Careers in Food: 4 Women Share How They Forged Their Own Paths

Photo Credit: AdobeStock/Milles Studio

By Kaitlin Bitting

READ MORE: Career advice, Food, Allen & Gerritsen

According to a POPSUGAR Insights survey, 43% of women classify themselves as foodies, and the National Restaurant Association found more than 60% of women have worked in the restaurant or food service industry at some point in their lives. It’s clear that hands-on experience and careers in food would be a dream for many women, but determining where and how to get your foot in the door remains a question for many.

The food industry is a popular one, with new employment and work experience opportunities in a range of sub-fields, from food and beverage services to food technologists to food law to nutrition and sustainable food, popping up every day. Here, we asked four women to share in their own words how they got started in their unique food industry careers and what advice they’d give to others hoping to follow in their footsteps.

 

Photo credit: The Food Lens

The Food Lens is a Boston food guide launched last year by Boston University alums Molly Ford and Sarah Jesup. Eternally curious and always hungry, Ford and Jesup have eaten their way through the city, culling the most authentic dining experiences Boston's chefs have to offer.

How did you get your start in the industry?

We both are extremely passionate about food and travel, and enjoy giving people tips on where they go for a casual lunch, or a fancy celebratory dinner. We felt that Boston was lacking an official dining guide, and we thought it would be useful to give locals (and travelers) a tool they can use when looking for a place to eat. The Food Lens offers a lot of details on each spot, and categories are easily searchable which makes for easy navigating.

What do you love about your job?

First of all, we love eating! Between the both of us, we probably eat out about five times a week. We also enjoy sharing our favorite spots with our family, friends, and of course, our readers. We work with an amazing team, and we’re regularly on set shooting at restaurants. Every day is pretty different for us, which also makes our job exciting!

What advice would you give to other women looking to follow in your footsteps?

Always follow your instincts and go with your gut, even if others try to guide you in a different direction.

 

Francesca Montillo

Photo credit: Lazy Italian Culinary Adventures

Francesca Montillo, founder and owner of Lazy Italian Culinary Adventures, is a Boston-based Italian native. She has always loved traveling and cooking, so when her ideal job failed to manifest itself, she decided to create it.

How did you get your start in the industry?

I wanted a job in the food industry, but I knew food preparation in a restaurant kitchen was not my thing. I also didn’t want to open my own restaurant. Since I could not find my ideal employment, I decided to create my own by building a business around my passions: food and Italy. I now lead culinary tours to Italy, where I take travelers to cooking classes with the local cooks, wineries, honey and cheese farms, great restaurants, and small, family-run specialty shops. We enjoy picnics under the Tuscan sun, morning espresso at the local cafes, and mingle with the locals while learning about Italian food and culinary arts, in, well, Italy! When not leading culinary excursions to Italy, I also teach Italian cooking in the Boston area.

What do you love about your job?

It combines the things I love: traveling and Italian food! I get to meet people who are passionate about Italian cuisine and looking to learn more by taking classes or going abroad to learn. I’m not sure who has more fun on these tours: the guests or myself. Being surrounded by the delicious smells of real Italian cuisine is priceless.

What advice would you give to other women looking to follow in your footsteps?

The best advice I can give to anyone looking to gain work experience in the food business, especially an entrepreneur, is start where you are and go for it. I knew nothing about running a business, but I knew about cooking and Italy, so that’s where I started. I am still learning the ropes of entrepreneurship, and I am sure I will be learning until the very end, but it’s a challenging yet fun ride. One must network relentlessly to build connections, so I would advise women to get out and meet other like-minded individuals. Understand that a job in the culinary arts can be physically tiring, but the love of what you do will move you forward and give you the energy you need.

 

Stacy Ornstein

Photo credit: Allergic to Salad

Stacey Ornstein is the founder of Allergic to Salad, an in-school and after-school food sciences program that is changing the way kids eat through cooking classes that teach life skills techniques as well as an appreciation for healthier food choices. Currently taught in 150 New York City public schools, Allergic to Salad classes tie back to the STEM and CORE curricula taught in the classrooms while discussing topics such as food identification, food sourcing, health and well-being, food safety, and food law and justice.

How did you get your start in the industry?

I had just graduated with my master's degree in education and was working for an art education non-profit in NYC. My position was coaching high school students on college admissions and getting their art portfolios in order. I started becoming very aware of what they ate—mostly bags of chips or fast food as meals. I coupled that with the reaction people at the office gave me when they saw the homemade foods I brought in to eat and knew something had to change.

I quit my job, contacted Mark Bittman, and interned with him a bit before finding a food-focused non-profit. I worked with them on programming before I knew I wanted to "get my hands dirty" and get into the classroom. I started teaching young chefs in after school programs on my own freelance schedule, developing my own curriculum and recipes and giving the students hands-on experience in cooking. My class became so popular that my partner sites requested copies of my recipes for other cooking teachers to prep with the student cooks, as well as more cooking instructors. In 2013, I was pregnant with my first son and knew I had to change my freelance status, so I started Allergic to Salad and began hiring employees who were like-minded culinary educators.

What do you love about your job?

I love that parents tell me I'm truly making a difference in their child's eating habits and health and well-being. I love when students tell us they've been cooking our recipes over school breaks or at home in general. I love when people ask for our recipes. I love working with youth and—hopefully—making a change.

What advice would you give to other women looking to follow in your footsteps?

If you're going to start something, make sure it's a true passion. Don't do something you "sort of" enjoy because starting a business truly consumes your life. It's a child whose growth you need to help foster. If you don't love waking up every morning and making those phone calls, or completing that paperwork—because there is always the nitty gritty behind the scenes—it might not be your true calling.

As evidenced by these four women, it’s clear that the opportunities are endless when it comes to a unique, unexpected career in the food industry—from food services, to food safety, to nutrition, to food sciences, to food preparation. Follow their tips—or your gut—to forge your own path in your quest for a culinary career.

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Kaitlin Bitting is a vice president of public relations at Allen & Gerritsen and a certified health and wellness coach. She's passionate about helping people find the motivation to create lasting, positive change in their lives, whether personal or professional. Learn more at kaitlinbitting.com.

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