March 15, 2012

Table Talk: 10 Delicious Questions for Good Food Jobs

Welcome to Table Talk, where we sit down to chat and talk gossip with new and noteworthy voices in the food world. Got a suggestion for an interviewee? Email me.

Photo: Nicole Franzen
Meet Taylor Cocalis and Dorothy Neagle. The two met at Cornell University in 2004 where they became friends. In 2010, they would launch the much-needed food-job website Good Food Jobs. The six intervening years had sent them each in their own direction, but connected by their love of good food, they reunited in NYC and started Good Food Jobs. The venture, in their own words, "is a gastro-job search tool, designed to link people looking for meaningful food work with the businesses that need their energy, enthusiasm, and intellect."

Sounds like a Grade-A plan to me! Today they share their thoughts on the future of food jobs, success in the food world, and whether or not food is getting good-er (apparently my grammar is not). Read on!

Will: What was your favorite breakfast cereal as a kid?

Taylor: Kix. Hands down. Or when I was super little it was Cheerios with honey drizzed on top (not to be confused with Honey Nut Cheerios).

Dorothy: That's hilarious! We also loved Kix. It was the only 'junk food' cereal that my mom would allow more than once a year.

What drink would you order on a first date?

Taylor: Well that depends on where we are. Casual? Arnold Palmer (only if the lemonade is fresh squeezed and the iced tea is homemade). Beer Bar? A saison to start off the night. Wine establishment? A glass of Lambrusco.

Dorothy: I'm always nervous on a first date, so I just order red wine.

If Julia Child came over for dinner, what would you serve her?

Taylor: Oh dear. Something with a lot of wine in the preparation so that we could both enjoy some before the meal. Her for pleasure and me to calm the nerves.

Dorothy: I'd probably try to keep it simple and of course homemade, so I could focus on the conversation, which would likely be much more satisfying than the food.

Jobs in the food world include way more than line cooks and restaurant critics. What's the weirdest food job you have ever come across?

It's so true! On a daily basis, we might get three line cook jobs and one job that we have never even heard of before...or only imagined in our wildest dreams (like chocolate tester for Green & Black's). I have to say that the jobs rarely sound 'weird' as much as they just sound very creative or different. Perhaps I'm biased, but it's rare that we come across a job that doesn't sound at all interesting to me - there's just so much inspiration when it comes to food. We try to post out-of-the-box opportunities, including short-term non-traditional-pay jobs (like internships that barter for sustenance) or even farms that are looking for farmers to keep them going. We want Good Food Jobs to be the place you go for the entire spectrum of opportunities within the realm of sustainability and food culture.

So you guys started this thing called Good Food Jobs. What exactly is it? And what is a Good Food Job anyways?

Good Food Jobs is physically an online job search engine designed to link people looking for meaningful food work with the businesses that need their energy, enthusiasm, and intellect. But for us it holds much more meaning than that. We're creating a centralized meeting place for people to go where others can understand their deep interest in food. Too many times we were seen as 'outcasts' for preferring part-time gigs in the food world to a salaried 'management' position at fill-in-the-blank corporate company. What we are trying to communicate is that there is a lot of work to be done to bring our food system in the right direction and that a Good Food Job is anything that helps accomplish that. It can mean a totally different thing when you are 16 than when you are 60. There is a spectrum along which you can move to accomplish what you want in terms of doing good within the (food) world.

You have a fabulous blog on Good Food Jobs called Gastrognomes where you profile exciting, inspiring (not to mention totally awesome) people in the food world. Are there any interviews you've done that really stick out? And have your found anything common among people who do well in the food world?

Taylor: In terms of a common thread: the people that succeed are the ones that put in some serious elbow grease up front. Some of it's paid, some of it's barely paid. But they get out there. They meet people. They contribute. And that sparks ideas and helps propel them to be doing what they want to be doing. And accomplishing what they want to accomplish. And learning more than they ever imagined they would.

Dorothy: I'm continually amazed by how much overlap there is in the advice that people give each week. We literally hear the same things over and over again: follow your instincts, don't let anything stop you, get up and do something, do what you have to to get the experience you want and let the paycheck come once you've built some skills, meet and talk to as many people as you possibly can, etc... It never gets boring for me to hear it, and I hope that's true for our readers as well.

Say you're a college student looking to get into the food world (oh wait, that's me!). What advice would you give to a college student setting out to find a career in food?

We often talk about how much you learn over the course of your 20's that you didn't expect to learn when you had just graduated college. Including the fact that you might never use your specific degree (but that doesn't mean it wasn't useful!) If I could give my 22-year-old self some advice, I'd say not to worry so much about what my degree prescribes, and to explore as many different opportunities as possible, whether I feel traditionally qualified for them or not. The best way to learn what you really want to do, what you have enough passion for to do on a daily basis, is to try out lots of things. This will also teach you what you have a tolerance for in terms of other work-related issues, like office culture or a difficult boss or a very hot kitchen. You'd be surprised how good it can look on your resume when you have a lot of practical experience, and the confidence of knowing what you want and don't want out of your career.

On that note, how is the food job scene changing today? What are going to be the big food jobs of the future?

That's yet to be determined! We've noticed something on Good Food Jobs, though - there is a void right now. About two thirds of the time there are entry level jobs: internships (paid and unpaid), low hourly wage positions, and the like. Then a third of the time there are super specialized positions, where you need a lot of experience just to get an interview. What we want to see are more of the mid-level jobs. Jobs where you need someone smart and capable, but they don't have to have 10 years experience yet. This will come with time. We see all sorts of small food businesses popping up. And as this grows to a sustainable size the jobs will come with them. But in the meantime, don't wait! Rack up the experience. You never know where it will lead you.

As you guys have set out to create a online hub of good food jobs and the food world keeps growing and growing, I have to ask: is food getting good-er?

Ha! Your grammar is impeccable. Well, as with any situation that looks bleak from the outset, we do have to keep a positive state of mind in order to keep trudging along, attempting to change the world one job at a time. People are becoming more and more aware in a way that is lasting, not trendy. And there are more and more interesting and diverse job opportunities out there now, not to mention room for creating new food businesses. It's always a good time to take action and do something to improve your own life and the lives of others.

What are you making for dinner tonight?

Taylor: Bean soup. Just cleaned out the cabinet of dried beans: black, kidney, chickpeas, lentils. Simmer all day with homemade chicken stock, two chopped onions, some cumin, and salt at the end. Blend it up come dinner time and serve with creme fraiche, avocado, homemade hot sauce and lemon / garlic / paprika oil. Mixed greens on the side. And hand stuffed sausages. On the grill. First time of the season!

Dorothy: That has yet to be determined, and now that this interview is done, it's time to start looking for some inspiration...

Still Hungry? Check out the Good Food Jobs website and follow them on Twitter @goodfoodjobs.

And check out past Table Talk interviews with Spilled Milk, Big Girls Small Kitchen, and The Amateur Gourmet.