Alumni Spotlight: W. Gabriel Mitchell

Sometimes, one needs to take a step back from what one does to gain perspective to move forward. I have been a pâtissier for close to twenty years. Sometime along my career, I became determined to combine my love of the academic with my passion for food preparation and its social constructs. The desire to attend the Gastronomy Program at Boston University was an attempt to leave the practical side of food preparation and re-enter the world of academia to look at food and identity construction. While conducting fieldwork in Perú for my master’s thesis, I received a call that would alter some best-laid plans… upon graduation, I would move to Germany. There, I would resurrect my company, Maison Mitchell, which had been established in San Francisco seven years earlier – and closed when I decided to go to BU.

Maison Mitchell is the first gourmet pâtisserie in Hamburg. In Maison Mitchell, I sell “Ladies”—a colloquialism that refers to the collection of my offerings—and fantasies. We specialize in every-day treats, as well as one-of-a-kind creations. In Maison Mitchell, customers find a selection of various seductive pastries for the discerning palate, and lifestyle products. Pastries range from interpretations of the classic French cannon, e.g., “Sunshine,” a lemon tart, to inspired originals. A very special original for Hamburg is “Maya,” a verrine of New-World fruits (avocado crème diplomat, half-dried yellow cherry tomato, red pepper gastrique gel), and grains (corn panna cotta, and a sweet corn pancake from Venezuela called cachapa). For our four-legged companions I created dog biscuits with duck liver (“Bella”). Moreover, for those who want to enjoy the tastes of Maison Mitchell beyond pastries, I have created a collection of scented candles, e.g., “Midori,” (perfumed with bamboo, green tea, and Thai basil). Although we are established on the French gastronomic model, for my interests it has always been imperative that we represent flavor pairings from across the globe.

Maison Mitchell, therefore, is more than haute pâtisserie. Maison Mitchell offers much to explore and enjoy to those who are open to what food could be beyond mere sustenance, i.e., a source of gustatory pleasure, and discovery.

The multidisciplinary approach to the Gastronomy Program was the perfect fit for someone like me, who had gained enough practical food experience, and now wanted to critically analyze various foodways and their social implications. The freedom to choose courses beyond the required core allowed me to better focus on personal interests such as elite foods and the effects of a professional practitioner’s intentionality on material production.

The ability to take the course Food, Culture, and Society (outside the department) afforded me a new perspective through the lens of the anthropology department. This was the catalyst to enter the master’s thesis process, where I looked at Lima’s burgeoning indigenous haute cuisine, and how the culinary paradigm of nouvelle cuisine affords professional practitioners the freedom to create a new one to be revered on the global gastronomic landscape. The readings that I selected for my thesis not only helped shape my research, but also became imperative tools in reshaping my own material production in Maison Mitchell.

The most influential class, however, was my first. It was there that my cohort and I were presented with Karl Marx’s commodity theory. Though the sixty-plus pages may not have been preferred reading material on an autumn weekend, it illuminated the reality that I am not just selling food, but rather that I am now creating a “commodity,” nevertheless, in pastry form. In a time when food is the new luxury item, the theories I learned during my time at school, combined with my own postulations about food, allow me to conceptualize a brand that is authentic to my sensibilities, in addition to providing a singular product to my new host city.

 

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Alumni Spotlight: Priya Shah

There are some duos that just go together. Milk and cookies, Batman and Robin, or peanut butter and jelly are a few that instantly come to mind. But what about those that are less common? For BU Gastronomy alum Priya Shah, there isn’t a better combination than food and storytelling.

After graduating from the program in 2011, Priya aspired to make her favorite fusion a reality. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy as she thought. Instead of diving straight into the culinary communications industry, Priya returned home to work for her family’s hotel business in Iowa. After a little less than two years, she was yearning to trade her conversations about RevPAR and third-party reservation systems for wine characteristics and restaurant openings. Priya decided it was time to start researching communications firms that solely focused on lifestyle brands. Eventually, this search led her to Atlanta. There, she gained valuable experience working for boutique and corporate firms managing a range of food-related clients. From James Beard Award nominated chefs to Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, her breadth was quite diverse.

Learning best practices from her agency experiences, Priya realized that her Master’s in Gastronomy equipped her with a rare set of skills. Unlike her colleagues, she could speak the language of her clients and was often chatting with them about industry trends. It didn’t take her long to decide to open up her own shop. In June, she launched ShahSquared Consulting, a communications and marketing firm dedicated to food and beverage, hospitality and travel clients. To set herself apart, Priya focused on three core elements: 1.) expertise; 2.) authenticity; and 3.) approach. She would provide her customers with the utmost hospitality while cutting through the fluff. Her greatest joy comes from sharing her clients’ stories and watching them succeed and prosper. But, don’t be mistaken — Priya doesn’t take herself too seriously. Between promoting her dog to Chief Morale Pawficer and her blatant obsession with pineapples, Priya’s not afraid to let her personality shine in her business.

Many of Priya’s passions and achievements she attributes to her time at BU. Her exposure to different industries and educational experiences through her peers made every class discussion worthwhile. Whether she always agreed with her classmates’ opinions was another story. Outside of the university, Priya has enjoyed using the alumni network to connect with other gastronomy grads. It was through the network that she met Shaun Chavis (BU Gastronomy ’07). Now a friend and confidant, Shaun was influential in Priya’s entrepreneurial pursuit. Together, the two have used their talents to collaborate on client projects and support each other in their respective businesses.

As for the future, Priya looks forward to expanding her businesses and attaining more clients. The world is her oyster and she prefers hers with homemade Mignonette and a little fresh grated horseradish.

Bringing Food History to Nutrition

This is the third post in a series highlighting the ways students utilize Boston University’s many resources to cater the Gastronomy program to fit their own unique interests and needs. Don’t miss Carlos’ post on Entrepreneurship or Debra’s on Technology.

by Kelly Toups

As an eager, young registered dietitian, I quickly realized I’d rather spend my time talking about the “food” aspect of nutrition than insulin and tube feedings. The BU Gastronomy program, which focused on issues of culture, policy, food systems, and cuisine, was exactly the kind of education I that I needed to specialize within my field, and transition to a more food-focused career.

Continue reading “Bringing Food History to Nutrition”

After Graduation: Starting a Wine Business

by Kim Simone

Alumna Kim Simone (May ’14) shares her post-degree career path and founding her company, Vinitas Wineworks.

kim1One of the questions I heard frequently from people while I was attending the Gastronomy program was “What are you going to do with your degree?” It’s not exactly a traditional program with built-in job training (with the exception of the culinary program.) We do it because it’s a part of who we are and what we love. I bet that most of us use the degree to forge our own way in the world of food, creating a place for ourselves in one of the many industries that pertain to our chosen field of study, be it cooking, writing, education, hospitality, and so on. I chose wine.

At the same time that I started the Gastronomy program I also jumped into the wine world, working first in a large retail store and then for a medium-sized Massachusetts wine distributor. And although I was climbing up the industry ladder, I got an idea pretty early on that a job in sales wasn’t the place for me. My real love has always been educating the public and “geeking out” over the finer points of whatever is in my wineglass. Which is why, after years of thought and planning, I founded an independent wine education and consulting company after finishing my degree last May.

Wine-is-fun-single-1080x675I specialize in wine education classes and hosting wine events for the general public. These can be either private events (e.g. tastings in people’s homes, private parties, etc.) or something bigger like a fundraiser for a nonprofit. I also provide training for those in the hospitality trades that either need some guidance within their own store or restaurant, or who need someone to train their staff to be better servers or wine consultants. My education through the Gastronomy program and the Elizabeth Bishop Wine School has really prepared me for this new role. Both the hands-on tasting classes led by Sandy Block and Bill Nesto, as well as the History of Wine class, really opened up this fabulous world to me. The most important thing I feel that I can pass on to my clients is that wine doesn’t have to be scary. It is complex, yes, but there truly is something out there for every palate. Once you learn what you like the possibilities are endless. Through my events and blog I provide the place to ask those questions that you might think are a little bit dumb and get that knowledge flowing.

Kim Simone can be reached at kim@vinitaswineworks.com or www.VinitasWineWorks.com.

A New Generation of Boston Globe Food Writers

by Carlos C. Olaechea

CapturePerhaps one of the most popular courses offered in the Boston University Gastronomy program, especially for those interested in applying food studies to the communications fields, is Sheryl Julian’s Food Writing for Print Media offered every spring. Julian, who is the dining editor for the Boston Globe, guides students through every form of food writing so that by the end of the semester they are ready to start submitting pieces to newspapers, magazines, websites, and blogs.

If you need any proof as to just how well Julian’s class prepares its students, you only need to read through the Boston Globe’s Food & dining section where every week you’re almost guaranteed to find published recipes, interviews, reviews, and other food-related articles by BU Gastronomy students and alumni, alike. The wave of new Boston Globe food writers from our program has been so impactful that it has caught the attention of Metropolitan College, which recently mentioned on its website how the Gastronomy program is “stirring up a new generation of Globe food and wine correspondents.”

Many students have been published in the Globe as soon as a few months after having taken Julian’s course. A few, like recent graduate Jaclyn Fishman, have become regular contributors to the newspaper, and others have begun contributing to national food publications like Saveur magazine. Besides giving students the practical skill sets to become better food writers, Julian instills a confidence in them to leave the class and start getting their story ideas out there. It’s just one way in which the Gastronomy program at Boston University helps students achieve their professional goals.