Jesse Szewczyk ’14—Writing His Own Future at BuzzFeed
CIA Alumni Bio
“As a food writer, I think it’s important to have a background rooted in kitchens to be able to connect and responsibly write about the industry. The CIA helped me understand the restaurant industry and connect to chefs in a way that is genuine and valuable. ”
Jesse Szewczyk graduated from The Culinary Institute of America’s New York campus in January 2014 with a Bachelor’s in Food Business Management. After graduation, he worked a number of food jobs—from menu development to managing restaurant kitchens—but never felt truly fulfilled or like he belonged. At age 25, and with dreams of working in food media, Jesse quit his job as a culinary director of a food start-up in Chicago and moved to New York to intern at BuzzFeed. Within three months, he was hired full-time. He’s been working as a food writer at the media outlet for the past two years.
How did you come to the realization that your life would be in the food world?
My mother ran a candy business from our home, so I was always surrounded by food. But it wasn’t until I completed my CIA externship at Bon Appétit magazine that I realized I wanted to go into food media. I had no idea that food editing could be an actual career path, and it opened my eyes to a whole new industry within food that I wanted to pursue.
Why did you choose the CIA?
I knew I wanted to attend the CIA from a very young age. As a food writer, I think it’s important to have a background rooted in kitchens to be able to connect and responsibly write about the industry. The CIA helped me understand the restaurant industry and connect to chefs in a way that is genuine and valuable.
How did the CIA prepare you for your chosen career?
The CIA taught me the fundamentals of cooking and how to write accurate recipes. I can now translate the fundamental skills I learned at the CIA into recipes and tips that are helpful for home cooks.
What did you like best about your CIA experience?
Networking with fellow students, chefs, and instructors was a valuable experience that has been endlessly helpful in my career. I have an amazingly supportive network of friends who I can text anytime with questions or for favors.
What is/are the best lesson(s) you’ve learned while at the CIA?
The CIA taught me to respect everyone I work with. From the editors, to the food writers, to the stylists, to the dishwashers, it’s important to remember that everyone is working harder than you.
What class at the CIA had the most impact on you?
The Introduction to Food Writing course with Irena Chalmers gave me the confidence I needed to start writing—even though I had no formal journalism or English training. Irena taught me that it is less about the formalities of writing, and more about the actual content. If you have something to say or a unique perspective to bring to the table, that is what matters. Irena pushed me to write things that others weren’t, and to think about my own unique perspective. This class remains the only formal writing class I have ever taken, and Irena was endlessly inspirational in leading me to where I am today.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
BuzzFeed has a huge audience, and with that power comes responsibility. My articles are read by hundreds of thousands of people, so it’s important that I am responsible, using the proper language to describe food. It is important that my work is an accurate representation of the food industry. Write-ups of chefs need to be inclusive and reflective of actual restaurant kitchens. Food writers have the power to pull back the curtain and show the world what it’s like to work in kitchens, so it’s important that I am painting an accurate picture. This means highlighting chefs of every background, gender identity, geographic location, etc. This also means highlighting chefs who are not always given the limelight. It is my goal to give the much-deserved attention to cooks who are doing great work.
What are some challenges that students may face in the industry? Any advice?
Many people within food media have journalism degrees or other formal writing backgrounds, but it’s not necessary to break into the field. At first it was difficult to find editors who would take a chance on me and my writing, but I quickly realized that having a culinary background instead of a writing background helps me look at food from a different perspective. I may not always know how to properly use commas, but I can tell stories in a way that responsibly reflects the food industry.
Culinary students should feel empowered to write, even if they do not have formal writing training. Start pitching ideas to magazines, websites, blogs, and other media outlets. Editors are longing for new voices and ideas.
Learn how to use social media to market yourself. In many ways, Instagram has become the new LinkedIn—for better or worse. Editors are constantly scrolling through their feeds, and if you have great posts with smart, insightful captions, they will remember you.
What advice would you give to a new student or someone who is considering attending the CIA?
Network and introduce yourself to everyone. My fellow classmates have gone on to do amazing things, and I’ve actually written assignments for some of the fellow food editors I’ve graduated with.