I suppose I should start this blog with an explanation. I never thought I would have a blog (and frankly, I always thought blogs were just a bizarre trend…you know, the grown up version of nano-pets or Pokeman). Recently, I was asked to do a 60 second “Video Application” and post it on YouTube for an internship program that I am applying for. I have never used the video function on my camera and had to teach myself the ins and outs of my computer software and YouTube, but eventually I did it. It was a noble effort to say the least. I had fun doing it and jokingly told my parents I was going to start a video blog. The more I thought about the idea of a blog, the more sincere I became about actually doing it. This summer my life has been so busy that I resorted to once a week emails to close family and friends documenting my various life discoveries and adventures. A written blog is similar to an email just on a much bigger scale. Right?
I looked back at these emails and realized that there was a central theme threaded though out each one: Food. I have always had a passion for food, cooking and entertaining. The day I discovered the Food Network was probably the most exciting day of my life (I’m not a particularly dull person I just get really excited when new opportunities to learn present themselves). I grew up in Upstate New York where local farmer’s markets and Wegmans (aka my home away from home) were my playgrounds. The holiday season was always my favorite time of the year because it is composed of my favorite things: cooking with my mom, family gatherings and bountiful amounts of comfort food.
I started off this summer as a complete mess of a human being. I was finishing my Junior year of college and had no focus or prospects for the future. This is the summer where internships and connections are key. If I planned on attending graduate school than this was the summer to start looking into them and study for the appropriate exams. My friends all seemed to know exactly what they were doing and I felt like a lost soul. I am double majoring in Political Science and Health and Society with a Business Certificate in Marketing. What was I going to do with these degrees? Not a clue. If I pursue a graduate degree I want to make sure it is something that I love and I didn’t feel that way about anything I was currently studying. I thought I was intensely interested in politics, and health care reform but could I really see myself having a 9-5 job filing papers and working on legislation? I always loved my marketing classes and working with groups, so this was an industry I knew I wanted to explore. I looked high and low, desperately searching for internships. I didn’t care if they were paid I just needed a taste of the marketing industry. I wanted something to scream “YES! THIS IS FOR YOU! YOU HAVE A PURPOSE IN LIFE!” and give me direction for the future. As finals approached I found myself in a commitment to be a Summer Resident Adviser in one of the student buildings in exchange for free housing but did not have a source of income or the internship I desperately wanted. I was scared and my frantic emailing/calling/searching for internships intensified. I emailed companies whether they had job postings or not, contacted friends who had parents with jobs in the area and spoke with every faculty member I could to try to find SOMETHING. Towards the very of the semester I FINALLY got a response from two companies: a grocery store and a specialty foods company.
I emailed the grocery store inquiring about any internship opportunities that they might have. They are one of the greatest companies to work for and as a long time customer, I knew they had an outstanding marketing department. I received an email back a few days later informing me that they did not have any internship positions available. I was sad but still pressed on in my search. A week later a member of the HR team asked me if I would be interested in working in the store. I didn’t even consider applying there for a job but I needed money. I had never worked in any sort of food setting (other than the occasional snack-shack substituting when I was a lifeguard and swim instructor) so I felt like it was a great opportunity for me to learn the operations. They had two openings in the prepared food department and the bakery. I though to myself “Oh great!!! I love cookies!! Bakery it is!” I went in for an interview and found that if I got the job it would be in the bread department. I didn’t know much about it, but like everything else in my life, I decided to dive in head first and learn all that I could. I was constantly talking to the bakers, trying breads and figuring out how to sell the product to customers.
My first week working was filled with 4:45am alarm clocks, bagging, stocking and slicing bread but little did I know what was in store for me…the weekend. It is the busiest time of the week and I was prepared. The second I got to the store that Saturday I fell in love with the environment I was surrounded by. There were people everywhere and food demonstrations in every department. THIS is what I wanted. I loved the energy and knew that I wanted to stand in the front of the store just like the bread demo lady and inform people about bread and cheese pairings. I just HAD to learn. Every weekend from there on out I decided to be the self-appointed assistant to the demo lady. I would watch her interact with customers and listen to everything she had to say. When she would go on break, I would fill in. When it was slow, I would ask her questions. I was determined. I asked my manager every day about opportunities to learn about the cheese department, which was becoming a growing interest of mine.
Finally, one day I saw a job posting for the “Old World Cheese” department. I was disappointed because typically they want you to work in a department for 6 months before applying to do cross-training and I had hardly been there 3. I decided that even though it might not be possible, it was worth a try. I was able to convince my manager to sign me off and allow me to apply. I was selected for an interview and was fortunate enough to receive an opportunity to learn in that department. I was thrilled! I began reading books to teach myself about the cheeses of the world and was in awe (clearly I didn’t have much of a social life this summer but I was so excited to work and learn that it didn’t phase me). I would buy small pieces of expensive cheese and dissect all the flavors that I was enjoying. Trying them with breads, wines and double checking the flavor sensations in my guide books. I would volunteer to take baguettes to the cheese department on the weekend and the employees of that department always had something for me to try and knew I would be excited about the products they were promoting. (they always gave me more if it was a goat’s milk cheese because it is considerably my favorite.)
One weekend the demo lady took a vacation and to my surprise I, ME, NORA, was on the schedule to fill her position. I was featuring a triple-olive ciabatta loaf and a triple creme cheese. I learned about the products, tasted them and was prepared to go. I have never felt so alive! It might be something so little but I found something that I truly enjoyed. I love food, learning about food, and working with people.
Outside of the grocery store, I was working at the website base of a specialty meats company. I heard about their company very late in the school year through the career center on campus and inquired about their internship on a whim. It sounded right up my ally. They contacted me for an interview at the very end of the year during finals week and I was relieved. Prior to accepting the internship, I thought I had a research position doing something with psychology but it fell through, so at least this was SOMETHING to do over the summer. At my internship (besides filing mounds paperwork) I got to sit in on business meetings, learn about sales and marketing and taste new products! My favorite part was learning about the products they sell online. I was able to taste them and learn about how to check for flavor, how to enhance flavor without over-doing the salt content, and the importance of fat and marbling in meat etc. I also loved seeing the impact that publishing their newsletter or a major holiday would have on sales, and website visitors.
Needless to say I learned a lot this summer and will continue to learn. I decided to keep my job at the grocery store during the school year. I finally feel like my life is taking a step in the right direction. I found that I am more passionate about this industry than I have ever been about politics. I would rather wake up at 4:45am and work an 8.5 hour shift bagging bread and talking to customers than read a book about political theory.
As senior year approaches the question remains: “What will I do after graduation?” I had the day off from work this past weekend (very rare) and read the book My Life In France (not the Julia and Julia blog story, although that would have probably been inspirational for this blog). It added more wood to my already burning fire. I know that I need to do something with the food industry. I want to explore France, learn to cook, write a blog, relate and reach out to people, and learn everything I can about the process that food goes through in order to become an actual product. I bought 4 books on cheese this summer and am still continuing to learn. I want to know EVERYTHING about the animals, geography, processing, rinds etc. This is the attitude I have towards everything in my life.
Ina Garten is another person who inspires me. She is one of my favorite personalities on the Food Network and her food is incredibly easy, fresh and flavorful. I love her grace and her ability to bring people together. I basically want to be her. I read her biography and she started her career in government with no culinary training. She left her job to open a restaurant, The Barefoot Contessa, and things took off from there. This gives me hope.
With Ina and Julia as my role model’s I know that anything is possible. I am graduating with a degree in Political Science and Health and Society with a Business Certificate instead of a Culinary Degree but I know that there has to be more out there for me. If I get this excited about a minimum wage paid job that I can hardly support myself on (I tend to spend all of my money on food…I rather spend $4.75 on good bread then $1.99 on commercial and am willing to pay $4 for a couple ounces of cheese so it’s my own fault…but I also see this as a learning opportunity.) there MUST be more out there for me.
This will probably be the longest blog entry I will ever have but I think it is important to start an introduction with a little bit (or a lot of bit) of background. You can look forward to the many whims and random occurrences of my life. I tend to do things for myself and am not afraid of rejection or failure. Life is about the lessons you learn, and it is hard to learn if you aren’t willing to take risks.
I hope this gave you a taste of the flavor of my life.