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.

 

Advertisements

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.