Life as Associate Culinary Producer and How Food Media is the Great Connector
A window into the industry
Food Media is a window into the industry that holds all the amazing surprises of what’s on the market. It’s the place where people go to get inspired or to inspire. It’s a marketing platform, advertisement of product, and exploration of talent. It’s a valuable necessity and a form of communication in our food world.
When I was a little girl my mom would always have the Food Network on while my brother and I played around the house. Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Meals always caught my eye and Rachael became the icon I looked up to. I always envisioned a chef to be like Rachael Ray. I would have this surge of ambition to go recreate something I saw on her show, even when I couldn’t read a recipe or cook! Instead, I mixed spices or condiment packets together in a metal bowl pretending to cook some concoction of delicious food, and then share it, talk about it, show it off to my “fake audience and imaginary camera crew.” I was just a little gal playing pretend! It quickly became a thing in my family. My aunt would call me Rachael and I dressed like her for Halloween, carrying around her cookbook and a homemade felt pin with her initials. Classmates thought I was dressed like a waitress at Red Robin!
She formed my idea of what it was like to be a chef until years later, when at the CIA, I started to understand the difference between restaurant chef and tv personality. Until I could get my first job at fifteen in a restaurant kitchen, cookbooks, cooking shows, online databases of recipes, and Bon Appétit magazine shaped my love for the media sector of the food culture.
The next steps
I always envisioned myself working in food TV, but the road to getting there was something I had to work hard at. It took dozens of e-mails and time seeking contacts and introductions from people I admired and hoped to work for. Through the scholarship programs at the CIA, I was introduced to mentors who helped me take the next steps in my career. After graduating from the CIA, I freelanced for six months, hustling to meet the next great food stylist or culinary producer while applying for full-time work. There were weeks I had no work and weeks I worked for free. I realized that this was par for the course of working in media.
It was through the CIA that I was able to connect with Kersti Bowser ‘01, one of my mentors, a CIA alumna, renowned food stylist, and culinary producer. She showed me the ropes of culinary producing and the importance of saying yes to every opportunity. She brought me on as her assistant on Patti Labelle’s cooking show, a Satellite Media tour in NYC, and a morning segment on Fox news. She taught me the graceful hustle and how to remain focused under intense pressure. My first role working as her assistant on Patti Labelle’s cooking show was how I met my current bosses—Rochelle Brown and Sonia Armstead. Through them, I took a position as an associate culinary producer for PowerHouse Productions, a leading food and lifestyle production company by these two powerful and dynamic women. They have offered me all the learning tools and mentorship I need to dive into food media. It’s a personalized experience getting to work right alongside the executive producers. They threw me into the grind right away! I have responsibilities that challenge me as a leader constantly; whether leading a culinary team on multiple sets in the tiniest kitchens, scouting locations in other parts of the world for travel shows, developing recipes for Foodie Friday, or styling food in the middle of a cramped radio studio with only a few hours notice. And simultaneously, I am working to develop and grow my brand, The Garnished Palate, into a hub of storytelling adventure and food education.
Just as others have helped me to get my foot in the door of this exciting culinary-driven field, I hope to one day do the same for others who have the dream of being just like their media idol.
By Francesca Zani
Francesca Zani ’18 graduated from the CIA with a bachelor’s degree in applied food studies. She is an associate culinary producer for PowerHouse Productions TV.