Invest in a restaurant. Write your first cookbook. Develop a line of vegetable based candy. Are these things you’ve considered but never actually had the guts to go out and try? Seems pretty daunting, especially when there are thousands of award-winning chefs, mixologists and home cooks trying to do the exact same thing. I won’t say I will never do any of these, but I will admit the thought of embarking on one of these journeys is quite discouraging. At this year’s New York City Wine and Food Festival I had the opportunity to sit in on a discussion with some of the most notable culinary authorities in today’s world, in a seminar called “Pitch me”. The name says it all. How do you go about pitching your idea to culinary decisions makers? And then how can you make a profit doing it?
In this business focused food seminar, culinary experts from the television, publishing, marketing and retail worlds provided insights on how you can turn your passion and ideas for food into a successful career. After two days of non-stop eating at various tasting events, I was happy to sit in a comfy theater and give my stomach a moment to rest.
Rachel Ray and Tyler Florence kicked off the seminar by sharing their experiences growing up in the food industry. Both hard work and luck played a bog role in both of their careers. While their stories of entering into the business were drastically different, their underlying theme was exactly the same. Tell a story. It’s that simple.
“You need to tell a story around your food and your products… It’s what helps people connect to you and what you’re selling,” claimed Rachel. “Brands that grow are the ones that have a story behind it, it’s what makes it genuine.”
After much success and failure in Tyler’s 15-year career, he finally settled on a passion of his own, bringing wholesome, organic baby food products that tasted like no others to the market. Becoming a father changed his life in many ways and set him on a new course within the food world. Tyler shared that “Sprout Baby Food is the result of many years of research, development and most importantly, fatherhood. It’s something I really felt passionate about, and I wanted to bring something to the market that moms and dads would feel good about feeding their kids.” It wasn’t just the product itself that made it a success; it was Tyler’s determination to develop something he felt truly passionate about. Let’s be honest, you could put Tyler’s name on any generic pot or pan in Macy’s and it would immediately fly off the shelves. But that isn’t what he did; he genuinely believes in what he’s selling and that comes through to consumers.
Similarly, what makes Rachel Ray successful isn’t just her warm, vibrant personality; it’s her ability to put her personal touch on products she puts in the market. Rachel is adamant about making every product she puts into the market something that solves a problem in the kitchen and is both affordable and accessible. When asked about her product line, Rachel stated, “I developed an oval-shaped spaghetti pot because spaghetti is long.”
A huge influence in both Rachel and Tyler’s career is the well-known face on The Next Food Network Star, Bob Tuschman. Bob has spent the past 15 years cultivating fresh culinary talent and overseeing the development, programming, production and scheduling for Food Network and Cooking Channel cable TV networks. He offered some great advice to those who want to get in the television business, and surprisingly it has little to do with television. His tip: make a brand for yourself, because TV will only take you so far. TV is great for exposure, but after that you need a lot more to rest your name on.
So, are you sitting there sketching out your idea for the next hit TV show, an innovative kitchen gadget, or a new headphone case (please, someone help me here, I spend far too much of my time untangling my ear buds)! I’ll admit I was doing the same thing half way through the forum. Well… I have good news; keep those ideas coming because the opportunity to turn that product into a reality isn’t that far out of reach. Let me introduce you to Ben Kaufman, the 24-year-old founder and CEO of Quirky, a social product development site that’s built on a collaborative decision-making platform. Ben believes that, “The best ideas in the world aren’t actually in the world… they’re locked inside people’s heads. Quirky exists to solve that problem.” Quirky helps consumers bring their new product designs to the marketplace through interaction between the online global community and Quirky’s product design staff. “Any of Quirky’s community members can become an inventor or influencer by submitting ideas and helping to decide which products Quirky will design, manufacture, and sell. Inventors who submit ideas that are then created, and influencers who contribute to those ideas, share in royalties based on product sales,” states Ben. It’s a true collaboration between those that have the ideas and the people that can make it happen, and Quirky brings this to your fingertips. No need to search for that perfect business investor or financial backer, you can simply hop online and make it happen on your own. You probably want to know what the secret is to developing the next new product… well, if I knew that I would have invested it by now. But I challenge you to submit your own designs… who knows what’s possible?
To round off the line up of incredible talent, Luke Ostrom weighed in on the opportunities and challenges of being a restaurateur in one of the most competitive cities in the world. As the owner and operator of The Dutch and Locanda Verde in Manhattan, Ostrom, chef-turned-restaurateur, presides over two of the city’s hottest spots. Ostrom’s most important piece of advice – CARE. Care about everything. Care about all the small details you don’t think matter, because when you add it all up it creates a very specific experience. He also warns that opening a restaurant is expensive. “Don’t think you’re going to make a profit in the first year, or even in the first 10,” stated Ostrom. It’s an investment, but if you have the right partners and a strong idea anything is possible. Good luck to all you budding restaurateurs, I’ll come visit when you open!