I went to college to study graphic design. I loved the ability to create something original, to see an idea become a campaign, and then something new. I graduated from VCU in 2001, and actually managed to work in my desired field.
But something was missing…
I had always been interested in cooking, so I ditched my nine to five, enrolled in a culinary arts program, and became a line cook at a local restaurant. I discovered the joy of the plate – envisioning a finished dish, imagining the presentation, thinking of the smells and flavors, and the challenge of choosing the ingredients to create it. Over the next 11 years, I think I became pretty good at it. I became an executive chef, opened a number of restaurants, and was nominated for several awards. I was able to use my talents to helm charity dinners, and found some of my recipes featured in well-known culinary publications.
But, again, something was missing…
Being in the restaurant industry requires a tremendous amount of sacrifice. While I met and worked with some wonderful people over my career, as the chef you’re dealing with a historically unreliable workforce. Profit margins are always razor-thin. The dining public is a notoriously fickle group, and you’re always one Yelp review away from disaster. You have zero work-life balance and I was newly married with a young son.
Two events in 2016 changed my direction again. I’ve long been a competitive tennis player, and I ruptured my Achilles Tendon. This put a crimp in my cheffing, and it may have contributed to my being laid off from my job. I decided it was time to get out of the business.
Even while chained to my knives and stoves, I had continued to dabble in graphic design. As the executive chef, I was essentially a partner in the restaurant, and I used my previous experience to design menus, point of sale materials, and other collateral. Perhaps I could put my education and experience back to practical use?
Through a friendly get-together, I reconnected with Scott and Cara. I had been the first general manager at their snowboard shop, Glass & Powder, so we’d always stayed in touch. They seemed receptive to taking me in as an intern, giving me the opportunity to see if I still had some chops and to learn what had changed in the decade+ I had been away from that business.
And change it had.
While my education focused on design for print, design today is largely a digital medium. I would have to learn a new language. I studied French for two years, finally gave it up, and if it’s not food-related can’t really speak it now, so this would be a challenge. I began with some online courses to get up to speed. After a few sessions, things began to click. I started getting comfortable with HTML – and this was a great boost of confidence – and then I discovered Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). It’s not technically a markup language, but CSS works hand-in-hand with HTML. Hyper Text Markup Language is visually boring without a styling language tethered to it so learning CSS is absolutely crucial in today’s digital design world. The syntax of CSS is relatively simple, but the language is vast and requires quite a bit of memorization. The trickiest part for me was understanding the hierarchy of HTML elements and how they relate to one another when CSS is applied to them. It’s been seven months since the end of class and I continue to learn something new about CSS each day.
When I was a chef, I often started with that visualization of the finished plate. I wanted it to have certain colors. I wanted the sauce to have a certain consistency. When the diner bent over the dish, I wanted particular aromas to enter their senses. When the food crossed the palate, I wanted the diner to experience certain things. I became extremely creative in sourcing and using particular ingredients to bring this vision to life.
At Rocket Pop Media, I start with a visualization. What colors are most appealing? Do they convey the right message? How will a particular design make the user feel? Will an interaction with a website be fun, intuitive, informative, or frustrating? I’ve taken all that I’ve learned (and continue to learn) about design and code to create that desired user experience.
You might say that I continue to cook – My mise en place* has just changed.
*mise en place is a French Culinary term translated roughly as “everything in its place.” It refers to the organization of ingredients prior to cooking.