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Fall 2022

Alex Snodgrass turned her love of cooking into a career

After experimenting with the Whole30 diet, she found her calling with The Defined Dish.

Though New York Times bestselling cookbook author Alex Glendenning Snodgrass ’10 loved her years at TCU, mealtimes could be tough. She neither loved the food in the dining halls nor the practice of eating there every night.

Alex Snodgrass of The Defined Dish

Alex Snodgrass tests recipes in the kitchen of her Dallas home, which doubles as a film studio. She published her second book, The Comfortable Kitchen, in December 2021. It quickly became a New York Times bestseller.

“It was something I wasn’t used to,” Snodgrass said, noting that her mother made family dinners throughout her childhood in Celina, Texas, a city of less than 17,000 about an hour northeast of Fort Worth.

As a sophomore, she and three of her Tri Delta sorority sisters decamped to an apartment. Snodgrass, who majored in history with a minor in political science, cooked daily for the crew.

“My biggest joy is cooking for other people,” she said.

Snodgrass weighed law school and a path in politics as she continued to educate herself on all things culinary. For recipes and cooking advice, she supplemented calls to her mom with watching Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa.

“I would get home from school and turn on her show,” Snodgrass said. “Ina was such a huge inspiration to me partly because she brings a lot of clarity to the process.”

Upon graduating, Snodgrass moved to Austin where she and her now-husband, Clayton Snodgrass ’10, lived for 2½ years. She interned for a state representative during a session of the Texas Legislature, then worked in public policy, all while indulging her passion for cooking.

The couple moved to Dallas to live near family after she became pregnant with their daughter, Sutton, now 9. About two years later, they welcomed another daughter, Winnie, who will be 8 in September.

In Dallas, Snodgrass went to work for her family’s residential real estate company. After a bout of post-pregnancy anxiety, her sister recommended she try Whole30, a 30-day diet that emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods and eliminates refined sugars.

Adhering to the plan helped her feel better, Snodgrass said, and she relished the process of tweaking family recipes to fall within Whole30’s parameters. She also embraced her sister’s suggestion to start a blog. Together they launched The Defined Dish in summer 2014, with Snodgrass providing recipes and other food-related content while her sister Madison “Mada” Glendenning Lavey ’13, a personal trainer at the time, focused on fitness.

“I fell in love with blogging, which gave me a creative outlet that real estate wasn’t giving me,” Snodgrass said. After about two years, she realized the blog might be the path to a new career.

In 2016, Lavey decided to devote time to other things, which allowed Snodgrass to focus fully on food. Around that time, Instagram launched its stories feature, where users can upload short videos. “It was the perfect storm for me,” she said. “Right as I was becoming consistent in my blogging, the Instagram stories became a really authentic way for me to connect with people.”

Alex Snodgrass of The Defined Dish

Alex Snodgrass capitalized on an opportunity to take over the Whole30 Instagram account and now has more than 700,000 of her own followers on the platform.

Snodgrass credits word of mouth with the explosion of page views. On Instagram, she went from 10,000 followers to around 80,000 in less than 18 months. She’s now up to nearly 700,000.

A literary agent approached her about writing a cookbook in 2017. Upon its release in December 2019, The Defined Dish: Healthy and Wholesome Weeknight Recipes was an instant New York Times bestseller.

“She’s a totally relatable neighbor from next door or a sister who is super down to earth and very real,” said Teri Turner, whose blog, nocrumbsleft, also led to a cookbook deal and podcast. “People love to bring her into their homes because she inspires us not only in cooking but also in life.”

The Defined Dish cookbook is “Whole30 endorsed.” Melissa Urban, Whole30’s co-founder and CEO, wrote the foreword, in which she cites the curried pot roast, rack of lamb with mint chimichurri sauce and okra fries as favorite dishes. Snodgrass gravitates toward nutrient-dense foods with flavors as big and bold as her home state. She embraces her Italian roots with a love of anchovy sauce, garlic and meatballs.

Many of her recipes also work for those adhering to a paleo diet. While Whole30 is a short-term elimination diet that embraces the food available 10,000 years ago, meaning no alcohol, sugar, grains, dairy and more, the paleo diet focuses on meat, fish, fruit, eggs, vegetables, nuts, seeds and certain oils with small quantities of wine and dark chocolate.

As the Covid-19 pandemic drove more people to cook at home, many turned to The Defined Dish blog for help, driving up traffic on her website, thedefineddish.com.

During that time, she and Clayton moved into a sprawling mid-century home in the Preston Hollow neighborhood of Dallas. They combined three rooms into an oversized space for the new kitchen and dining room. She designed the kitchen with videos in mind, including an induction cooktop on a massive island so she can face the camera.

The first week of January, her follow-up cookbook, The Comfortable Kitchen: 105 Laid-Back, Healthy and Wholesome Recipes landed in the No. 2 slot on The New York Times bestseller list, just below Brené Brown’s blockbuster Atlas of the Heart.

The proximity felt especially fortuitous as fellow Texan Brown had provided praise on the back cover of Snodgrass’s first book. “She approaches both food and life with a playful soulfulness that nourishes my family and my heart,” Brown wrote.

Favorite recipes in this second volume include taco bowls with salmon, honey-sesame sheet pan cauliflower and lemon avocado oil cake.

Business has grown to the point where Snodgrass now outsources photography. She also has partnerships with many companies including Made In, a premium kitchen tools brand, and Siete Foods, a paleo and vegan brand.

“I am so grateful for my community, which has grown with me and supported me all this time,” she said. “People know what’s authentic and what’s not.”


She shared these lessons learned along the way:

Make the most of opportunity.When I first started The Defined Dish, I was asked to take over the Whole30 Instagram account for a week to share recipes and I crushed it. I planned out the week, showed up and did three recipes a day, and I’d be on Instagram stories sharing the tutorials and demos. People started following me from there.

If you want to get better at something, learn all you can about it.I became good at taking food photos after obsessively researching the topic.

Involve your kids in the kitchen.They might add salt and pepper to the chicken and think they made the meal themselves. At least they’re making great memories while learning about cooking, which is one of the things everyone should know how to do.

You can make almost any recipe healthier when you make substitutions, but beware. Some people will try to swap out cassava flour with coconut flour, but it doesn’t work because they’re totally different products. People try to make their own swaps using what they have on hand, but grain-free flours are way too fickle.

When I first started out, I thought my recipes were so simple that it was weird for me to share them,but then I realized there is such a need for that. People love simple dinners. I cater to the intimidated cook.

 

Edited for clarity and length.


Alex Snodgrass shares a recipe for dairy-free quest perfect for TCU tailgates: