CSUN Alumnus Dares You Not to Get Hungry

  • Jonathan Melendez '12 (Art) launched the successful food blog, The Candid Appetite, while studying at CSUN.

  • Melendez's creation: Bratwurst Beer and Cheddar Pot Pie.

  • Melendez's Chocolate Peanut Butter Caramel Shortbread.

  • Melendez's Strawberry Rhubarb BBQ Wings.

  • Melendez's Breakfast Ice Cream.

By visiting Jonathan Melendez’s food and photography blog, The Candid Appetite, you’re in danger of committing at least two of the seven deadly sins.

Lust and gluttony come to mind as a digital slideshow scrolls scenes of Bratwurst, Beer & Cheddar Pretzel Pot Pie, Spicy Sausage Potato and Kale Pizza, and Vanilla Apple Crumble. This culinary wonderland dares your salivary glands not to water and challenges your stomach not to rumble.

The Candid Appetite began as a half-hearted senior project for the California State University, Northridge alumnus. What it has done, especially in the past year, is launch Melendez ’12 (Art) into rising-star status in the food-blogging world.

His blog has received mentions by Bon Appétit magazine and the Cooking Channel, and his photography has led to work with popular cookware company Le Creuset.

“It has been a whirlwind — a lot of hard work and dedication,” Melendez said.

On top of the attention the 26-year-old Studio City resident has received for his vibrant, interactive site, in 2016 Andrews McMeel Publishing — a company that has published books by chef and restaurateur John Besh and also puts out the Calvin and Hobbes series of books — will release Melendez’s first book, The Slider Effect. Yep, it’s a cookbook about mini hamburgers.

“This whole idea came from how popular bars and gastropubs are these days,” Melendez said. “They’re hip and trendy places that offer shareplates and appetizers. I feel like sliders have become [the symbol of] this phenomenon. People see a slider on a menu, and they want to order it.”

The book will feature slider recipes “so that people can throw parties and feel like a rock star,” Melendez said.

Prep before cook 

Melendez grew up in Los Feliz. He began cooking in his mother’s kitchen at 13 — just for fun, he said. It was at that point that he formulated his dream of becoming a chef.

He got accepted to one of the most prestigious culinary colleges in the United States — Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. However, he lasted just a semester. Melendez knew he would learn a great deal about culinary arts at the East Coast school. But he also battled with the knowledge that when he graduated from the school, he would likely start at the bottom of the cooking industry.

That prospect — and his potential investment of money and time — made Melendez change course. He came home and enrolled in Glendale Community College, where he took a photography course and got hooked.

When he transferred to CSUN, Melendez had made up his mind that he would major in art with an emphasis in photography. But he felt himself standing at a crossroads of his career path, he said.

He credits CSUN Art professors Lesley Krane and Michael Miller for giving him direction. Miller taught him about visual communication and lighting — reflected in the way Melendez shoots his food today. Krane taught Melendez for three semesters and encouraged his creativity.

“He’s very productive and prolific, and a very discriminating observer of culture and his surroundings,” Krane said of Melendez. “He gets making something humorous or celebratory. He knows how to communicate visually. I knew when I saw the work he was making in his other classes what he was capable of. I have talked to people who still speak to him, and he is just so busy. He could take [his career] anywhere.”

Melendez’s senior project launched that career. He combined his passions for food and photography and applied his visual communication skills to start a blog.

“I have to be honest: When I did the project, it was, ‘I have to do it for my senior project,’” he said. “I was just doing it because I had to. Then, after I started getting recognition and mentions, that’s when I started taking it seriously.”

The Candid Appetite 

The Candid Appetite is a step-by-step blog that presents how to make Melendez’s dishes — all the food and beverages are his recipes — and features easy, informative, conversational copy.

Melendez makes great use of color, often matching the dishes he makes to a setting. For example, his Bratwurst, Beer & Cheddar Pretzel Pot Pie was photographed on a backdrop with different hues of brown, and the Broccoli Pesto Pasta was matched with inviting colors of green and cream.

The star of his show is obviously the food. There’s a comment section with each recipe that says it all:

Mmmmmm yum! You make everything look so appetizing.

Wrote one reader.

Amazing! I got hungry looking at this.

Commented another.

I am drooling looking at these.

And another.

Melendez’s post on a fried chicken and waffle sandwich from July 2013 received the most attention, he said. It was mentioned by Bon Appétit magazine, on the Cooking Channel and Buzzfeed. The original post boasts 113 comments.

While he grew the site, Melendez took on catering jobs to earn some income. The website brings in money today through advertising and more catering job leads for Melendez.

A thriving website, a book deal and now personal accomplishment — Melendez got engaged on Halloween night. Things are moving fast, and it all started with a senior project. Imagine if that didn’t happen.

“[If I weren’t doing this], oh man, I have no idea [what I’d be doing],” he mused. “I’d probably be working a job I wouldn’t be happy with.”

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