Alumni Spotlight: Molly Farrar (’07)
Like many MLWGS alumni, Molly Farrar ’07 says that the most important part of her high school for her was the people. “I’m still close to a lot of people that I was friends with in high school,” she says. “I think the MLWGS experience was much different from the normal high school experience, which I’m really grateful for. Our school attracts so many interesting and smart people who are doing amazing things now.” She also has fond memories of teachers like Mr. Waller, who taught his students how to tie a bow tie before prom.
Molly attended the University of Virginia, where she majored in English, though she took a wide range of intro-level classes across different departments. “My advice to high school and college students would be to get outside your comfort zone and explore the topics that you might not know much about, especially if they can provide real-world skills and experience,” she says. One of her favorite college experiences was a study abroad summer program in London, led by one of her favorite professors. “It was really cool to experience the city while reading works from authors such as Virginia Woolf, then seeing in person the places those authors were writing about,” she says.
She also participated in a program called Alternative Spring Break, which sends college students on a service trips during spring break. She helped to clean and maintain city parks in Portland, OR, and she ended up leading the same trip the following year. “It allowed me to connect with students I would not have met otherwise, and I felt like we were actually making a small difference,” Molly says. By her third and fourth years, she started to expand her purview outside the UVA bubble, and enjoyed getting to know Charlottesville and the beautiful surrounding area.
After graduating from UVA, Molly decided to apply to the graduate program in gastronomy at Boston University. “I’ve loved to cook as long as I can remember–at my third grade talent show, my friend and I did a cooking show segment where we ‘baked’ chocolate chip cookies on stage! At various points throughout college and after graduating, I found myself going back to food in some way, whether that was volunteering at a farm or working in a restaurant.” Though she found the program to be a great fit that put her in excellent company and at least partially led her to her current job, she urges anyone thinking about grad school to consider the financial repercussions.
Molly now works as an editor at America’s Test Kitchen, a food media company that publishes two magazines and produces two public television shows, in addition to many cookbooks. “My job primarily involves planning, creating, and producing interactive courses for our online Cooking School,” she explains. “Each course generally includes some information about the science of food and basic cooking tips about the topic, along with three recipe tutorials. In the Cooking School, we break down each recipe into video and photo steps, and we don’t assume that someone necessarily knows how to chop an onion or sauté a vegetable. It’s my job to compile all this information into an online course centered around a certain cooking topic. We produce one course a month. I like my job because I get to think about cooking all day, but I also have to think about how to make our recipes more approachable for students. Lots of people are intimidated by cooking, but they don’t have to be!”
Molly graciously answered our questions about her job and her experience in the culinary industry below:
What’s the best part of your job?
The food! I don’t actually do any cooking at work, but our company has a team of over 50 test cooks who are in the kitchen every day developing and testing recipes for our publications. We have a “take-home fridge” that gets filled with leftovers from these testings. I have snagged all kinds of ingredients and full meals from the fridge. We joke that the take-home fridge is kind of like the Room of Requirement from Harry Potter…if you need an afternoon pick-me-up and go check the fridge, chances are you will find a piece of cake. Sometimes it’s a gamble though; if you get a recipe that is in the early stages of testing, the food might not be that good. And of course, I get to sample of all the food that we film and photograph for the cooking school! It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.
Also, the people at my company are very passionate about the work they do. I really do work with some of the best people. We have so many dedicated people who care about what they are doing, and they are really eager to better themselves and the company. That hasn’t always been the case at my past jobs!
What’s the most difficult part of your job?
My job is unique in our company because I work with a lot of different departments. Which is great, because one day I might be in the kitchen producing a recipe tutorial video, and the next day I might be meeting with members of the marketing team talking about how to grow the membership of the Cooking School. That also means I’m pulled in a lot of different directions though, which definitely keeps me on my toes.
What would you tell someone interested in working in the culinary industry?
You need a pretty thick skin to work in the culinary industry. I used to work in restaurants, which meant dealing with customers who aren’t always happy. Food is a very personal thing to many people, and it can lead to some heated debates. No matter what version of a recipe we publish, someone is going to find an issue with it, because that isn’t how their grandmother made the recipe or it doesn’t taste like they think it is supposed to.
There are many entry points to this industry, and there isn’t one traditional path. There are a lot of amazing things happening in the food world. Culinary professionals look after their own, and the network I have made through jobs and school has been the most valuable in terms of bettering my career (and my life!)
What’s one thing you’re looking forward to right now, personally or professionally?
Our company has been based just outside of Boston, in a town called Brookline, for over 20 years. We have grown a lot in the past few years, and we are bursting at the seams at this point. In October, we are going to move into a new building in downtown Boston where we will have much more space. We had to find a place that could meet our very unique specifications–not many office buildings can support 50 ovens and 90 gas burners–so we had to build the space from scratch in a converted warehouse. With more room, we can test more recipes, film more videos, shoot more photos…it’s going to be great. I’m ready for the move, because it will be fun to be in a shiny new space. I’m also excited about the possibility of growing the Cooking School and adding more content to our courses.