How I Reinvented Myself with a Career in Food

Four women on how a career in food helped them get back to themselves after motherhood with confidence, community and (perhaps key) flexibility.

Cookies from the pastry students at the San Francisco Cooking School.

Cookies from the pastry students at the San Francisco Cooking School.

Managing work, kids, a relationship, and some semblance of a personal life can be incredibly challenging for many mothers. Throw in a job you’re not crazy about, and it only adds fuel to the fire.

For those who can and do choose to work, there is a point when self-reflection leads to some serious career decisions. Is there a job that I could do while still staying rooted in my family? Will anyone hire me after I take these years off to raise my kids? Is there something I love doing enough to take me away from the day-to-day work of being a mom?

These are hard questions to ask, and the answer are sometimes even more difficult.

As a working mom who owns San Francisco Cooking School, I’ve met countless mothers who are at this stage in their life. After lots of soul-searching, they realize that their love of cooking and feeding other people is something they can turn into a job, and a job with flexibility, at that.

It starts with education. For some this means an immersive, full-time program, and for others it means fitting it in part-time. The education not only roots their skills in a solid base of technique and work habits, but it helps them figure out what kinds of opportunities are out there.

Smart women are fantastic at taking this new knowledge, figuring out what excites them most, tapping into lots of networking opportunities, and staying true to their mom-roots. They set boundaries, allowing themselves the time to dive in, but not so deeply they have to miss out on everything at home.

Cooking is an amazing career because it allows people to take control of their schedules. A private chef can take on as many, or as few, clients as she wants. A blogger or food writer can post often, or not, depending on her schedule. Women who want the adrenaline of working in a restaurant but not the hours may find themselves at Google, Facebook, Dropbox, or another tech company that has an incredible food program. In short, the opportunities are out there for moms who want to jump in and grab them.

I interviewed four mothers who have all come through the professional programs at SFCS and have found their new paths in the food world. None of them was working in food before attending culinary or pastry school. When I spoke with them about their jobs, one thing came through loud and clear: women are better off all around when they are surrounded by a supportive professional community that feeds their curiosity.  

Here are their stories.

sfcookingschool.jpg

How did Your culinary school experience shape you professionally?

“I knew from the beginning that I wanted exposure to the industry, first and foremost. The best part about my culinary education was the chance to meet so many industry leaders—chef/owners, entrepreneurs, writers, culinary directors, butchers, bakers, sommeliers, cookbook authors, and so on. It became evident to me after graduating that the best course of action was to cook—no question. The best advice I received was to work in a chef/owner restaurant. That experience was invaluable. I can't express strongly enough the value of working with cooks who are passionate about their craft.”

-Anne Jung, Teaching Kitchen Cook for Bon Appetit @ Google

“I did not have a specific career goal in mind; I just knew I wanted to be in the culinary industry. I was like one of those comic strip characters walking around with multiple thought bubbles over my head, all with question marks. My main areas of interest were food writing, personal chef/caterer, and food tech. Culinary school crystallized how much I love working with food, but it was my externship that made me realize how much I love cooking fine food for others.”

-Margie Kriebel, Chef/Owner - Local Flavor Catering

“To be honest I didn’t really have a plan when I started, but I threw myself into the food world, figuring that something would work out. Looking back now, I can’t believe I actually did that! But I knew that if I was doing something I loved, then I could make a career out of it. I went in on faith, knowing that I was going to make it work, regardless. Being in San Francisco helped, because there were so many food opportunities there.”

-Amanda Frederickson, Author, Recipe Developer and Content Creator

“I definitely had a passion for wedding cakes when I first enrolled in my pastry program. As for school itself, I have to say it did sway me a couple of different times in terms of career opportunities. I was introduced to other things that caught my interest, like breads and food photography, for example, and I had to question I truly wanted to do. But ultimately, in the end, I stuck with what my heart initially wanted, and that was wedding cakes.”

-Jodi Giusti, Baker and Decorator Extraordinaire, Rachel’s Cakes

How does your current job worK for your family life?

“I currently have my own small event catering business, and I teach cooking at San Francisco Cooking School. I prep food for events out of my home kitchen and cook on site at personal homes, event centers, and sometimes even at businesses. I have established relationships with local farms, ranches, and food artisans, and I am always exploring new options in Northern California. I love working with fresh ingredients and experimenting with traditional, new, and unusual ingredients to create food that delights my clients. I am in complete control of my schedule, accepting as much or as little work as I want and can handle. After being in business for five years, I have figured out how to maximize my profits and make a little money (which is not always easy in food) while still enjoying time with my family.”

-MK

“I have carved out this freelance job that allows me to be flexible and take care of my daughter. It has also allowed me some welcome flexibility with my husband’s career, which has taken us all over the country. As long as I have an internet connection and a working kitchen, I can do my job from just about anywhere.”

-AF

“As for my current job, I have to say I absolutely love it! I have a great boss who lets me be creative and trusts me to do whatever I want design-wise. She allows me to work without restrictions as long as it falls within the customer’s budget and requirements. We make a great team and work very well together. I’m also very grateful that she gives me the flexibility I need as a mother of two—some sick days or time off, and I get to bring my kiddos to my workplace once in awhile. Being a mom herself, she completely understands what works best for me and my family.”

-JG

What is the most rewarding part of your new career?

“My newfound community. I am thankful to be part of a group that is supportive and generous. Being able to share my passion for food with colleagues and students is thrilling. I am so thankful to work with people who continue to be curious and push me to get better at my craft.”

-AJ

“Connecting with people all over the world thanks to social media. I get daily messages from people on the other side of the world who have cooked my recipes, which is truly incredible.”

-AF

“Finding out that I’m really capable of doing amazing things! I question myself often, and I am constantly proving myself wrong. My tenure in this career is only three years now, so the future on this path is bright for me. Whether that means opening my own business or working for a really high-end, well-known cake designer, there is still so much I’m proving I can do.”

-JG

What’s the hardest part in balancing this new career with life & family?

“This is the hardest question to answer, because there is no perfect balance in any career. Anyone who has a job will face the challenges of finding time for personal and family life. It's a see-saw at times, but the positives outweigh the negatives. I guess, to be honest, managing my guilt about missing out is the hardest part. I can't make every game or play or music recital, but it's pretty awesome being able to sit around the dinner table together every evening, listening to my boys recap their day. It’s almost like I was there. Almost.”

-AJ

“Late nights and weekends! I miss out on a lot of family and friends’ gatherings because I am busy cooking for and teaching others. My family rarely gets to eat the fruits of my labor. Of course they get tastes, but by the time I make dinner for the family, I am tired, and I cook whatever is available, quickly.”

-MK

“The hardest part of my career is trying to balance it all. (I think every mom will say that!) Since I don’t have full-time child care, I am basically working whenever I am not with my daughter. That can mean the weekends, while my husband is watching her, as well as early mornings before she wakes up and at night when she is asleep. This job is definitely not a nine-to-five traditional job, but I wouldn’t change it because I love the flexibility and being my own boss.”

-AF

how DOES your current Job nourish you as a mom and woman?

“Having a new career that I actually love has made things so much more enjoyable for me! I know it shows when I come home, too, because prior to this, I had a job that exhausted me and just never made me happy. I felt like I was always coming home grumpy and complaining about something—my husband could definitely tell when it hadn’t been a good day (which was more often than not). Having a great job and doing what you love makes everything, including home life, so much more enjoyable. I come home with a better attitude and am always excited to share the cool stuff I’ve done with my family. Taking such pride in my work really shows in my overall attitude!”

-JG

“It is easy to lose your pre-children identity when you get into the thick of parenting. There are so many demands on the parent, whether it's being a soccer mom or an active member of the parent's association. These things are all important and worthwhile, but I always felt that I could and should be doing more... You wonder what happened to your old self. The question of being happy feels loaded, but truly, I am very happy being in the kitchen, experimenting, testing and tasting delicious (and sometimes not-so-delicious) food. So, does my work make me a happier person? Yes. Does it make me a better mom? I’m not sure. You would have to ask my boys that question, but all things considered, I think they would say yes. At the very least, they would say I am way more interesting!”

-AJ