Student Spotlight: Morgan Mannino

“Cook’s Illustrated, I’ve got a tasting of apple crostata in the main kitchen,” a test cook’s voice mumbles over the telephone speaker.

Morgan dressed up as one of the most popular Cook’s Illustrated recipes of 2017, the Olive Oil Cake.

I look up from my work, it’s 11AM, having some dessert pre-lunch won’t hurt me, plus it’s got apples in it (it’s practically health food) and I’d love to see where Steve is in his recipe development. I grab my phone and head to the kitchen with the hope of stringing together some engaging shots for our Instagram Story. The editors and I stand around a metal table and munch on 3 different samples of crostata, looking for variations in texture and flavor and comment on them. The Cook’s Illustrated team could spend hours analyzing and debating different ways to improve the texture of an apple slice in a crostata. These debates will help inform and color my social posts about the recipe, almost a year in the future. The recipe development happens so far ahead since it involves an extensive, rigorous process of making and making and making again, surveying home cooks who volunteer to make the recipe at home, final tweaking, shooting, and finally publishing. This, of course, is a strange balance with the immediacy in which I am Instagramming what’s currently going on, right now, in the kitchen. Such is the nature of working in social media for a 25 year old magazine.

Three apple crostatas line up in the test kitchen for a tasting analyzing different techniques for apple arrangement and crust recipes.

These tastings punctuate my day as I work towards the overarching goal of marketing Cook’s Illustrated and developing the brand on social media. As a Senior Social Media Coordinator at America’s Test Kitchen, I curate, write, and schedule all the content that goes out on the Cook’s Illustrated Instagram and Facebook accounts (with a little Pinterest here and there). I also work very closely with the magazine editors, video team, photo team, and design team to strategize, visualize, and communicate our brand on the platforms. The craziest time of year is right now, Thanksgiving and the holidays, where I’ll spend 100s of manhours (having started in July) planning and strategizing a cohesive campaign that not only is engaging but also meets our marketing business goals.

Behind the scenes during an animation photoshoot for a guacamole recipe.

I began the Gastronomy program in January of 2016. At the time I had been working at America’s Test Kitchen for almost 3 years, but on the Sponsorship Sales team doing client service work. I had the vision of becoming a member of the social media team, but I needed to pave the path to get there in order to be ready once the opportunity presented itself. The program was a help in that journey, inspiring confidence, inspiration, and helping me craft my writing. It also gave me the knowledge of culture and history of food that I have been able to take into my social media role from writing post copy to adding my opinion in a tasting.

Everyday I am incredibly thankful for my job and for the gastronomy program for not only reminding me why I love food and culture so much, but for giving me the tools to make turn that energy into a tangible reality. Some days I’m capturing our tastings and testings team saw coolers in half with a reciprocating saw for Instagram Stories, others I may be joining them for a tasting of 10 samples of burrata or hot sauce, on very special days there might be chocolate pie or some other treat in our “take home fridge” (where all the extra food goes from recipe development each day)  or gushing over the fact that I get to host a food celebrity in house, most days there are dogs wandering about. Needless to say, I often find myself filled with gratitude for my job, especially when a “bad day” is caused by an empty take home fridge or the stress of planning and executing a Facebook Live about prime rib. It’s hard to know where to go from here (I still can’t believe I am working for the magazine that I used to cuddle up and read when I was growing up), and I am so grateful to be here, but know when it’s time I’ll follow where my nose (and taste buds) lead me.

Left: 8 samples of chicken wings in 7 different hot sauces line up for a tasting. Right: Morgan sawing a lunch tray in the name of science (our tastings and testings team was learning how to use the saw to cut into coolers and other kitchen equipment to learn more about how they work).
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Get Hired or Die Baking

by Leigh Shaplen

Student Leigh Shaplen shares her path to finding a food career, as well as some handy tips. She is currently residing in California while finishing her MLA in Gastronomy.

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at the summer culinary lab

Ten hours after packing up my life in Boston and moving back home to San Francisco I am in route to Napa for a job interview. I am amazed by the drastic change in my surroundings. This is farm country and a far cry from yesterday’s home at the foot of Fenway Park.

I was unsure how exactly my degree in Gastronomy would help me get the restaurant marketing dream job I’ve been seeking my entire life. I entered the job market with a plan. I developed a 15 second pitch about my graduate work (I wasn’t sure anyone would give me 30 seconds, so I kept it short). I gave my speech to anyone who would listen: “I’ve been learning from some of the world’s top sommeliers, cheese mongers, food anthropologists, and journalists. I’ve been cooking alongside some of Boston’s most prominent chefs.” As it turns out a lot of people wanted to listen.

I conducted the majority of my job search through LinkedIn. I kept an excel document with every position I applied to. There are 62 jobs on the list. I tried to submit applications for 3 opportunities every day. I researched the companies and its employees. I sent a personalized note following up on each application, and this tactic worked for my interview in Napa. When sitting down with the Director of human resources she thanked me for reaching out directly.

I spread the word about my job search. I decided to embrace it rather than hide from it. I emailed 30 friends and family members letting them know about my goals and thanking them for keeping me in mind. More often than not, I got replies with very fruitful leads. I took interviews for jobs I didn’t want and when asked about my dream job, I was honest. The conversation shifted to how they could help me get that job instead. I said yes to anyone (and that means anyone) who offered to help. I traveled for interviews on my own dime, which included buying cross-country plane tickets. I read the San Francisco Chronicle Food Section and cut out the pictures for inspiration. I found Gastronomy graduates in San Francisco and had a lot of coffee dates (I don’t even like coffee). I started sending thank you notes sealed with a fork and spoon stamp to develop some personal branding.

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The fork and spoon stamp

My network has grown exponentially, and I’m joining a food marketing networking group with new friends. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with two “celebrity” chefs, a bunch of industry leaders, and have had lunch at Twitter. The tech company’s complimentary made-to-order, breakfast, lunch, and dinner food mecca spans two floors and is a gastronomic heaven.

When I wasn’t interviewing I baked. When all else fails I turn to food. Sound familiar? I made a lot of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with too much butter and froze the dough. Whenever someone went out of their way for me, I baked a stack of cookies and delivered them in a green plastic strawberry basket wrapped in cellophane, a trick food writing instructor Sheryl Julian taught me. Needless to say, people went wild for the thin, crispy cookies with soft centers. I’m calling them the “get hired or die baking” cookie and am willing to share the recipe.

A month and a half and five interview rounds later, I received a job offer in Napa. The offer letter cites my graduate education in Gastronomy as part of a unique combination of skills. I think I’ll accept and eat the rest of my get hired cookies. I’ve earned them.