating Pixels started as a passion project and a way to self-learn food photography, but has luckily grown into a successful side business that’s also a hobby.

You created an amazing post for Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry. How do you choose which photos to include in your blog post to clearly illustrate the steps of the recipe?

You’ll eventually learn what works for your own photography style and audience. Some bloggers include multiple step-by-step photos, while others feature only the completed recipe. As a graphic designer by day, I want my photography to visually enhance the recipe post. Generally I always include an overhead ingredient shot, as those are fun to do and give a visual overview of the required ingredients. My recipes are written in a very detailed manner, so I only include process photos to illustrate key steps or add variety. In the Puff Pastry recipe, the rolling of the filled pastry was a step that allowed for a unique hands-on photo. It also helps my girlfriend makes a great hand model.

You have a wide range of dishes on your blog. Do you have a favorite or staple ingredient that you use in your recipes? Why is it important to you?

I’m not sure I can narrow it down to one, as it depends on the type of recipe and the cuisine. If I had to pick it would be ground black pepper; I know it’s generic but I love using it. It’s a universal ingredient that brings out the flavor in any dish. The majority of my recipes have it, and I probably include it more than necessary. I also use light olive oil as a healthy alternative to other cooking oils. Anything that gets cooked in a pan, grilled or roasted, gets a bit of that. You can also sub it for other oils in baked goods or waffles.

Your recipes are all easy to follow yet still sophisticated, like this Lime Marinated Mango Habanero Chicken you created for La Victoria. What advice do you have for influencers to make their recipes clear for their audiences?

I think that’s part of what makes my blog unique. I didn’t want to niche myself down to a particular cuisine, style, or type of diet, as Iove all forms of food. As a food blogger, you have a wide range of readers and their cooking skills all vary. When writing recipes, I consider the option that the reader may have limited cooking knowledge or skills. I want my recipes to be accessible to everyone, and I include basic details from start to finish. Add in as many descriptive details as possible. Things like the bowl size, type of pan and oil, stove heat and if you need to raise or lower mid-recipe, if room temperature ingredients are necessary, chill time and serving tips. Beyond that the senses are a great way to teach a recipe. Include details such as color when sauteing, grilling, baking or roasting. Texture and thickness help with batters, baking, sauces and soups. Smell is another way to tell if something is cooked and ready for the next step. Even sounds can be a good indication of how your food is cooking.

What advice do you have for influencers who have never posted or are hesitant to post recipes to their blog but would like to try?

Just go for it. Also, don’t wait until you have a certain amount of recipes to start a blog. It’s better to post even one or two, then continue each week. If you wait until some ideal number, free time or other metric, you’re more likely to procrastinate or never start. I thought of starting a blog for almost two years, before deciding to go for it. Once I did it was been nonstop ever since.

How do you decide which sponsored opportunities to accept? What is your advice for keeping your blog true to yourself?

It’s all about your brand, audience and personal preference. A majority of my posts are sponsored content, but I enjoy and use the products that I promote on my blog. A personal rule of mine is not not apply or accept sponsored content in the first place unless it’s a fit. There’s been many chances to earn money on a post, but if the product is one I don’t use or approve of, then it won’t go on the blog. When writing sponsored posts, it’s important to find a balance between your normal writing style and personality, while including enough content to promote the brand. It’s not beneficial to anyone if your entire post comes across as a promotional ad.

The post you did for Seagram’s Gin incorporates beautiful photography as well as a bit about your personal life. What advice do you have for influencers about seamlessly weaving personal stories into their recipe posts?

I think this is critical to sponsored work. If brands were simply looking for exposure and visibility, there’s lots of traditional marketing and advertising methods they can use. Personal stories bring the products to life and show readers how you use it your home. Beyond your creative skills and audience, a brand is using you to sell their product. Make your sponsored posts as personal and organic as possible.

What photography tricks do you use to make your images look so mouth-wateringly appetizing and vibrant?

This has been on ongoing skill I’m trying to develop and am still learning. The most important advice I can give is to keep practicing. Photos from my earlier posts (which I thought were good at the time) are now a stark contrast to where I am just a couple years later. I’m sure I’ll feel the same way about my current work a couple years from now. As far specifics, lighting is key. I prefer natural light and shoot near an open window with diffused light. Aim for contrast, with strong highlights as well as subtle shadows. Photos that look dull or washed out won’t do your recipes justice. Never use house-lights or a camera flash. Composition, focus and color go a long way to making recipes look tasty and vibrant. Use white space to your advantage, pick a focal point and don’t include distracting or unnecessary elements in the scene. I like to use garnishes and ingredients from the recipe to add bursts of color. A few leaves of cilantro will make any dull or brown dish come to life.

Which has been your favorite Linqia program so far? Why?

With 30 recipes for Linqia to date, that’s a tough decision. I really enjoyed working on the Spinach and Meatball Pasta Casserole recipe for Bertolli Marinara Sauce. I think it encompasses the essence of my blog and reminds me of family meals growing up. It’s a unique recipe that’s easy to make, and is decadent, yet lightened-up a bit so you can feel good about eating it. I also like how the photography and food styling came together on this. It’s not easy to photograph a red and brown casserole, yet the photos convey just how yummy the recipe is.