You hear a lot of talk about "edible schoolyards" these days, but few educators are introducing their students to real food culture like Miss Boylan (as her students affectionately call her). Jen's passion for food merged beautifully with her teaching role, and spurred her to deviate from an English curriculum to the most comprehensive Gastronomy course any high school has to offer. Under her direction, high school students get to scour the nation's largest urban food market: from restaurants and retail to food artisans and farms. All we can say is, "Where was Miss Boylan when we were in high school?" She's introduced a whole new world to her students, inspiring many to pursue university studies and/or work surrounding gastronomy, food culture, and agriculture. And she's done it all without the alarmist attitude that so often deters people from learning more about where their food comes. Miss Boylan's food community is one of pleasure, education, and nourishment for the next generation of independent eaters.
What attracted you to a good food job, and how did your previous work or life experience prepare you for it?
While I studied for my graduate degree, I worked at Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, which was the best crash course in food I could get. Ari Weinzweig, one of the owners, takes his employees' food training very seriously and though I worked the cheese counter, I also took tasting classes in tea, honey, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, chocolate and many of the other goods they offer from around the world. It was a blast, but at that point, I didn't consider a job in food as an option. So I graduated, moved back to NYC and began teaching English at the High School for Math, Science and Engineering at CCNY where I have been for the past seven years.
On one random day in the fall of 2007, as I fumbled an armful of cheese at Murray's in the West Village, Taylor stopped to help me and we began to talk cheese. By the end of our conversation, she convinced me to volunteer for their classes. Week after week, I set and cleaned up 25 tasting plates for some very eager adults and I realized I would love to do the same for my very eager students. Actually, the first thought was, "How cool would it be to eat some runny Epoisses with my students in the middle of the day?" (There are many pros and cons to this activity.) And the idea eventually evolved into teaching kids the principles of good food as an elective course. With the help of Taylor's encyclopedic food knowledge, I created a course curriculum, and I started making calls to some of the amazing purveyors and farmers in the area and good food found a home in my classroom. We have taste workshops every week, invite guest speakers and I try to bust the kids out of the classroom whenever possible to check out local producers, farms, and markets.
When I first started organizing trips for the elective course kids, I realized that a few of them had not really explored NYC at all. This was unacceptable! So I recently started a club: EatNYC. Every Friday, I take the first ten students who return permission slips on a food adventure around our awesome city. Our stomachs have led us to Flushing for Chinese food at the Golden Shopping Mall, Woodside for Thai at SriPraPhai and Turkish food at Uskudar in Manhattan. I never thought I would say this, but I love spending my Friday evenings with my students trying new food. I'm psyched to be a part of their food education and to offer them their first tastes of curry, baklava, lamb, you name it!
What advice do you have for others in search of a good food job?
I'm finding that in the food industry, people have to create their "dream" jobs. I wouldn't be able to do all of the cool things I do now had I not said "yes" to most every volunteer opportunity, class, part-time job that came my way. It's the best way to network and to learn. Who knows where it will lead me, but I'm having a ton of fun in the meantime.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?
Cookbooks. I have my eye on an old Auguste Escoffier.