Student Profile: Emily Olson

emily olsonHometown: Memphis, Tennessee

What did you do before enrolling in the program?
In a former life, I was a corporate communications specialist for FedEx Services at the headquarters in Memphis. I managed strategic events and initiatives (involving employees, executives, or customers) for the corporation and enjoyed the benefits of travel throughout the United States.

After five years, I decided to turn in my badge and move to Chicago to attend culinary school at Kendall College. For my internship, I joined Frontera Foods, a specialty Mexican foods company owned by Chef Rick Bayless and business partners. I assisted the culinary director and marketing manager with quality assurance testing, recipe development, and flavor research projects. I also spent several weeks in the kitchens of Topolobampo and Frontera Grill learning the fine art of mole, picking up “kitchen Spanish,” and understanding the complexity of the Mexican cuisine. Upon graduation in 2008, I assumed the role of associate culinary and marketing manager for six months due to the marketing manager’s maternity leave. Managing the portfolio of Frontera’s salsas, frozen pizzas, and cooking sauces in addition to developing private label products (from concept to hitting a store’s shelf) for national retailers was a huge task, but I learned a great deal about the specialty foods business and the inner workings of food manufacturing.

After Frontera Foods, I joined a boutique consultancy, Food Marketing Support Services, as a project manager and later was promoted to operations team leader. The company uses sensory science and consumer research to develop or tweak foods and beverages for Fortune 500 companies. Having no prior experience in sensory science, the learning curve was uphill and shed some light on a whole new way of viewing food R&D. After a turn of events due to a job loss, I dusted off the application I’d been eyeing for a while, decided it was time to apply to BU’s Gastronomy program, hope for an acceptance, and move to the East Coast.

Why are you studying Gastronomy?
I always wanted to know how food connected cultures and why we eat what we eat. The Gastronomy program offers coursework in areas that fill in the blanks from my undergraduate and culinary school studies. Exposure to a liberal arts education was new to me, and it’s opened my eyes to theories, frameworks, and writers that I didn’t know existed.

What would you like to do after you graduate?
There are 57 things I would like to do, but its difficult to project what that picture will look like in May 2012. A PhD interests me, but I would prefer for that to be fully funded. Furthering my wine education would be stellar as would working for a start-up specialty food company or creating my own company from scratch. I’ve always wanted to combine business with food. It’s just a matter of putting the pieces together.

Favorite Gastronomy course so far:
This might be an easy way out, but all of my classes have been my favorite. Each course connects to another or introduces a new idea. For example, the Theory and Methodology class provided a foundation and basic understanding of ethnography which lead me to enroll in Carole Counihan’s ethnography course for a deeper dive.

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