Francesca Zani ’18—The Road to an Exciting Career in Food Media
“It’s important to build a network of mentors and professionals that can guide and advise your education and career. Always persist beyond your limits and never say no to an opportunity. The people you meet and the opportunities that come your way are part of the process in making your talent shine! “
CIA Alumni Bio
Francesca Zani ’18 graduated with a bachelor’s degree in applied food studies. During her time at the CIA, she studied abroad in Puglia, Italy and was the recipient of The Julia Child Foundation Scholarship for Culinary Writing. Today, Francesca is an associate culinary producer for PowerHouse Productions TV. She tests and develops recipe for clients like Chef JJ Johnson ’07, Jake and Jazz Smollett, Jernard Wells, and Porshe Thomas. Francesca was part of the culinary team for Patti Labelle’s cooking series, which premiered November 2017, and is the creative mind behind The Garnished Palate, LLC. Francesca continues to write freelance and is a member of the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance and the Slow Food NYC committee.
How did you come to the realization that your life would be in the food world?
When I was a little girl my mother would turn on the Food Network. I found myself sitting in front of the television captivated by 30 Minute Meals with Rachel Ray most of the time. I loved it so much that I dressed like Rachel Ray for Halloween in the sixth grade! She was the first culinary icon I started to look up to in food media.
Why did you choose the CIA?
The CIA holds its standard higher than any other culinary school in America, so of course I wanted the best exposure for my future and career in the food world. You get to connect with professors and network with professionals in the field in a way that other schools may not offer their students. It’s a community of teachers and chefs that give you the tools and freedom to express your interests. And it’s your job to take advantage of all opportunities and challenges.
How did the CIA prepare you for your chosen career?
The media relations department and student activities also gave me the freedom to get involved with activities relating to food media, i.e. food styling, food photography, podcasts, etc. I am a strong believer in the power of networking! I call it “the domino effect” because all it takes is one important person to change your life.
How did scholarships and/or grants help you reach your goal of getting a CIA education?
The CIA offers a plethora of scholarships for students. A large part of my education was funded by scholarships from organizations and brands like Les Dames d’Escoffier, The Julia Child Foundation, and Jones Dairy Farm. Scholarships have also afforded me opportunities. Through them I gained a network of mentors who have taken time to advise, teach, and connect me with key leaders in food media.
What did you like best about your CIA experience?
I loved the ability to take time outside of classes to work on projects that inspired me the most in food communications. Being a part of the digital media club and creating a digital magazine to promote the opportunities in food media was a great portfolio piece I created. Simultaneously, I connected with renowned influencers in food media that showed me the ropes and connected me to my present work in television and media.
I also took advantage of the travel abroad program to Italy to inspire me to focus on my heritage. Writing, talking, eating smelling, and absorbing the sites and people affected my future in food. I had the most intimate experience with the country through the CIA and I am forever grateful.
What is the best lesson you’ve learned while at the CIA?
It’s incredibly important to listen to your mentors and go beyond what others ask of you. Always make it your duty to strive for excellence but be gracious and patient with the process. Persisting and connecting with those who inspire you is imperative. Always be cordial, professional, and humble with everyone. You never know who you will work for or who will work for you!
What class at the CIA had the most impact on you?
Anthropology of food was certainly an impactful course! It’s a class that opened my mind to how global societies view, eat, and gather around food. Food is the largest and most impactful form of communication in the world and there is so much symbolism within it.
I must also mention my experience in Italy! I loved the Northern Italian cuisine course. Northern Italy has a diverse food language because of the foodways between bordering countries of Switzerland, Austria, and France. And tucked away in the North Eastern corner of Italy is Trentino Alto Adige where you find foods of Austria, Hungary, and Germany.
What had you opting to major in Applied Food Studies and how has it informed how you look at food?”
I opted for this degree program at the CIA because I thought it would offer another perspective on how our food system works. I learned the proper cooking and baking techniques from the associate’s program, but I wanted to develop an understanding of where our food comes from, food justice and insecurity, food waste, and the practice of sustainability. All of that makes my understanding of food come full circle. And, that’s just the beginning of the knowledge! I have so much more to learn throughout my career.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I love how diverse my experience has been working in television. Since I was hired as associate culinary producer nearly a year ago, I have juggled different roles—from producing culinary segments for cooking shows and news segments to food styling still life and from photographing food and talent to working as the Associate Producer on a travel series. I have gained many perspectives on culture and travel by working with PowerHouse Productions.
What are some challenges that students may face in the industry?
It’s incredibly competitive and often hard to find full-time work in food media. Many jobs are freelance and require four or five years of experience working under a culinary producer or food stylist. Training in any field is key.
What advice would you give to a new student or someone who is considering attending the CIA?
It’s important to build a network of mentors and professionals that can guide and advise your education and career. Always persist beyond your limits and never say no to an opportunity. The people you meet and the opportunities that come your way are part of the process in making your talent shine!
Chef Zani graduated with a bachelor’s degree in applied food studies at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. She is an associate culinary producer for PowerHouse Productions TV and is the owner of The Garnished Palate, LLC.