In the foodie world, one of the most interesting careers to explore is definitely in the test kitchen of a magazine. Could you imagine how incredible of an experience it would be to work in a test kitchen, even if just for a day? That’s exactly what Erin Phraner experiences every single day as she goes to work at the Good Housekeeping Magazine test kitchen! But really, with how much fun she’s having, could you actually call that work? We don’t think so! Read on the find out how Erin turned her true passion in to a career. We’re thrilled to be sharing this Get It Girl’s story, photographed exclusively by Jenna Bascom, of how to Make it Happen!
Every aspiring foodie dreams about a job like yours, but they just don’t know how to get to that point, whether they’re self-taught or classically trained. How did you land your job at Food Network Magazine prior to training at The French Culinary Institute?
Getting a start in food media can be difficult and I know I’ve had a rare (fortuitous) experience thus far, so please keep that in mind—I fully acknowledge that luck and good timing have helped me greatly.
I heard that Hearst was in the very beginning stages of launching a food magazine, so I reached out about an internship. That was the summer before my senior year at NYU. I was studying theater and education, I had no formal training, but I had just moved back from Paris where I started blogging about food and took a few pastry classes for fun. I remember giving a passionate speech about my love for Ina Garten in the interview. I got the position and ended up interning for the whole year, three consecutive semesters.
Very early on I knew this was my dream job, so I did everything I could to make myself indispensable. Balancing school, student teaching, and an internship (which was definitely my first priority, much to my professors’ chagrin) was incredibly challenging but it paid off. I was offered a job as the Editorial Assistant of the food department. I graduated from NYU on a Friday and started full-time Monday morning. About six months later, I enrolled in cooking school at night so I could get my culinary degree. I have such a sweet, lovely spot in my heart for Food Network Magazine—I owe them everything.
You grew up cooking in the kitchen at a young age, so it has always been a passion of yours. But what made you decide to go to school, and work your way up to a top-notch magazine? What motivated you most?
I didn’t realize that I could pursue a career in food media until college—I had no clue that food editors even existed until then. Pretty stupid when you think about it because I was reading food magazines since middle school—where did I think they came from!?
Up until that revelation, I flirted with different dreams: I could be actress-Erin, or teacher-Erin, or maybe even neonatologist-Erin but once I discovered this world, I knew exactly where I belonged. It was so “me”—everything I loved and was good at wrapped up into a role you could actually get paid to do!? I mean, come on!
I was motivated to go to culinary school, after already landing the job, in order to get the chops (on paper) to back up my work. If I could rewind, I think I would tell my pre-culinary-school-self to skip it. All of the editors I looked up to told me not to go but I wanted that stamp on my resume to help with my next move. In the end, it was a lot of time and money for something I could have accomplished by volunteering at a restaurant or bakery for free. But I did get to eat a lot of leftover croissants while I was there, so…
With time in the test kitchen, writing, editing, working on your own blog, and contributing for two other blogs, how do you possibly find balance? What does a typical day look like for you?
My day totally depends on the sun. I can only make/photograph recipes for personal projects when there’s good daylight and I’m not at work—that means mornings or a teeny sliver of time after hours in the spring and summer. On a productive day, I usually wake up super-early to shoot a post, then hit the gym at 7:00 (7:30 at the latest), a necessity in my line of work, before heading to the office. I do my grocery shopping during lunch, this way I can go straight home after work to start creating another recipe. Once boyfriend gets home, I’ll make dinner (or he’ll cook), then I edit photos and video for my YouTube channel before bed. I’m often working on two or three assignments simultaneously. If I can get a few solid days like this in per week, then there’s plenty of time for lazy afternoons and dinner dates with friends. I’d rather have a couple of crazy days that free me up later than to spread it all out, otherwise there’s no real separation.
Do you treat your blogging as a hobby, something to supplement your time in the test kitchen and writing for Good Housekeeping? Or is the blog something you plan to go full throttle on in the future?
I like to think of my blog as a little cyber artist studio. It’s a place where I can experiment and share my work with complete freedom. I’ve always used it as an outlet for the recipes I want to play with but can’t necessarily make on the job.
That said, I would like to ramp up the site in the future. My off-duty-professional take on food and lifestyle offers a unique perspective to readers. Once I have a better sense of what that means in terms of filling a space in the blog market, you’ll be hearing more from me. One issue is the name: I started Food & Femininity when I was 19 years old. At the time the name felt spot-on for a blog that covered recipes and girlie miscellany but lots of folks say it sounds like a women’s studies site. Whoops! What do you guys think? Should I change it?
What pieces of advice would you give to others who are pursuing their passion in the food industry? What do you wish you would have known?
Make the work you want to make, even if no one’s paying any attention to it yet! There’s no better way to cultivate your own personal style. Eventually someone will notice. If they don’t, keep building an archive you’re proud of, then get out there and use it to promote yourself when the time comes. I went into job interviews with printouts of recipes I developed for my blog before I had magazine clips to share. Don’t let not having an “official” outlet stop you from doing what you want to do.
Once you DO get noticed, learn to say no to pro bono. That’s one thing I wish I knew when I was starting out. Money talk can be icky and scary but you need to have those tough conversations in order to advance. I think it’s a struggle a lot of young people can relate to: You take on assignments for little to no money because it feels like a good “way in” or good exposure—when the reality is, your work is valuable and you deserve to be paid for it. The only way to learn that is through experience unfortunately, at least that was the case for me. You’re the only one looking out for you, so speak up if you’re being fleeced or mistreated.
Could you ever see yourself doing any other job than you are now? So many people put their dream job on the back burner. How important was it to you to be sure you were doing something you were passionate about and something you loved?
I couldn’t see myself completely changing careers but I’d be opened to a small pivot or two within the field. I’m definitely driven by a constant, nagging desire to create and nourish (I’m a Cancer). The right side of my brain is always in hyperdrive; it would be difficult for me to do something that wasn’t taking advantage of that somehow. To be honest, I didn’t push into this thinking, “okay, good! Now I’m doing something that I love.” I was just drawn to it instinctively. Now that I’m here, though, I make an effort to step back and send some gratitude back into the universe for allowing me to do something I adore. I feel extremely lucky.
Photography by Jenna Bascom