By Carly DeFilippo
In the ever-growing buffet of possible food careers, sometimes it’s hard to choose what will end up on your plate. Will I be a magazine editor or a restaurant owner? A cookbook author or an entrepreneur? Well, in the case of ICE alum Sara Deseran, she’s having her cake and eating it too. At the mere age of 42, she’s the co-owner of five restaurants, the food editor for San Francisco magazine and a cookbook author—and still, she’s plotting to one day write freelance articles for the New York Times. Because why shouldn’t you get to do everything you’ve always wanted to do?
What sparked your decision to attend culinary school?
I was working in lowly position in publishing at Weldon Owen, a company that packaged books for Williams-Sonoma. I’d started working there because of my love for food, and my editor suggested I consider culinary school to round out my experience. I chose ICE because I really wanted to go to New York.
Where was your ICE externship and how has it affected your career?
For my ICE externship, I worked at Saveur magazine in the test kitchen, which was a complete thrill. At the time, there was no magazine I loved more. From there, I became the food editor at 7×7 magazine and a short-lived publication called Williams-Sonoma Taste. Today, I work as the food editor at San Francisco magazine and oversee our “Feast” section.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Well, my writing for sure. I currently publish a food think’y column called “Famished” that’s a ton of fun and keeps me on my toes. But I’m ultimately the most proud of Tacolicious, the restaurant that my husband Joe Hargrave and I started about four years ago. Proud is an understatement, actually. We have four locations now, and I pinch myself every day in regards to its success and the wonderful people we get to work with. On top of all that, we just recently published the Tacolicious cookbook with Ten Speed Press!
What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from your time in the industry?
Colman Andrews, the former editor of Saveur and founder of The Daily Meal, once told me to “write about what you know and know more than anyone else.” That way it’s unique to you. In this very competitive and saturated world of food writing, it’s a thought worth holding on to.
Briefly describe a day in your current working life.
I work at the magazine part-time and for Tacolicious part-time. At the magazine, I’m in charge of developing and executing all of our food and drink coverage, which is a lot. For the restaurant, I spend my days on everything from managing our website to marketing, to brainstorming menu ideas for our latest restaurant project—a dumpling-centric, California-Chinese restaurant called Chino that we opened in San Francisco this year.
What might people be surprised to learn about your job?
That I’ve never been a restaurant critic. Everyone hears the words “food writer” and they automatically assume I’m a critic. (I’d be a terrible critic because I’m far too critical, honestly. I need to keep those thoughts to myself!) I also don’t enjoy classic fine dining, which can be too uptight for my taste. The final thing that’s surprising is that I’ve never grown tired of my job. Covering San Francisco’s vibrant—and obsessive—food scene is endlessly entertaining.
Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
I’d like to freelance more—pitch publications like the New York Times (and hopefully have them say yes). That used to be my “before I turn 40” goal. But I’m 42 now—with five restaurants and a magazine to help run—so I’m giving myself another 8 years. I’m a wee bit busy right now.