Thursday, September 09, 2010

Out of the Kitchen and Into the Fields

Georgia Pellegrini
Classic Culinary Arts, 2006
Craft of Food Writing

So, you may have heard the story before (fill in the blanks): big shot, big money ________(lawyer, trader, finance mogul) gets tired of _______ (long hours, no passion) job and makes a career shift to do what he/she loves most ________.

If you are like me, you have seen this scenario played out before. And I have noticed this is a common route to a food-related job, mostly, I think, because passion is at the core of anyone who falls into food as a career and at some point you can't suppress it. It has to be this way. Without a lot of external rewards (hard work, potentially tough working environment, little pay), whether you fell in love and followed your "destiny" since childhood or made the midstream move to follow your passion, you have to have some sort of internal driving love for what you do as compensation in order to survive the rigorous demands and too often little glory of a life in the kitchen or some such related food job.

But passion is a wonderful thing, and here at The FCI the halls are full of it. Students buoyantly discussing their idea for a new stock or talking about the first cake they designed or whatever cool new trick they are learning in class is an everyday experience. The enthusiasm is palpable and the excitement intoxicating. Watching a group of Pastry 2 students crowd around for a sous-vide demo just to see what happens to a marshmallows being vacuum packed is like watching a two-year-old take his first supervised foray at the beach into the edges of the ocean. Everything is new; everything is incredible; and everything wants to be tried.

And this is the path of Georgia Pellegrini, a smart, well-educated girl with finance job (Lehman Brothers to be precise) that realized she wanted to do something she loved instead of continuing to follow "the path of least resistance," as she puts it. This decision led her to leave her job to attend The FCI, where she studied and practiced and eventually worked her way into jobs at farm-to-table restaurants in the city such as Blue Hill and Gramercy Tavern.

Growing up in the Hudson Valley (just north of the city) on her great grandfather's land—where her family still keeps chickens and honeybees—across from a state park, Georgia knew what it is like to live close to the land. And this experience has proven pivotal in her finding her own food calling. Her love of food lead her from the kitchens of New York City to Provence, where she worked at La Chassagnette, and her love of the land led her out of the kitchen and into the field. The more she met and spoke with the purveyors and foragers who supplied the restaurant where she worked, the more intrigued she became with what they were doing. With a past similar to hers, having left a "good" job for something they love and thinking outside the box about what they do and why, she was intrigued by what drove them to dedicate their lives to skillfully creating, growing, gathering. She soon was spending her days off in the fields and chronicling her experiences to online readers.
And as the story goes, a friend forwarded some of Georgia's writing to a literary agent, who saw book, and the rest is history. Now with her first book just out, a second one in the works, and a TV show up for options, Georgia is shoulder deep in what she loves: food traditions that connect one to the land. In her stand against techno flash and celebrity chefism, she has celebrated a select group of 16 food artisans from her travels in Food Heroes: 16 Culinary Artisans Preserving Tradition and is now touring the country.

Writing a book, as Georgia puts it, " is a marathon. It takes extreme patience because there are a lot of moving parts and people to work with." But she figures her second one will be easier now that she has done it once. With her next book, Girl Hunter, due out next fall, she goes even deeper into the matter by looking at gathering food from Mother Nature herself, going through field and stream in search of food. The TV series follows suit. So, with rifle in hand and a belief that with interest in home canning, urban rooftop gardening and beekeeping, and chickens in suburban backyards abounding, the pendulum is swinging in the food world and people want to scale down and get closer to food production on a personal level, Georgia is ready to lead the movement and at least for her part shed some necessary bright lights on what she considers the true food heroes.

Food Heroes Badge

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