When ICE President Rick Smilow and Anne E. McBride wrote Culinary Careers: How to Get Your Dream Job in Food they discovered a plethora of food jobs they had never heard of before. Since the book’s release, they have been discovering even more interesting career paths in the food world. DICED shares some of them with you in a reoccurring feature, “Unique Culinary Careers.”
Moira Campbell works with ICE student volunteers in her role as an event producer for various Food Network festivals including the famed New York City Wine & Food Festival and events for the Food Bank for New York City and the James Beard Foundation. But her day job (if you can call it that) is President of Rum & Blackbird Tasting Tours, giving culinary tours of Hell’s Kitchen in New York City. Her journey to becoming a culinary tour guide and entrepreneur has taken her all over the food world. Campbell often jokes that she “will work for food.” After culinary school, she worked in restaurants, private catering and as a personal chef before working as a publicist for StarChefs, restaurants and chefs. Now, in addition to her work as an event producer, she gives tours of the restaurants and eateries that make Hell’s Kitchen one of the city’s best neighborhoods for eating. The company has found great success and is planning an expansion to other boroughs and has a growing staff. We sat down to talk to her about her career path and what it is like running your own food business.
How would you describe your position?
My position as founder and president of Rum & Blackbird Tasting Tours involves many different roles like creative director, accountant, official taste taster, publicist and director of business partnerships. Since the business is very young, we’re very small and each person has to take on many different positions that would normally be covered by a whole team of people. I think that that is the beauty of a small business, especially your own. One can be quite well versed in many different roles, since you have to do it all yourself in order to get the business off the ground. It’s like being in the kitchen, one can be a sous-chef but jump on the saucier station if needed because you’ve done it all before.
How did you start Rum & Blackbird?
The seed for Rum & Blackbird was planted after contemplating what activities made me most happy. At the time, I was in Italy, eating, drinking and enjoying a slower pace of life. I would wake up each day with a list of well-researched restaurants, bakeries and salumerias that I had to visit. I thought that I would have a lot of fun doing these kinds of eating adventures all the time, with other eager tasters, in my own neighborhood. The months following the decision were filled with research and tastings of every restaurant in the neighborhood, spanning from 57th St. down to 34th St., from 8th Ave. to the Hudson River. It was a tough job but essential to finding the best food in the neighborhood. Once my list of tasting stations was established, I held many test tours with my friends and family to gather their feedback on the tour. Luckily, it was a hit.
How do you develop your tours?
I developed my tours through hours of historical and edible research. At first, I would visit a restaurant and taste the food to determine if it was a candidate for the tours. As I went along, I learned to be more discriminatory and scrutinize the service, portion sizes and tour-ability. Over the months the tours have changed slightly here and there for various reasons. Some tasting partners have closed their restaurants. Some tasting partners changed their staff and became less accommodating. I always have to keep my guest in mind and not only provide amazing food but an entire amazing experience.
What is your favorite part of giving tours?
My favorite part about giving food tours is sharing the excitement of food and eating with my tasters. Even though I’ve eaten the foods on the tour many times, being with my tasters allows me to experience the foods as if I had never had them before. There is a great energy that comes from tasters on the tour. I encourage them to share their own food stories from traveling the world and we often discuss various cooking techniques and dining destinations outside of Hell’s Kitchen. I just can’t think of a better way to spend my day than talking about food with fellow gourmands.
How did culinary school help prepare you for your career?
Culinary school has prepared me for all of the jobs I have had in the past and the present. As a food tour operator, I communicate with food. Tasting food goes beyond eating — I want tasters to understand the history, preparation and technique. Often times we discuss how to make the foods at home and it is essential to know how all of the food is prepared. On the business side, I feel very comfortable working directly with chefs and restaurateurs because I understand their point of view, motivation and their food. This is particularly important with all of the culinary events I do. One has to understand what it takes to produce food for hundreds in order to produce a food event.
Interested in starting your own unique culinary career? Pick up a copy of Culinary Careers and get started now.