Taylor Cocalis: Good Food Jobs
Instead, Taylor graduated from Cornell’s school of Hotel Administration in 2005, received a Masters in Gastronomy from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy’s Piedmont region, and then returned to the U.S. where the job-for-life concept, boasting good pay, security, and benefits, was already crumbling. Like other creative types who loved food and dreamed of writing about it, Taylor began to cobble together a working life around what she loves: Food and helping people. She tried retail and then, four years ago, co-founded Goodfoodjobs.com.
The site is a job bank, and thanks to Ms. Cocalis’s boundless energy and optimism, it is also a virtual breadline with a nonstop and curiously upbeat conversation aimed at rallying the un- and under-employed to imagine and invent jobs of their own. Just like Ms. Cocalis herself has done.
The daughter of a caterer, she grew up in Allenhurst, New Jersey, a shore town in the northeast section of the state, with dreams of being a food writer: “I wanted to make people feel the way Ruth Reichl’s writing made me feel.”
At Cornell, she took classes at the College of Human Ecology, fusing her interest in food with the study of how humans interact with the world: “The idea was that food relates to various aspects of culture, not only cooking. I’m more interested in agriculture and home economics and how we live in a world where we’re constantly interacting with food but don’t understand how our food system works.”
She expanded upon these themes during her studies in Italy. and later, working at Murray’s Cheese in New York, she dished out dining, travel, and food business ideas over the counter as easily as she designed cheese courses. Her coworkers crowned her “the life coach.”
She became the Director of Educational Programs at Murray’s, but eventually she took some of her own advice: “I was always telling other people, ‘You know, you should really start a site surrounding jobs in the food world.’ And no one did! And then I was like, ‘Wait a minute, why am I telling other people to do this?’”
An internet-based business, she figured, would allow her the pastoral life in Vermont that she craved. And, as bloggers struggle to make a living, she discovered a single revenue source – paid job postings – that allows her to connect people with food jobs and blog about them.
Good Food Jobs was an instant success, and two years later it maintains a bank of 500 food-related job posts, adding from twenty to forty new opportunities each week. “We don’t expect people to come to the site, find their dream job and leave,” she said, “The hope is they’ll join the dialog and learn to think more creatively about applying their skills to the food industry.”
For this reason, the site is rapidly becoming the food world’s newswire. The hottest opportunities these days, says Cocalis, are agriculture-related internships and apprenticeships. “People are more willing to take on unpaid internships than they are to take on a job at $10 per hour,” said Cocalis, “A lot of folks in transition are looking for opportunities to learn and are looking for a finite mental break.” There are, she says, “many people out there trying to combine food and writing into a viable career.” It takes creativity and gumption.
A recent feature on GFJ’s blog, The Gastrognomes, reveals how Eve Turow, a freelance food writer, keeps her head above water. Eve is currently earning her MFA in nonfiction from the New School, editing their online food magazine, The Inquisitive Eater, writing freelance articles, and working on a book about the millennial food generation. “She is doing it all through writing and editing and working with other writers, which is pretty awesome,” said Cocalis.
Taylor expects to see more and more writers teaching food studies. Education, she says, “is really an extension of food writing, another way for people to communicate about food. This could be through school programs like Edible Schoolyard or working with food-related businesses and helping them to better communicate the value of their products.”
She also hopes to attract other entrepreneurs. “In the next phase of our business,” says Cocalis, “we will provide tools for people who are starting or building food-related businesses, but we are not sure yet how this will manifest itself.”
“There is no set path in food right now, which is a blessing and a curse,” says Cocalis. “The blessing is that there’s tons of opportunity but the curse is that no one’s telling you how to do things. You have to come up with it on your own and have the confidence to do it.”
Finding the right path: “It’s important to incorporate the things that are important in your life into what you do as a profession. I loved working at Murray’s but hated that I was stuck in a building. Web-related work allows flexibility in terms of geographic location.”
Advice for job-seekers: “I understand that you may not know what you want to do and that it’s scary to embark on something, but it’s generally accepted that if you do something for 10,000 hours, you become an expert. You can’t know exactly what you want to do until you get a much better look at the field. The challenge is to get people embark on their 10,000 hours.”
Money-makers: “If you need to make solid cash, work two days a week waiting tables or at a beer bar or babysitting. Or, go onto Task Rabbit and take on some random jobs as you need them to pay the rent. Just don’t take on a full-time job, because then you may get sucked in and have little time left for your writing.”
Reach out: “I am always happy to hear from people, so feel free to e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have food industry questions or concerns.”
Molly Birnbaum, 29, recently posted a quote on her blog My Madeleine by Cheryl Strayed, author of the Memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.
“Writing is hard for every last one of us – straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.”
No matter what life throws at her, Molly Birnbaum, whose first book, Season to Taste, was a finalist in the 2012 IACP Literary Food Writing Awards, keeps digging.
Molly, exceptionally petite, wears her long curly mahogany hair amassed high on her head. Her chestnut eyes flash from behind black-rimmed frames as she explains that she graduated from Brown in 2005 with a degree in History of Art and Architecture. She always loved cooking and bringing people together around the table, so she took a job washing dishes and peeling onions at Craigie Street Bistrot, in Cambridge, MA. After years of living in a library, the physical work was, she said, “shocking, but I loved it.” She loved it so much that she could not imagine a better future than working her way through the ranks. However, within several months, this dream was shattered.
While jogging one morning, Molly was hit by a car. Hurled into the air, she landed on the windshield of the vehicle with a force that fractured her skull and sheared off her olfactory neurons, “like a lawnmower going over grass” and instantly destroyed her sense of smell — and her dream of cooking for a living.
“A few weeks into my recovery, my stepmother baked an apple crisp. I couldn’t smell it, and I knew immediately how devastating it would be for what I wanted to do if I couldn’t smell or detect flavor.” Molly worried about her ability to live alone. “I couldn’t smell smoke or natural gas. I hadn’t realized how much we use smell to protect ourselves.” She worried about not being able to smell other people, or places. ”Without a sense of smell, I couldn’t conjure up memories from my childhood. It was a constant dull. I lost a lot of texture from my sensory world, from my emotional world. I really worried about what this said about who I was if I lost this part of my past.”
Molly packed her bags and moved to a small room in an apartment full of strangers in New York City, and began an internship with a fine art magazine. At the magazine, she fell in love with reporting; asking people questions and piecing together their stories and soon after applied to Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. While in graduate school, she applied her reportorial skills interviewing experts within the field of olfactory damage while she imagined writing her book.
“By the time I got to Columbia, I had all these nuggets of information that I wanted to do something with,” Molly said. “I’m a journal writer. It’s how I process my thoughts. I started writing in the weeks after I was in the accident, weeks I don’t really remember. It was helpful to look back on it.” She realized she could use all this information to create a book about a life-changing event and its aftermath.
Molly spent six months at Columbia working, under the tutelage of one of her professors, on the first draft of her book proposal. “I usually mess up the first time,” she says. The first draft of her book proposal, she said, “was too science-y. I trashed it and started over from scratch.”
The second draft of the proposal took an additional year to complete. During this time, Molly worked as a reporter at The Point Reyes Light, north of San Francisco. When her proposal finally sold, Birnbaum said, “I felt lucky that I was able to devote a year to writing the book full-time. It allowed me to get so deep into my research and the story I was writing. But it was a canned beans kind of a year for me.”
After finishing the manuscript, Molly moved back to Boston intending to freelance but found that life was too unpredictable. “It’s difficult as a first-time author to support yourself, especially when you take time off to write your book and have no other income,” she said, “I had a really hard time being a freelancer; constantly scrambling to get pieces out there, and not getting hurt if they are rejected. It’s fun, but I found it very hard to rely on.”
At the time, America’s Test Kitchen was putting together a book on food science and was looking for an editor. Molly continues to work for this project now, which she describes as a perfect fit for her. The task dovetails with the reporting she had been doing, and it has also allowed her to be around food and people who love food. Each day, she walks an hour to and from the office, which is, ironically, a stone’s throw from the site of her accident.
Molly’s life in food is not what she had initially imagined, and the road was not what she expected. These days, the long white scar that resembles a thin baby eel and runs down her left leg is the most dramatic reminder of the accident that changed her life. Aided, perhaps, by “nose training” at a French perfume school, her sense of smell continues to improve. Ignited by her close encounter with the unforeseeable and the uncontrollable, she has a deep commitment to her steady day job.
In fact, like most first-time authors, Molly is worried about only one thing: her next book.
Molly on Food Writing:
A Day in the Life: “The way I work is I get up really early. I get up at 4:30 or 5 every morning to write for a few hours, then I walk an hour to work, which is where I get some of my best thinking done.”
Advice to Food Writers: “Even if I don’t know exactly what I’m writing, I sit down, and I write every day. It’s like playing the piano. I find that if I don’t write for a week or two, it’s so much harder to get back into it.”
Best career move: “Having the guts to move to New York City on my own after my accident and figure out a way to learn how to write.”
Post: “Not as often as I’d like. I’m trying for every week or so. In reality, it averages out to about once a month.”
Next book: “I loved the act of writing my book. I’d love to write another one as soon as possible.”
Kate Payne is a Diva of the DIY movement. Her first book, The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking, a funky, frugal take on the art of home economics, is a fixture in homes and apartments from Portland, Oregon to Brooklyn, New York. Like much of the 31-year old domestic goddess’ life, her acclaim was the result of a do-it-yourself book tour and events that she planned herself.
After The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking was published in April 2011, Payne put together events and book signings in 19 cities. While her publisher covered both transportation and lodging costs for her first main tour, they covered only transportation for other ventures. Payne called on her friends and fellow bloggers to help her cobble together a schedule of meals and places to stay. She even used some of her mother’s airline miles to get to a few cities.
“It was a really nice opportunity just to get to know people,” says Payne, whose blog, The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking, offers tips on everything from laundering towels to making homemade marshmallows. Kate Payne is a people person, as bright and engaging face-to-face as on her blog. She favors vintage clothes, and when she speaks she curls toward you to be eye-to-eye. Her easy smile lures you in and you want to follow her instructions at demos and in her recipes. If you do, maybe you’ll shine like the food jewelry she makes in little jars. Preserves made from rhubarb, zucchini, and ground cherries, which grow in husks like their relatives the tomatillo, are gems to the eyes, and sparks for the tongue.
People who knew the blog’s whimsical, yet down-to-earth style came to bookstores and farmers markets, cooking stores, and even antique shops to hear the author and to get a signed copy of her book. One blogger set up a house party with a food swap to introduce the author and her book to a select group of devoted kitchen hounds.
The food swap was a salute to the phenomenon that Payne started when she lived in Brooklyn in the spring of 2010. With a surplus of her own homemade, canned goods, she invited a group in to trade jars from their own personal larders. The phenomenon took off. Last year people from Los Angeles to upstate New York gathered in living rooms and church basements to swap everything from sourdough starters to soaps. Though the popularity of food swaps dovetailed nicely with her book tour, not even Payne could have planned such serendipity or did she expect the success of them.
“I was just doing what I was doing for the whole-life model I was talking about,” says Ms. Payne.
This way of life began to emerge in 2008, when her partner decided to study at the International Center for Photography in New York City. The couple moved to Brooklyn, New York from Austin, Texas in 2008. It fell to Ms. Payne to set up a home haven on the cheap.
“I work from home so a careless attempt at ‘home’ just would not do, not with the chaos of big-city life lurking just on the other side of my door,” she writes in the introduction to The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking.
Nesting was nothing new. As the child of a parent who worked in the restaurant industry, she moved frequently while growing up. She spent a good portion of her childhood in Arizona, and attended four different high schools.
“I’ve always had the artist’s bent, always had the knack for coming up with creative solutions,” she says of her homemaking skills. “You look at something and say what can I do to that, how can I make this better or make this work for me?”
As a student, Payne never imagined that her particular creative bent would lead her to a food writing life. She studied anthropology and sociology at the University of Arizona and later worked at nonprofit organizations, such as the Seton Health Care Family. The training she received in grant writing has proven invaluable as she’s built her writing life. She says the money she earns writing grants allows her to “focus on other types of writing that don’t pay very much.”
Her training in ethnography also serves her well. “We learned how to interview people, how to ask questions without imparting your world view,” she says.
This sensitivity, plus her chatty, inviting persona makes her a winsome instructor and a pitch-perfect blogger. She is informal and informative as she teaches people how to properly can using a water bath, or how to get frilly about summer drinks without breaking the bank.
In addition to thrift, Payne is committed to living green. She started her blog to share her own solutions for tackling laundry and daily home chores with an eye to their ecological impact.
Her audience grew each time she commented on other blogs and participated in virtual events. In 2010, the blogger, Hungry Tigress started “Can Jam” and challenged food bloggers to use a specific group of ingredients and complete one canning project a month. Payne’s interactions brought new followers to her blog.
In 2010, the popularity of her blog brought a book contract. The advance bought her some time away from the freelance work and side jobs she has always done — grant writing and working as a nanny. Soon after the book was published, she realized publishing alone was not going to fill her bank account. So she set her mind to building a sustainable income.
She writes magazine pieces and grants, and also teaches, and barters for services. Payne says, “I’m doing a barter with a woman who does Quickbooks for farms and small businesses, and she’s helping me organize and arrange my life.”
Mastering the art of the side job has enabled Payne to balance her books. Nannying might not be everyone’s bag, she says, but there are plenty of other side jobs you can do that don’t interfere with writing.
Her income breaks down to 50% from classes, food writing, and food-related projects. Grants and other writing contribute 35%, and side jobs, which are mostly nannying, account for 15% of her income.
The food work is increasing steadily. She writes a column for Edible Austin. She teaches classes from her home once a month, and also at the Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts. A budget-friendly summer beverage class she taught brought her an invitation to Seattle to conduct the same lesson. Nevertheless, she won’t book a flight until she’s found other paying gigs to share the cost. Economy is creativity’s soul sister in any economy.
No one is more aware of this than Payne, who has no intention of waiting for a bestseller to pave her way to financial security. Instead, she searches out ways to monetize her research and work. Recently, she had a big win for her “platform” and “brand.” She says these two words with air quotes in the tone of her voice.
Greenling, an organic and local grocery delivery company, hired her to put together refrigerator pickling kits.
“They’re paying me for my recipes and my expertise,” she says. “It was very clear when I sat down with these people that they’re going to make money off of these things, so they need me to pay me for the creative capital they’re putting into it.”
Building a food writing life, says the Diva of DIY takes focus. “Focus, first and foremost, on revenue generating projects,” she says. Put your effort into making projects pay, and not just once, but as many times as possible.
“If I’m teaching or packaging a certain class for one group, it’s just as easy to turn around and do it again for another group,” she notes. “I’m writing my fall piece for Edible Austin in the fall on apple scrap vinegar. I can teach a class on that too.”
When she begins her next book, whose title and contract are in the works, she plans to save money from her advance for promotions, so she doesn’t have the chunky credit card bill she faced last fall.
And, hey, you never know. As Heloise and her hints proved, there is no end to the domestic advice business and book royalties do accumulate.– Amy Halloran
Food Writing According to Kate Payne
Blog posting habits: “My goal is two times a week,” she says. “My ultimate goal is two posts plus a smaller lighter post, but it’s really what my capacity is, is one post a week.”
“Spend your time doing paying things and something will come of them,” says Payne. “Sometimes there’s a need to build reputation, but in general, just get out there and get going.”
Thoughts on keeping time free for writing: “For me, it’s all been about the art of the side job. In Brooklyn, I picked up kids from school, because that’s a really hard time for parents, and allowed me to work all day, too.”
On time: “I get more done when I have more on the schedule. If I think I don’t have a thing to do today, I don’t spend time on my job job as a result.”
Dorie Greenspan: Say Yes
In the late 1980s, when Dorie Greenspan published her first article about baking, food writing was a curious special interest, not a discipline, and certainly not a career path. Learning to cook and writing about it was something that happened while you were working on something else. In Ms. Greenspan’s case, it was earning a doctorate in gerontology at Columbia University.
When Plan A failed to thrive, food writing was an expansive and accommodating Plan B, a repository for the liberal arts impulse, and a genre for the eternally curious. For artists in search of a form, food writing was a practical form. For a generation that chaffed under any sort of rank-and-file, the food writing world had an additional appeal; it was a small frontier town in the wild west, and there weren’t many rules.
Like many of the best-known cookbook authors, Dorie Greenspan didn’t so much enter food writing as she stumbled into it. She had finished her formal gerontology training and had worked several positions in this field. When her son was born and, she said, “I just couldn’t face going back into that world, doing that work. I was teaching myself to cook and bake, giving dinner parties, taking care of the baby. I just loved it and I couldn’t imagine going back to that sort of 9-5 bureaucracy.”
At that time, the Soho Charcuterie was one of the few kitchens in New York City that hired women, and just as she quickly got a job, she almost as quickly lost it.
“The restaurant’s signature dessert was Simca Beck’s Gateau Doris, a chocolate torte made with ground almonds and whiskey-soaked raisins and my job was to make it. I made it over and over. Then one day, in a burst of creativity, I improvised and used prunes soaked in Armagnac and pecans instead of almonds and raisins,” said Ms. Greenspan.
“It was great! The restaurant owner loved it! But she fired me for creative insubordination, anyway.” Although she never sucessfully curbed her mania to rift on recipes, Ms. Greenspan learned to avoid possible, unpleasant consequences in her subsequent baking jobs. “I quit before I was fired,” she said. She also learned that food editors took a different view of her ungovernable bursts of creativity.
“I met the Editor of Food & Wine Magazine at a party, and he told me to send him a proposal for a story. I wasn’t sure what a proposal was, so I went home and baked everything I thought would be good and delivered it all in a big basket with my query letter,” she said. “He called and gave me the assignment the next day.”
Getting the first assignment was a big deal back then. An editorial Catch22 prevailed. Editors demanded to see clips of published work before handing out assignments, yet you needed assignments to publish your work. A writer needed luck, youth, cuteness, or dire need on the part of a magazine to beat the catch. Ms Greenspan offered cookies.
The rush of Ms. Greenspan’s first published piece gave way to rude intrusion of freelancers reality. Months lapsed between her assignments. The price of books and ingredients remained constant as she taught herself how to create and test recipes, and the fees her stories fetched never quite covered the cost of developing them.
“After my first piece, my other big break was Elle Magazine a few years later,” she said. The magazine gave the writer, a devout Francophile with admirable French, a monthly gig.
“They had me translating for all the great French chefs. Standing in their kitchens, week after week, watching, asking questions, absorbing the fundamentals of French Cuisine, running home to try it all myself. It was a remarkable education. But that is how it was back then. You didn’t go to cooking school, you didn’t study food writing, you got lucky and you learned by doing it,” she said.
“I tell people I was lucky, and I was. I am lucky to be born when I was, when the interest in food was beginning to explode, when things had loosened up enough that old-line chefs would let a woman into his kitchen.
“But I also never said ‘no.” If I was offered work, I took it, no matter what it was. I took it to learn and because I had that freelancer paranoia that if I said “no” to one thing, I’d never get anything else. I spent most of my time being scared.
“There is this idea in business now about putting yourself in the flow of opportunity. If you say “yes,” you put yourself in that flow. For me, that meant a book contract with Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The book was never published, but I got to spend six months learning in his kitchen and I got another book contract, and then another.”
Nineteen years after the publication of her first book, Sweet Times, in 1991 Ms. Greenspan’s book, Around My French Table became one of the top-selling books of 2010.
In 2006, due to a marketing snafu, Greenspan’s book Baking From My Home to Yours was released prior to its official publication date, a potentially fatal misstep. “The writers and magazines set to review and write about the book were blindsided. Stories were cancelled. It was chaos. I thought I was dead,” said Ms. Greenspan. But cooking forums and food sites wrote about the book, word spread and book was, she said “saved by the internet.”
Ms. Greenspan has never had a television show, enjoyed neither l’enfant terrible or ingenue status and has co-authored as many books as she has written alone. But over two decades, she collaborated with greats like Daniel Boulud, Julia Child and Pierre Herme, produced ten books ranging from Pancakes from Morning to Midnight, to Baking With Julia, and steadily accumulated knowledge, experience and good will.
In the decades since Ms. Greenspan baked her way into her first assignment, the collision of technology and the mass-marketing of good taste caused tectonic plates to shift in food writing land. The terrain looks radically altered. Where once lurked a living to be eeked from print and television, now looms a lifetime of free internet content and video. A place once ripe with erudite editors and world-class chefs bestowing guidance and succor while paying entry-level wages is now lousy with expensive culinary education, non-paying internships and overwhelmed editors too maxed out to look up from their screens.
People talk about food writing as a former Eden, a field that has been farmed to death where the resources are scarce, and the competition is dire. In fact, the Eden of 1980 was an oasis in a desert of Bad Taste. In the past 30 years, the oasis and the desert have changed places — or at least their proportion to each other — and the opportunities for food writers have grown along with the size of the oasis.
Back when print bylines built reputations — and income, however modest — fewer people wrote about food, fewer people wanted to read about food and there was a handful of outlets for food writing. Today there seems to be an endless supply of aspiring and established food writers, a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for the subject and hundreds of thousands of outlets for food writing on the internet.
There is no longer a barrier to beginning. Writers can publish their own work, find their voices and their audiences. Ms. Greenspan is a bonafide member of the print generation; she is also an internet acolyte. The internet was her third Big Break and, with over 100,000 Facebook and Twitter followers, it was possibly her Biggest Break.
There is, however, no way of predicting how the size of one’s audience translate to the numbers of books one sells. Internet acolytes like Ms. Greenspan (and me) have no doubt that internet, web-video, and electronic publishing will eventually turn audience size into steady income. Eden, in other words, is not lost; its gates have yet to be opened.
I’m not sure it will happen on my shift. And even with a much-lauded APP, a 11th book on the way next year, Ms. Greenspan appears to share the uncertainty that dogs the life of both established and emerging food writers. She’s opening a bakery in upper Manhattan with her son in several months.
“There have,” she said, “never been any guarantees in the food writing life. You do what comes toward you. You have fun. You learn as much as you can. You put it together, project by project, you adjust course, keep in the flow, never stand still and never say ‘no’,” she said, “You may not make a great living, but you’ll have a really interesting life.”– Molly O’Neill
Food Writing According to Dorie Greenspan
Best Career Move: ”Being born when I was, coming of age as food exploded and when women began to be allowed in professional kitchens.”
A Day in the Life: “There is no distinction between my life and my work. I cook a little, I write a little. I do it again. On good days, I am at my desk writing by 7 a.m. and move into the kitchen in the mid afternoon. But I was born without the organizational gene and so unless I am on a killer deadline for a book, the hours of my days sort of flow into each other, just like the days in a week. I’ve never understood the concept of a day off.”
Publishes: an average of a book every three years
Posts: ”not as regularly as I should. Whenever I post, my audience grows, but its difficult to make time for unpaid work when my days are 14-16 hours non-stop of making a living. I wish I posted regularly once a week. Twice would be even better.”
Advice to Food Writers: “Start writing. Write as much as you can. Learn everything you can. Learn everything you do as thoroughly as you can. Get good at things. Know things. Write about them. Write until the people you reach the people you want to reach or until they find you.”