28
Apr
2010
TAYLOR COCALIS

CO-FOUNDER, GOOD FOOD JOBS

Allow me to introduce myself.  I’m Taylor.  And I’m a gastro.gnome.

What is a gastro.gnome, you ask?  Well, here are a few definitions to clarify:

gastronomy the practice or art of choosing, cooking, and eating good food.

gnome (in folklore) one of a species of miniature beings that inhabit the interior of the earth and act as guardians of its treasure.

gastro.gnome a jovial individual whose main purpose on earth is to connect people who derive pleasure from good food.

After forging my own career path within the world of food, I realized that my efforts were best spent guiding other qualified, capable individuals on their path to food (and life) enlightenment.  Let me explain.

Growing up in the suburban New Jersey (please, no jersey shore jokes), I often accompanied my mom on her frequent trips to the local Foodtown (yes, that was the name of our grocery store).  It wasn’t until high school that I realized I loved grocery shopping.  What others thought was truly torturous (scanning aisles, looking for inspiration for dinner, bumping into friends and neighbors doing the same), I thought it was an adventure, a sport, a social experience, a treasure hunt.

I began to explore more: I’d find recipes with interesting ingredients, hop around from store to store looking for new and interesting items, and from time to time would accompany friends to NYC (while they were looking to shop at the boutiques of SoHo, I’d hit up Dean and Deluca and Gourmet Garage).

So it was time for university and I scoured for a program that addressed food in the way i wanted to learn it.  Everyone would ask, “Well you want to go to culinary school, right?”  No, not exactly.  “Well you want to own a restaurant then, right?”  Well, no, not that either.  “What could you possibly want to do then?”

I want to make people feel as happy as I do when I eat really good food … to  enjoy the fresh air when they pick apples every October, to anxiously await corn so sweet I eat it raw off the cob, or to stop and taste something delectable every once in a while.  The way I see it, if you’re going to have to eat every day for the rest of your life, it might as well be as enjoyable and experience as possible.

I ended up in Montreal, a European city of sorts, just over the border.  The gastronomic scene simply fueled my fire and after two years I packed up and headed to the slightly warmer climate in Ithaca, NY, where I studied hospitality management.  I finally found a program that was closer to the way I wanted to learn about food.  It wasn’t perfect (while my classmates were working on restaurant projects, I geared my toward specialty food shops, and while others frequented the bars and restaurants, I would spend my off-hours at the farmers market).

But with graduation came the forthcoming fear that I’d finally have to decide what I actually wanted to do with my life (well, I knew what I wanted to do, I just wasn’t so sure that I could find someone to pay me to do it).  Fortunately I was wise enough to realize I could procrastinate.  Through a bit of crafty research, I found a new English speaking Master in Food Culture program at the newly formed University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy (founded by slow food in 2005).  Naturally, I applied.

And I spent the next 12 months eating my way around Europe, learning about the traditional food products (think olive oil, cured meat, pasta, wine and cheese) and how they differed from the imposters you now find in the grocery store.  It changed my life.

We listened, we learned, we tasted, we ate, we laughed, we saw, we smelled, we felt, we lived. We experienced good food.

While many of my cohorts opted to stay in Italy, I hightailed it back to the states, where we, as a culture, needed the most work.

I came back.  And I struggled.  I had all of these great experiences, yet I wasn’t one hundred percent sure how to apply them.  Do I work for a non-profit promoting sustainable agriculture? Do I find a farmers market in need of a manager? Do I roll up my sleeves and work for a restaurant?

In the end (and by that I mean in a few short weeks) I found a dream job of sorts: running the education department at Murray’s Cheese.  I couldn’t have asked for more.  It allowed me to educate people about good food (namely cheese) at an establishment that sold it.  It wasn’t cooking.  It was just finely crafted foods that people could take home and “prepare” with little more than removing it from its packaging.  Ancient fast food.

After 3 years (and endless learning) I decided to depart from Murray’s in a grander mission.  I could comfortably continue to educate in the confines of the classroom forever (capped at 24 participants per night), but during my tenure I met hundreds of fellow food lovers looking to make meaning of their love of food.  They want to turn their passion into a profession.  I decided it was time for the next phase of food education.

So here I am.  This blog is in conjunction with my second food related career.  In Summer 2010 I (along with my business partner and college friend, Dor) are launching Good Food Jobs, a gastronomy-centric job search website, designed to lure others into the world of food. For all of you out there who want to work with food, but are unsure of the options outside of the kitchen, we’ll post everything from work with farmers and food artisans, policy makers and purveyors, retailers and restaurateurs, economics and ecology.

But for inspiration, we’ll start with this blog.  Stay tuned as we profile the most interesting, engaging, and unlikely food professions and professionals that we come across.

Pull up a seat at our table.  We look forward to sharing with you.