Research Librarian Jonathan Milder
of the Food Network, New York
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
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.