by Natalie Shmulik
There is an unforgettable scene in the film, “Babette’s Feast”: A religiously devout group of townspeople hesitantly gather together for a momentous meal following the loss of their beloved pastor. After dinning on turtle soup, chocolate figs, and copious amounts of wine, the worried and aged faces of the distraught diners begin to transform. Fear and doubt wash away with every sip of luscious liqueur and peaceful smiles begin to appear as new and exciting flavors brush against the lips of each enlightened guest. The foods fuel a delightful conversation as memories and speeches are progressively shared around the table. Finally, towards the end of this sensational feast, the respected general, Lorens, stands and proclaims that this meal has betrayed their simple wisdom. They are now and forever inspired.
On Saturday, December 1st inspiration came in another form. BU Gastronomy Graduate Students made their way through the cozy and eclectic halls of the Harvard Common Press (H.C.P.), one of the Nation’s leading independently owned cookbook publishers. Bruce Shaw, owner of H.C.P., invited twenty-five students into his wife’s neighboring art-studio, to feast on knowledge and experience. Yes, there was real food too: a carb-centered spread of sweet and savory pastries from Flour Bakery. The “sticky buns” are a whole other kind of inspiration.
Organized by BU’s Gastronomy Students’ Association, this meaningful event successfully merged the world of academia with real-world exposure to the ever-changing field of food-related publishing and writing. Joined by BU Gastronomy Alumni and Program Director Rachel Black, students gathered around cookbook-centered round tables to laugh, listen and learn. The discussion began with invited guest, Ilene Bezahler, Publisher and Editor of Edible Boston, the most successful magazine within the Edible community. Bezahler, a powerful advocate of the local food movement, whom I first had the pleasure of listening to at Northeastern’s Open Classroom Series, captivated our attention with a description of her own journey towards food and the magazine industry. Students couldn’t help but admire Ilene as she recounted the moment when she received her first published issues of Edible Boston and had to hand deliver each and every magazine that arrived at her Brookline home. After offering students a plethora of honest and essential advice on pitching stories, Bezahler reminded us that dreams are ultimately hard work, but worth every effort.
Complementing Ilene Bezahler’s inspiring talk, Associate Publisher at H.C.P., Adam Salomone, offered students a series of key techniques needed to ensure these dreams materialize. Barely taking a breath during the two-hour speech he gave, Salomone covered nearly every aspect of cookbook publishing, marketing and the ever-evolving, yet crucial domain of social media, while putting repeated emphasis on the importance of Personal Branding. Even as he gave students this priceless industry knowledge, he stated adamantly that one must always keep learning and listening, because in the publishing world, something new and game-changing is always around the corner.
Personally, one of the most important lessons learned is that there is no such thing as a story that begins or ends on the page. Whether it’s doing your due-diligence to ensure that the company you are writing about is prepared to meet incoming demands once your article is published, or testing a recipe you wish to feature in a cookbook for which you will be held liable for as the author, one must always be prepared to research, adapt and rearrange. Mr. Salomone reminded us that the food world is a community and that the authors you follow on twitter, the books you read and the blogs you connect with are all just as important as your own writing.
After a final push to keep our eyes open and ears peeled, students quickly collected handshakes and business cards as they worked their way out into the snowy weather. Every lucky participant left with a satiated tummy full of baked goods, a copy of his or her very own H.C.P. cookbook and- as encouraged by Bezahler and Salomone- all the motivation needed to “go forth in the direction of their dreams!”
Thank you to the Harvard Common Press team and Ilene Bezahler for an unforgettable experience.
Natalie is a Gastronomy student and President of the BU Gastronomy Students’ Association.