In 2008, I made the very difficult decision to quit my culinary director job at the JCC in Manhattan. The program was thriving and I was ready for a change.
I gave my boss multiple months notice. I knew it would take time to interview and train someone new. I planned on departing in the summer.
It's not easy leaving a comfortable and prestigious job. I was definitely nervous about it. But it was time to move on.
In spring, 2008, I arrived back from a Seattle trip to an overflowing voicemail box. Anyone that spends time with me knows that I'm not the greatest at listening to my voicemail messages in a timely manner. (I currently have 63 unheard vm messages - the majority of which are appt reminders but still...it's not like they're very exciting!).
I panicked when I finally got around to listening to them. There was one that I had to replay because I wasn't sure I heard them right. It was a location scout that was interested in having Sesame Street film a kids cooking class in our kitchen. WHAAAAT?
Crap, is it too late to respond? It had already been awhile since she called!
I immediately called my colleague upstairs and asked if she'd heard about it. She said she got the same call but didn't think I'd be interested.
I called the scout back - we are still FB friends to this day - a very cool woman, named Betsy. She said she'd heard great things about our kids cooking classes and that they were doing documentary style segments at different schools around the city.
Could they film a kids cooking class in the JCC kitchen? she asked.
Keep in mind that I'd been heavily investing my love, sweat and tears into the kids cooking program for five straight years. I taught 2-3 kids classes PER WEEK in addition to my director duties. I taught the 2-3 year old Kookin Kids every Thursday for five years. I jumped in and out of the other classes, the 4-6, 10-13, and teens. I'm not a fan of teaching 7-9 year olds. Snarky age.
I'd also been teaching for five years before that in Seattle.
It was my passion.
This sounds totally normal now. But when I started teaching kids how to cook in the 90's while working for the WA State Department of Health, it was considered more odd than cool. Pamela Koch and Lynn Fredericks are the only two people I've ever met that started teaching kids how to cook around the same time as me - '97ish. I think there was a woman in Texas as well.
That is IT! We were pioneers. Other people in the culinary field literally patted my head when I told them I taught kids prior to 2008.
But it wasn't just something cute. There was a very, very crucial thesis behind my work.
The kids who cooked the healthy food, sampled the healthy food. The kids who sampled the healthy food, discovered that they liked the healthy food.
Ergo, kids are more likely to consume healthy food if they cook it.
This was a hard sell for MANY years.
Watch. The same thing will happen with Resistance work.
It's not cool. Until it's cool.
In the summer of 2008, Michelle Obama was about to become the First Lady. Jamie Oliver was gearing up for his Food Revolution show.
Just a year earlier, I pitched a kids cookbook concept to several publishers and they said "not relevant."
Thanks to Sesame Street and Betsy Shankin, I was able to get the best possible parting gift from my that amazing job for the next chapter of my career.
A national segment on the most iconic kids television show of all time.
If they'd called just a few months later, I would have been gone.
One of the reasons I have never pursued television work is in large part due to what I experienced working on this itty bitt tiny segment.
TV work is hard! And I worked in food which is not exactly for the faint of heart!
I focused on finding kids for the show, working out the recipe we'd make, hiring staff, and basically doing the production side of things.
Sesame Street brought I think twenty union workers for the segment? They had Kraft services for breakfast at around 6am. Later, there was Kraft services in the hallway for staff (how do TV personalities stay tiny?). One person's job was *only* to take care of the puppet costume. It was very, very expensive and they didn't have that many of the character I worked with - Murray.
Apparently, Elmo has quite a few. A bigger star.
I was nervous but didn't have time to focus on myself, I had to make sure the kids were okay.
Maggie Ward and Jacquie Grinberg - my two kids cooking teachers that helped me essentially develop the kids cooking program and are still dear friends - also made it into the final segment. Jacquie is the one with the accent - she is from Mexico City. It's her recipe we are cooking with the kids!
It was nerve wracking when they interviewed each child. It wasn't that easy to cast for the show. I wanted to honor the program and pick kids that were excited about cooking. It also needed to be a diverse group. And they couldn't be shy or scared to be on camera! No easy feat.
Being interviewed on camera is HARD. The lights are shining, the cameras are pointing at you. It's stressful as an adult. So it wasn't surprising that the one-on-one interviews were not going well.
The pressure was on me since I brought in the children.
I was standing in the back of the kitchen, praying that one of them came up with something good. The girl's name will come to me while I'm half-asleep but I can't retrieve it now. She was one of those wise-for-their-age kids with a deep, raspy voice.
When she said it was great to cook because you get to eat something you made yourself, I nearly wept with relief. I raised my arms in the air and caught the producer's eyes. I knew that clip would work.
The kids left and the puppeteers got the rest of the other shots. EVERYTHING TAKES FOREVER. This is why I have no idea why anyone thinks working in television is glamorous.
Let me assure you. It is not.
The two minute segment took SEVEN HOURS and around 20 people to create (I'm not sure of that number, so don't quote me on that) and this didn't include post-production, editing, etc.
Of course, that doesn't mean it wasn't AWESOME. You know by now that I don't like to only share the "happy bits." It was hard, and amazing, and wonderful. And I'm still proud of it to this day.
It's really cool to hear from the parents years later that it was a really incredible experience for their kids.
I STILL get people messaging me that they saw me on Sesame Street!
It is such a source of pride that our kids cooking classes has a great reputation.
When Michelle Obama was on a few years later discussing healthy eating, that was a big "wow" for me.
All that work. All those years. My life's work was honored in such an awesome way.
I know I worked really hard for it. But I also know I have the strangest kind of luck too. White privilege of course. That goes without saying. I haven't delved into that topic yet. But I will.
I have to remember that luck is still inside of me. That I can tap into it. And find a way back to the place where I believe good things would happen.
I can. And I will.
Here's a link to the Sesame Street video!
PHOTO #22. This post is part of a series celebrating my life before I lost four organs to three cancers in 2014. It is an “online memorial” honoring the person I was, in the hopes that I can make peace with the disabled person I’ve become. Every day for 30 days until my birthday, I will challenge myself to write a post inspired by the photo I’m sharing. I will not plan the topic or write ahead of time. I will merely look at the photo and write whatever it inspires. Thanks for reading! #julesfor30 #happyrebirth