Earlier this spring I interviewed Amanda Hesser of Food52 for my “Finding Your Path” series on The Daily Muse. It was a true pleasure hearing her story of finding a way to do something in life “that was more genuine and inspired”. Bored with her economics and finance studies in college, and seeing a whole new world of food on a trip abroad, she decided to ditch her goal of following a corporate path and make a new plan up…and make it happen.
While from a small town in Pennsylvania, food and cooking was always a big part of her family life. Her grandmother and mother instilled a love of cooking seasonally well before it became the trend du jour. She also was inspired by her family’s work ethic:
“My parents had a business. They didn’t go to college but my father took risks. With four children, he borrowed money, bought a business and moved his family to a new town. He made it work. I grew up with that that tension in the household but also that sense of accomplishment. The business started dong well and we started traveling and being exposed to more. I thought, I want a life where I can do this”
To her that meant…work hard and be scrappy. You don’t rest on your laurels or rely on a fancy degree. You make it happen. At first she thought she would get an international corporate job where she could live life well. But she changed tracks early on and found her love of food could take her there.
After proposing and getting a culinary scholarship in Europe, she wrote a book about her year working as a cook at a chateau in France. The Cook and The Gardener is a wonderful read and reflects Amanda’s knack for building relationships as she slowly befriends the cantankerous gardener and shares a year of recipes using the produce that was available to her in the garden. The book is a wealth of interesting tips on shopping for vegetables, the history of the chateau and the food itself.
From there she went on to become a food writer for The New York Times before eventually founding Food52, the collaborative cooking website she started with Merrill Stubbs. Food52 began as a single project to create the first crowd-sourced cookbook in 52 weeks. They used recipe contests to collect recipes to turn into a cookbook. They ended up with a community of talented, well-informed food people who loved having a place to contribute. So they invited the community in to share recipes, debate food news, help others with real-time food Q&A and band together to support local food producers.
I love visiting the site. It is a place where you really feel like you are hanging out with friends plus you get loads of great info and recipes from real people. The design is beautiful and makes you want to cook even if you are not so inclined!
You can read the full story on how Amanda turned the tables on her finance degree and forged her own path at the Daily Muse here. I will share one excerpt…Amanda’s advice to 20-somthings:
“I took a class taught by Barbara Wheaton, one of the most well-respected food historians in the country. I asked her whether I should go to Europe and cook. She said, “You don’t have to ask. Why are you asking for permission? You don’t need to ask for permission. You just do what you want.
It has always stuck with me. It’s good career advice. You can get caught up in this bubble of people approving and disapproving of what you’re doing. What matters is whether you want to do it. Nobody is hanging around waiting to stop you—so why wait for somebody to give you permission?”
And I will end with a favorite quote from another Amanda Hesser book, Cooking with Mr. Latte (a charming journal of her courtship with her husband and the recipes that they shared throughout).
“Eating well is not so much about good food as it is about the people you share that food with, the room you dine in, what you talk about and the emotional hungers that bring you to the table.” – Amanda Hesser, Cooking for Mr. Latte