I would like to take a break from cooking (yes, sometimes it’s okay to walk away from the stove) to share something other than a recipe. I have been at this food thing for a while now. One piece of advice I like to give is that you should take the time to reflect on your life. Sit down and really analyze where you came from, what you have accomplished, and where you want to go. My recent reflection has surfaced something in me that I have never realized before. I am a “mompreneur” and food is my “biz”. This past week I spoke on two radio shows (podcasts below) and it got me thinking about all of this stuff.
Cooking is something that I have always been fiercely passionate about. I LOVE to cook and I LOVE food. The reason I love food is because it brings people together, it starts conversations and you can always relate to someone when you’re talking about food. Food is a universal language and I love that! I use cooking as a creative outlet. Both food and cooking bring me memories of my mother who tragically passed away when I was 15. She was always in the kitchen cooking for our big family and I was always right by her side. I am proud to say I am a self-taught cook and I have also had the pleasure of cooking with many professional chefs. The possibility of new experiences and learning is what gets me up every morning (besides my kids) and I continue to broaden my culinary experience through my work. Now let’s get to that…my work!
I always said I would never leave my 9-5 government job – I loved working downtown and being on the go and having a very secure job. I did it for 10 years! I loved the social aspect of my job too. I have met some of my best friends in those years. Shortly after starting my big girl career, I got married to my high school sweetheart, Dave, and we had a son. I realized that being away from home and out of the city, then racing back to D’s daycare, was tricky and not cool at all. I felt like I didn’t have any time to enjoy my family! My husband and I were newly married and we rarely got to enjoy each other’s company. If it wasn’t for us carpooling to and from work together, I often wondered when we would find the time to have a conversation! (Side note: People are often surprised at the fact that I am a mother. I never know how to take this comment so I just chalk it up to looking youthful – yay genes!)
A few years after having my son, I applied to a nationally televised cooking competition (MasterChef Canada, Season One). I took a chance and applied completely on a whim. I felt like life was becoming too monotonous and maybe this would be a good way to shake things up and get out of my comfort zone. It was also a no-brainer because it was a cooking competition for home cooks! I’m a home cook! I never thought I would actually make the Top 50! This was an incredibly happy and goddamn scary moment for me. I had to leave my family for six weeks but I wasn’t going to miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because I was scared. Wait! I would never admit to being scared! I wasn’t scared! I was nervous.
My first television experience made me stronger. Imagine being fully immersed in a competition where everyone is after the same thing and you have no supporters there to help you through it. This is where I really learned how to self-motivate and focus. Now, when I feel anxious, upset or scared, I reflect on the positive and I move forward from the positive – thoughts, actions and all. I realized that the only way to overcome fear I was feeling was to be fearless. I distanced myself from the negative (people included) and I stayed focused. It helped that my roommate (separate rooms, shared kitchen – relax!) was the winner of the show. He made my experience a positive one because he motivated me to stay focused on the real reason we were there – to cook. He’s a lot younger than I am but sometimes the young and innocent have a clearer mindset than us complicated, thirty-somethings (I think telling you my age may be a career-limiting move…did I mention that everyone is surprised that I am a mother with two children?)
Anyway, glad I brought that topic up because it seems to be the reason behind why 99% of people (mostly women) I speak to are not pursuing their dreams – they think they are too old. For god sake’s, you have no idea how much I despise hearing this excuse from incredibly talented and smart women. Use your age to your advantage! You have so many more experiences under your belt and the younger ‘gen’ could learn a thing or two from you. When people say to me “you are successful in this industry because you are young” it makes me want to scream! I call your bluff – and I see your fear. You’re worried that people will think – what is that old person doing? If someone actually says this to you, ever…slap them! (but no one will ever say that so I feel okay about writing that without a disclaimer not to actually slap anyone. Don’t slap someone unless they slap you first. Better yet, use your words – is what I tell my son and he may read this one day).
Now back to me! So moving on, we then welcomed our second son, Little D, into our lives and life became busier than ever. The jump from one child to two was crazy! As soon as he was born, I was off of work and I used my time as an opportunity to do what I love full-time. I thought if not now, then when? I decided now was the time. I didn’t think it was possible, to be honest, and for a long time I questioned why I was doing what I was doing – Staying up late and working on blog posts, recipes, photos and I had no idea if anyone was even reading this blog! I stuck with it anyway and the commitment paid off.
I wanted to stay in food, I wanted to practice creative writing and food styling and photography so that is why I started this food blog. I never thought people would actually read it! Months of blogging later, I was approached by an editor and published cookbook author, Fina Scroppo, who asked me if I wanted to work with her to create magazine content – I would take part in the food styling and recipe development. Fina is also my mentor (I don’t even think she knows that!) She is always offering guidance and support and I have learned so much from her. Surround yourself with great people – this is so important! Now, we work together creating private magazine publications with a fun little team (Irene, my guest writer, is also a team member doing what I do!) What are private magazine publications you ask? Everyone asks! You know those fun little magazines you pick up at your local grocery store around the holidays filled with recipes and ideas? That is what our little team creates! I absolutely love our little team and the good times just keep on rolling!
I am also part of Food Bloggers of Canada, the badge and link that I proudly display on my blog. I often apply for blogger opportunities through them and they have been an incredible support system for me! I work as a freelance recipe developer and food stylist and this work keeps me really busy. I am creating content for other blogs, food companies, websites and magazines and absolutely loving it! Being creative comes easily when you love what you do!
So how on earth do I get work done with an infant at home? I know you are wondering! So, I heard Mario Batali once say that he keeps his work life balance by bringing his kids to work with him. Game changer! This changed me. I realized that I didn’t have to be held back because I had children. I brought my infant EVERYWHERE with me, even to photo shoots! I had my colleagues step in and sooth little D if he needed it. I had an opportunity to thank Mario Batali at a book signing in Toronto shortly after he gave this advice on television and guess what? I had my son with me. Now little D is really mobile and busy so it’s not as easy to cart him around but I make due. As a mother you have to sacrifice so much of your time so I felt like if I wanted to pursue my hobby and passion I had to make time for it. Now I call for help when I need it – if I have a meeting my mother-in-law steps in or I schedule it in the evening when my husband is home to watch the kids. My creative work hours start after the kids are in bed and go well into the evening (I am working on getting more sleep eventually).
Another reason I feel good about my decision to pursue my passion is because I started thinking about my kids and the message I was sending them. How would I ever be able to tell them to follow their heart and follow their dreams if I wasn’t doing just that?! Now, when my son talks about my work he doesn’t say “she works at a desk”, he sees me working hard at home, he sees me on television, he sees me cooking, taking pictures of my food and shooting YouTube videos (he even takes part in some of those videos! You can find my channel here). I am working on more videos as you read! D is all around enamoured by what I do and I couldn’t be more proud of that!
More Advice…Take it or leave it!
If you enjoy something, do it. If you like to write, start writing. You can figure out later if it’s something you want to share. Sometimes just doing something gives you a confidence and a sense of accomplishment. I wanted to stay in food. I stayed in food by starting this blog. I looked at it as a way to develop recipes, keep them and share them. I also loved taking great food pictures and creative writing so I used the blog as a means of practice.
Say “yes” to every opportunity presented to you – nothing is beneath you or out of reach when you are starting up. You can always prepare or self-teach. Don’t be afraid to ask for payment either – if you are doing great work and people are calling you then you are worth it and they will be happy to pay you. Also, it will be harder to turn around later and ask to get paid. I literally take every opportunity I can, and build on my work based on my experiences and what I have learned in the process. I took part in the televised cooking competition and I could have either sat back and waited for that dream gig to come to me on a silver platter (it never would have arrived by the way) or I could leverage myself as much as possible and use my experience on the show to my advantage. I chose the latter.
Read books! I read a lot. I love to read biographies of really successful people – I get inspired by their lives and accomplishments. I also become obsessed with the person for the entire duration of reading the book. My husband literally never wants to hear another word about Andre Agassi ever again. His biography “Open” was an awesome book and I highly recommend it!
No one on this planet has your story. Be proud of where you came from and channel your younger, braver self. What did you love to do as a child? Sometimes we give up what we love because we think we need to get a serious job. I took a long break from being creative and focused on climbing the ranks in the government. I even went back to University to get an Economics degree, part-time, while working. I struggled so much! I could not accept the fact that my mind is not technical. I thought it was what I wanted but once I got there, and was finally at the level I wanted to be at, I couldn’t remember why I ever wanted it in the first place. I’m glad I moved on from that. I love economic theory and how the economy works but don’t ask me to do calculus, please.
I always say start with what you are passionate about. Most importantly – have fun! Don’t take it too seriously and definitely try not to worry yourself with what people may think about it. Fear of judgement and fear of failure will hurt your motivation. Do what you love with confidence and that in itself will be a success.
I am constantly dreaming big and plotting my next move. One thing I have always wanted to do was be a writer. I guess I’m doing that already (see how easily we can make our dreams a reality). Not just any writing though, I’ve always wanted to write a TV series. Specifically a hilarious sitcom, which is kind of ironic because in person I am horrific joke teller – always have been (and funny side story – my eldest son Dean can’t tell a joke to save his life). I realized that I am funnier when I’m talking about something I am confident about and when I am not scripted – when I’m being me! The second you anticipate a laugh, you hear crickets. That leads me to my next few points – don’t expect that everything you try will be a success. Secondly, you will never get an overall positive consensus of what you do. You can’t please everyone so stop trying! Pick one person in your mind (someone who loves what you do) and do it for that person and that person only. See how your motivation will change.
I am a so proud to now call myself a digital content producer with a specialization in food media but more importantly I am proud to call myself a “Mompreneur”. When I worked full-time I got vacation, a steady income and benefits. Now, none of those things are part of my job description but I love what I do and willingly work happily at it every free chance I get.
In the event that you want to hear me talk more about myself and my life, here are two recent radio spots I mentioned earlier where I talk about all of this stuff. I hope my story inspires you and makes you realize that it is possible! I have also developed a personal website where I will be sharing my work projects – www.dailytiramisu.com! A new project! Yay!
The Pay Chen Show: September 27, 2015
The Hospitality Industry News Network: September 28, 2015
With Tons of Love,
Growing up in my Italian family, sandwiches were our go-to lunch on the weekends. They are quick and hearty and the options