Eastern Illinois University Logo

EIU 360

EIU 360

Finding His Voice

Speaking has been a lifelong struggle for Nate Crawford, but through food and photography he's developed the perfect way to express himself.

Just a guy with a camera and a food blog.

On his website, TermiNatetor Kitchen, Nate Crawford helpfully provides this straight-forward thesis to describe the content within. Once you get to know Nate a bit, though, you quickly begin to realize there’s an added depth to his work that goes beyond baking a cake and snapping a few pictures.

You see, Crawford, a senior Hospitality Management major at EIU, has dealt with a speech disorder for more or less his entire life. Stuttering has rendered talking — a form of self-expression most of us take for granted — a constant struggle for Nate. So when he bakes, stages photographs of his finished product, and writes corresponding blog posts about it on his site, he’s expressing himself in one way that feels wholly comfortable.

“Food has allowed me to tell a story and say something in the way I intend,” said Crawford, a senior hospitality management student at EIU. “In speech, there are times I’ll say things that aren’t as fluent as I’d like to or the way I intended it to be said. Food allows me to speak through the food and through my photos in a way I can’t through talking.

“It really is a part of my story. It’s something I connect with and something I use when I’m feeling upset or sad — any emotion — I translate that into baking or food. It helps me kind of deal with the world and deal with things.”

Crawford, a central Illinois native from Saint Jospeh, didn’t actually get serious about cooking until after high school. While both sides of his family feature some talent in the kitchen — and a nice cache of recipes to work with — it isn’t something he began doing himself until he was 18.

“I was out of high school and was at a point in my life where I had no real goals in terms of life goals or where I was going,” Crawford remembers. “So I started cooking, and I fell in love with it.”

That’s all well and good, but what brought about the idea to start taking elaborately composed photographs of the food? Apparently, friends and relatives routinely expressed a desire to eat his cooking but, due to geography, couldn’t actually do so. The next best thing? Take pictures and share them online.

“And they were not good,” laughs Crawford, critiquing his early photographs. “But I’ve learned, I think, through time and practice. As anyone does. I looked at other artists and asked ‘What do I like about their shots?’ 

“I’m inspired by a lot of things. I’m inspired by the food of others, the photos of others, I’m inspired by art and music, I’m inspired by the world around me. Living in a small town here, it allows you to slow down and be thankful for the smaller things in life. I’m inspired by my past; the recipes from my family. It’s not just one central idea, it’s a bunch of avenues. And I translate that into the food I’m making.”

As for his blog’s name, “TermiNatetor” (Termi-NATE-tor, get it?) was a nickname christened by his boss at his first job.

“When I was trying to figure out a name in order to name the site, I just chose that one,” said Crawford.

While the blog started out as a fun way to share his art with those closest to him, it has evolved into a way to entice clients for various entrepreneurial endeavors. 

“Typically I’ll make a recipe for someone and they’ll post it on their own site,” said Crawford. “It’s typically a client that has a product, and I’ll use that thing in order to make (a recipe). I have also done stuff on my own site in terms of sponsored posts and such. It’s a combo of all those things. I’m also starting more in-house work; I’m going to eateries and shooting their food and their behind-the-scenes.”

It’s also attracted the attention of magazines like Local Wolves, which profiled him in its March 2016 edition and also inspired him to get a little more serious about the idea of making his work into a post-college career.

“that was a very cool thing,” said Crawford. “We talked about the blog and the story behind it. It was very ‘Wow, someone likes my work!’

“It was a time where I didn’t know where I was going in terms of the blog; if I was going to keep it as a part-time job, or if I was going to go and do it full-time. I was at a crossroads, so I had to really choose. Do I love it enough? And I said yes, so I upgraded my camera, I started buying more props, I started doing more work in terms of clients.”

Quite a contrast from Crawford’s early days of seeking out client work, which often involved sending out dozens of emails and barely receiving any answers at all, save for the occasional “Thanks, but no.”

“I never thought that I would be doing all this,” admits Crawford. “It’s definitely not the goal I intended on having. But it’s what happened, and I’m so thankful for that. It’s rare to see a 21-year-old male blogger who is writing about food. I think that oddity is very much attractive in the sense that I’m not like every other blogger out there. Yes, I’m telling a story that’s my own, but it’s a story that I have a passion behind.”

True to some advice from his mother Nate shared in a May 13 entry dealing heavily with his constant battle against stuttering, he has never let it keep him from having a voice.

“Never let your fears or insecurities keep you from achieving your goals and aspirations,” Crawford wrote. “Never let something like a stutter get in your way of striving for greatness. Weakness is the act of giving up, bravery is the push to get back up and keep speaking onward.”

To see Nate's recipe for the Hummingbird Cake featured in the video above, check out this blog entry on Nate's site. For additional recipe updates, promotions, and more, you can also subscribe to Nate's email list.