A Laptop, a Tray Table and a Dream

24 Feb 2010, Posted by Jennifer Iannolo in news & buzz, non-food

Six years ago today I experienced one of those moments that will stand out as a big red dot on the timeline of my life. I had just finished my stint launching the Ecole des Chefs program for Relais & Chateaux, and found myself at an odd crossroads: How could I possibly top an international gig working with chefs like Thomas Keller, Guy Savoy and Daniel Boulud? I was actually afraid that my career had peaked early. What now?

I looked at the laptop and tray table before me, and wondered if a career in food writing was the next step. I was hesitant — I knew it wouldn’t pay very well, but I had started this thing called “blogging” a couple of weeks before to test the waters and develop my writing style. My first newsletter had 50 or so subscribers, and I knew every one of them personally. I signed up for a recreational cooking class to get my hands back to work in the kitchen, and hoped that something in the course of all this would inspire me; otherwise I’d need to look at a big career shift.

I quickly got antsy — it’s not in my nature to sit and write all the time. I knew I’d be bored out of my mind soon enough, so I had a fleeting thought: Why not turn this blog into a little food magazine? I knew that its name, Gastronomic Meditations, was a bit confusing for people (sometimes they asked if I was a doctor…sigh), but I pushed forward anyway, knowing that the people who “got it” would continue to get it, and we could explore together. I somehow convinced Kelly Cline, Alder Yarrow and Donna Desfor to play along, and we forged ahead. A few months in, I heard from Go Daddy’s marketing director, who asked if I’d like to be in one of their new customer-focused commercials, and the site got nominated for a World Food Media Award, so I thought hey, this is pretty neat. It seemed like things were off to a decent start.

Not long after, I got an e-mail from a friend of mine: There’s someone I think you should meet. His name is Mark, and he’s a chef. That someone was creating these newfangled things called podcasts. Chef Mark Tafoya is now the person with whom I’ve traveled the world, expanded the vision of what things are possible in this little space called “new media,” and founded the companies that have brought all of our ideas together in one place. In the course of that history there have been some epic arguments and differences of opinion, but when Chef Mark and I find ourselves in that place, we always come back to the root of why we created this: Together we are a powerful team of creativity and passion, and the love and respect we have for that dynamic — and for each other — is what has given us the wherewithal to stay in it and move the dream forward. I likely wouldn’t be sitting here right now if it weren’t for him.

As I sat at that tray table six years ago, I had no inclination of what was ahead. Traveling the world was a goal, being on camera was a pipe dream (and a scary one), and Twitter was something birds did to annoy me.

But here we are. There are six years of our creativity for you to explore on what started as that food blog, but is now the Culinary Media Network — a living travelogue of our adventures from farm to plate, around the globe, with articles, recipes and audio/video programming. This blog, Food Philosophy, is more of my own personal exploration of the connections between food and sensuality, but you’ll see that the posts date back to ’04, so nothing has been lost along the way. At CMN we’re also in the thick of creating how-to courses for our new online cooking academy, and there’s even a Gilded Fork: Entertaining at Home cookbook for you to explore those ideas in tactile form (The Gilded Fork was our second name, pre-network). The years have gone by in a blur, and the ride has been very rocky at times, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

There have been recent, familiar moments, however, when I’ve found myself facing a question: What now? Now that I’ve flown all over the planet eating, drinking and learning, how can I possibly top it?

Only now, I have a better way to answer that question, which is in the form of a plaque my sister gave me for Christmas. Its call to action is one that will shape the next six years:

Think big. If that doesn’t work, think bigger!

Thank you for being here to be part of the journey with us, and most importantly, for your words of encouragement each time we take on a new challenge and reach a new benchmark. You are what makes the ride worthwhile.