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  Cool Careers: Food Network Research Librarian on StarChefs
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Research Librarian Jonathan Milder of the Food Network, New York
Liz Tarpy

Think that chefs are the only ones who work at the Food Network? Hardly. The production studio in New York City houses people with all sorts of talents and interests-all relating to food, of course. Librarians, often cloistered in the hallowed halls of academia or kid-filled public facilities, can sometimes break out of the stacks and land a position that makes them the envy of all. Hear what Jonathan Milder says about his dream job.

Liz Tarpy: What drew you to work for TVFN?

Jonathan Milder: A combination of bill collectors and pure coincidence. I knew little of FN when I started here. I was simply an avid reader of all things food-related. I started off as a PA (Production Assistant) on Sara Moulton's show, Sara's Secrets. After a six-month stint I moved over to the Culinary Editorial Department, where I work now. My current position is certainly better tailored to my own interests, but PA-ing was a valuable opportunity to get a foot in the door and determine just what direction I wanted to go in. Both positions have proven incredibly enjoyable. I simply can't say enough about the people I work with. Atmosphere here is focused yet laid back and free enough to accommodate the cast of oddballs and eccentrics that work here.

LT: What is a typical day like?

JM: My days are tremendously varied, so it's a little difficult to say. Regular tasks include writing columns for the Scripps-Howard News Service (the company that owns the Food Network), producing seasonal trend reports, putting together weekly food news roundups, uploading recipes to our website, and, of course, tending to our ever-growing library. But on any given day I might find myself researching and writing talking-points for one of the Food Network hosts, or fulfilling miscellaneous research requests from the Food Network Kitchens, the Legal Department, or outside production companies.

LT: What sort of training is required for your job? What skills are essential to good performance?

JM: I guess a culinary degree couldn't hurt, but I am testament to the fact that a degree is not the only qualification for work at FN and that there is room in this business for passionate, well-read, exceptionally curious amateurs.

LT: What is the most satisfying part of your job? The least?

JM: Certainly the least satisfying aspect is the absolutely essential but mind-numbingly tedious task of uploading hundreds upon hundreds of recipes to our website each week. Fortunately that constitutes a small fraction of what I do here and is more than compensated by the tremendous freedom I am allowed to write about what interests me, and the pleasure of living with more than 4,000 books on cookery, cuisine, kitchen science, food history, and gastronomy. My days are never boring: one moment I might be talking shop with a barbecue expert in Douglas, Georgia, and the next I am culling food safety tips from a poultry scientist in Arkansas. Then I'll go off to lunch, come back, upload some recipes, buy some books for the library and have a chat with a Columbia University French Professor about the history of the toque. If this sounds like a dream job, trust me, it is.

LT: What advice would you give someone wanting to do what you do?

JM: I can't imagine there's any direct route to doing this sort of thing. This position is an odd mix of food writer, journalist, trend-watcher and librarian. The next person to hold this position will have trodden an entirely different path from the one I traveled. This is a position for voracious readers, bookworms, and aspiring polymaths, a position for people who find nearly as much pleasure in reading about food as in eating it. And those people can be found in the most unexpected places.

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