Our coincidental links to Jeff are many - he went to the same university, and graduated the same year?he was good friends with one of our good friends?he now works at Dickson's, where Taylor has been known to help out in a pinch, not to mention the various job opportunities that Dickson's has posted on Good Food Jobs (hey, did you know that Dickson's is hiring right now, too?). And for all of that, I'd have to say that our most common denominator is the ability to pester your way into a job that you can't wait to devote yourself to entirely. Jeff is definitely a go-getter, and we have found ourselves offering the same advice that he does, over and over again. I guess it's true that the world is small, and we're grateful, since it allows us to make plenty of new friends in food.
Editor's note: no, we did not photoshop the above image?it's just further proof that Jeff was a born gastrognome.
What attracted you to a good food job?
In a former career I was an actor and voiceover artist, and my work would take me around the country for months at a time. Through my travels I found that I became more excited for the food culture I was about to enter than for the job I was hired to do. Alabama: best fried chicken of my life. Boston: roast beef sandwiches, who knew? Philadelphia: a quest to try every cheesesteak in the city. I've always loved food. And man, can I put it down.
I'm a first generation American with a French-Egyptian-Italian-Jewish background; my family left Egypt as refugees in 1967 and food has kept us connected to home and to the past. My entire family is extremely food-centered - everyone thinks he or she is a better cook than the next one - and it can get intense. Birthdays are centered around food. Family vacations are centered around food. Even meals are centered around what we're having for the next meal. My mom had a catering business when I was growing up, but it wasn't until after I graduated college that I started getting into cooking and food in any passionate way. It was just a matter of time before I jumped into food mouth-first.
When I was deciding to leave the arts I thought I wanted to work in a restaurant kitchen. Thanks to some friends around New York City, I staged a couple days at Locanda Verde and Char No. 4 but realized that, oddly, the cook's lifestyle was too similar to that of an actor's. I read The Omnivore's Dilemma (yes, just like everyone else - but you should really read The China Study) and wanted to get involved with food the right way. So I decided to take one step further back on the food chain and work at a butcher shop.
I did some research on different shops in New York City - some old-school and some new-school, but I grew more interested in Dickson's Farmstand, specifically because it mixed the old- and new-school models with their commitment to sustainability using local, all-natural, pasture-raised, grass-fed, nose-to-tail, whole animals. Essentially, it wasn't hard to fall for a butcher shop that had gone off-the-grid with regard to industrial food. Plus, it smelled like no other butcher shop I'd ever been in: clean.
How did you get your current good food job?
I waltzed into the shop and promptly handed the owner a resume that had absolutely zero meat (let alone food) experience on it whatsoever. I tried as best I could to highlight my stint on reality food television, but I knew that wouldn't really mean anything. I just knew I had to get in the door. So I followed-up. Then again. Then I pestered. Then again, until an opening came up and I was offered an internship.
It has been a serious education. And I was an absolute sponge, learning about primals and sub-primals, visiting the slaughterhouse, grinding and packing meat, watching the butchers work. A two-day-a-week commitment gradually turned into five, and I picked up an extra shift working the Dickson's Farmstand stall at The New Amsterdam Market. As my 3-month internship came to an end, there was an opening on the front-of-house team working the retail meat counter. So I then spent valuable time in front of the customer putting my knowledge to practical use and learning a new side of the business. Now, I'm a bit of a wildcard, floating between the cutting room and front-of-house, and it couldn't be any more fun, lively, or interesting. I was lucky enough to have lots of people around the shop take me under their wings, invest in my potential, and make me better at what I do. You can't ask for much more than that and there's really no better way it could have happened: I built the knowledge for this specific good food job piece by piece... and there is still much more to learn.
Now, less than a year in, I'm a former-intern-turned-head-of-the-intern-program and using GoodFoodJobs.com to find good people!
How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?
Every good job, whether it's about food or not, is about organization and being a team player. Running your own business as an actor definitely honed those skills. It's also about people; being able to read people, understand people, help people, and talk to people in different ways. It's not so bad to be able to laugh at work, either. Being comfortable and confident in performance helps with that.
I've also started the video food website, FudeHouse. It's a funky, video-based online resource for non-experts to gain small tips, tricks, and techniques that they can incorporate into their kitchen repertoire. It's not about recipes, it's about empowering people with food. The site truly combines all my skills and passions - it's a synthesis of my love for food with every job I've ever had: actor, voiceover artist, teacher, creative project manager, film production crew, video editor, and now, meat cutter.
What advice do you have for others in search of a good food job?
I've always found that setting small, specific goals is the way to go. Big, lofty, 10-year goals are great, too, but I've had the best success when I've said to myself, "I want to work with such-and-such. I'm going to take a risk, put myself out there, and do what I need to in order to make this happen." The best jobs I've come across are those I zeroed my sights on and dedicated myself to acquiring.
Also, a professor of mine once told me to try to do at least one concrete thing for your own career everyday. Send a resume. Follow-up with someone on e-mail. Introduce yourself to a local retailer. Take a class. There's a saying in the acting world: "If nobody is hiring you, create your own work." There's no reason why that can't apply to good food jobs as well.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?
You can woo my heart with popcorn and culinary weekends away.
Update as of 2014.04.01