By Furaha Asani
Chances are some of us postgrad students and academic researchers don’t really give that much thought to the food we are eating. Not that we don’t care, just that as long as it’s nutritious and/or tasty, it should go down well. Or maybe it’s just me. Regardless of whether you spend weekends devoted to meal prep, or just throw all your ingredients at once into boiling water, the fact is undeniable that:
The food industry is a booming one, and not to be taken for granted.
Currently, there are many students who are getting a piece of this pie. With the presence of different social media and blogging platforms available nowadays, students with ties to the food industry are no longer exclusively those who are actually pursuing the culinary arts in their full-time education and future careers. Currently there are many student-led food blogs available. These blogs provide information about recipes to try out, incorporating the blogger’s unique style of writing, cooking, or photography. Some may even have lifestyle and fashion elements.
One such blogger is Elly McClausand, who runs her food blog whilst doing her PhD. Elly is registered as a post-grad student in English and related Literature at the University of York. Her blog, Nutmegs, seven, is dedicated to showcasing food inspired by fruit and spices, as evidenced in the colourful index of recipes she provides.
Elly started blogging because of her passion for food and her creative flair. Not one to be afraid of experimenting with flavours, she also shares stories of different foods she encounters on her travels, and gives advice on where to eat in different parts of the UK. She admits that an advantage of using her blog as her personal food diary is that it gives her freedom to exercise her love of language and writing. So for Elly this is a win-win situation: both of these skills are highly necessary for her PhD process, and she practices them whilst pursuing her passion.
All this has paid off as Elly has either directly contributed to, or been featured on several food-related platforms. No doubt her dedication and frequent posting have everything to do with it. Her blog, quite simply, is very appealing.
So how exactly does Elly manage food blogging together with her obligations in her PhD? In her own words, ‘I treat the PhD like my day job; food is the thing I look forward to when coming home. It helps me unwind after a day of grappling with difficult literature or writing. I think that’s why it’s easy to balance the two, because cooking is a form of relaxation for me, rather than something I have to fit in around everything else. I do sometimes have to work during the evenings, writing recipes and editing photos for some of my food jobs, but I still enjoy it so I don’t mind having to balance everything. Perhaps paradoxically, I find being busy makes me more efficient, because I’m conscious that I have to fit everything in, so I don’t procrastinate.’
One of the pillars of the food industry is food presentation. And since admittedly I am no foodie, I asked as unpretentiously as I could, how important this concept is to Elly. And while she believes presentation is hugely important in her food blog, she doesn’t think this has to mean spending hours carefully plating food and worrying over lighting and props. ‘Ultimately, food should look natural and good enough to eat; I try to do as little styling as possible. But it is important – if you want people to read your blog and make your recipes, they have to look inviting. That’s why I tend to blog breakfast, baking and salad recipes the most, because they behave well while being photographed and are naturally colourful. Brown roast food and ice cream are nightmares for photography’, she says.
There are also some students who have started off by studying in one field, and making the leap into the food industry. And one of those is Zuhra Abdullahi. Zuhra studied International Studies and French Language at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. After a junior year she spent in Paris had a huge influence on her view of food and cooking, Zuhra has not turned back. She enrolled at the French Culinary Institute, now known as The International Culinary Centre in New York.
She admits that while caught off guard by how hectic culinary classes were, the school was very accommodating to her. ‘As someone living with the everyday challenges of Sickle Cell Disease, I had to learn to listen to my body and adjust my routines very quickly’, Zuhra says.’ I attended classes three times weekly, starting at 5:45pm and ending at 10:45pm. There was no sitting, chatting, enjoying a drink while you cook…there was none of that. It was a very serious environment. What I really liked was the jokes and laughs we had after it was all over. I found out that Julia Child was right, people who love to eat are always the best people.’
Zuhra’s inquisitiveness was fostered in part by her parents’ openness and support from an early age. She recalls not knowing any restaurant chefs personally whilst growing up in Nigeria, but seeing her mother page through ‘the most beautiful cookbooks’.
And how does she plan to take her career forward? While currently working for the Nigeria Higher Education Foundation (NHEF) in New York, Zuhra’s goal is to additionally create menus and host dinners on eatwith.com, which she joined last year, two times per week.
‘Surprisingly,’ she adds, ‘I’m not thinking about making my mark on the food industry. I’d say this though: Nigeria has a very strong hold on me. At some point I started feeling disconnected from my home, my culture and I wanted to reconnect with my northern roots. Food is the way I know how, so I decided to add in a little of my northern Nigerian culture to classic French cooking. I’ve learned a lot but there’s a lot more to learn. Right now I’m just enjoying the ride. It feels so good to see my lifelong hobby become something meaningful to others. I get to do what I love. I’m just happy that I can share that. My advice for people who want to get into food is to really think hard about your reason before you make any decisions. What kind of chef do you want to be? Do you want to be a Restaurant chef or do you want to do your own thing and have control over your menu? Don’t get caught up in the food trend, make sure it’s something you know you love and enjoy. It’s life, even passion comes and goes so being consistent and having regular practice is what you should always try to aim for.’
These two food lovers, while pursuing careers for the time-being in food-unrelated fields, are both taking advantage of internet-based platforms to steak ( 😉 ) a claim in the food industry. They are passing a very strong message across through their passion and efficiency: You can eat your cake and have it too!