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Arkansas Food Has Champion in Kat Robinson

4 min read

There are two kinds of dessert people: cake people and pie people. I’m a pie person. So Kat Robinson’s latest book on Arkansas food and restaurants, “Another Slice of Arkansas Pie,” was of more than passing interest to me.

What’s even more interesting, however, is how Robinson has invented her career as a food and travel writer and historian of Arkansas food. She took advantage of a singular moment in the state’s history, when interest in locally and sustainably grown and produced food was reaching a critical mass, and leveraged her education and previous professional experience to create a quality product — stories about food and restaurants in the state — that she markets with great success.

In this way Robinson, who was raised in Little Rock and has lived her entire life in Arkansas, has been able to actually do what she loves (that popular if not always realistic advice shared with every new graduate) and support herself and her 9-year-old daughter. Professional writers know how hard that is.

Robinson’s main moneymaker is her contract with the Food Network, for which she reports stories on “Where to Eat in Little Rock” and “Noshing in the Natural State: The Best Things to Eat in Arkansas.” She also writes regularly for AY magazine, does freelance work for a number of other local and regional publications and has written four books, all about Arkansas food or eateries, the last one — her second about pie in Arkansas — she published herself. And in March, her TV film, “Make Room for Pie,” debuted on AETN.

In addition, she’s a research fellow for the Southern Food & Beverage Museum in New Orleans. Much of Robinson’s work can be found on her blog, TieDyeTravels.com.

“I am an independent contractor with a variety of enterprises,” she said. “So much of what I do is throwing spaghetti at the wall. I’ve patched together a career out of several different careers that shouldn’t be able to sustain me.”

Robinson graduated from Arkansas Tech University in 1995 with a degree in journalism, going on to work in radio before getting a producer’s job at KAIT in Jonesboro. In 1999, she moved to KTHV, where she was the producer of its morning show for eight years.

When Robinson left television in 2007, she thought she might enter marketing. But she wanted to continue to write and so started her TieDyeTravels blog. Robinson had made one rule for herself: “I never wanted to have to write about the terrible things in this world again. I didn’t want to write about death and destruction or murder or politics.” She had been in Jonesboro in 1998, when four students and a teacher were fatally shot at Westside Middle School, and she’d been on air at KTHV on 9/11. “I figured I’d paid my dues.”

When she started the blog, “Nobody was doing what I was doing, back then in 2007. The idea of making money writing specifically for the web was unheard of.” But her food stories brought her attention. And in 2008, when Robinson started writing for the Arkansas Times’ Eat Arkansas blog, “I was the first paid blogger in the state,” she said. She was paid $125 a month.

“But I was so happy to have a gig writing about something I was very excited about that I just jumped into it with both feet. That little gig may have seemed insignificant but it led to bigger things.” One example: a job with Serious Eats, a food and cooking website, as “their Southern hamburger correspondent.” That led to work for Lonely Planet and Forbes Travel Guide and so on. By 2011, she was feeling pretty self-sufficient.

But in 2012, Robinson took a job with the state Department of Parks & Tourism, partly because it seemed like a “perfect fit.” She enjoyed the work, but she soon realized that she wanted to return to full-time travel and food writing. “I’m not an administrator,” Robinson said.

Also in 2012, the History Press, focusing on local and regional subjects, approached her about writing books about Arkansas food. That led to her first book, “Arkansas Pie: A Delicious Slice of the Natural State.”

So now, Kat Robinson does what she loves. “I’m thrilled that things have turned out this way, but it has never been easy. You don’t stop. You find opportunities everywhere you go and you explore them,” adding, “Building good relationships is the utmost.”

And preaching the gospel of Arkansas food has become her mission. “I want to root out all the really neat food traditions we have and what sets us apart from other states.”

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