Alumni Spotlight: Priya Shah

There are some duos that just go together. Milk and cookies, Batman and Robin, or peanut butter and jelly are a few that instantly come to mind. But what about those that are less common? For BU Gastronomy alum Priya Shah, there isn’t a better combination than food and storytelling.

After graduating from the program in 2011, Priya aspired to make her favorite fusion a reality. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy as she thought. Instead of diving straight into the culinary communications industry, Priya returned home to work for her family’s hotel business in Iowa. After a little less than two years, she was yearning to trade her conversations about RevPAR and third-party reservation systems for wine characteristics and restaurant openings. Priya decided it was time to start researching communications firms that solely focused on lifestyle brands. Eventually, this search led her to Atlanta. There, she gained valuable experience working for boutique and corporate firms managing a range of food-related clients. From James Beard Award nominated chefs to Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, her breadth was quite diverse.

Learning best practices from her agency experiences, Priya realized that her Master’s in Gastronomy equipped her with a rare set of skills. Unlike her colleagues, she could speak the language of her clients and was often chatting with them about industry trends. It didn’t take her long to decide to open up her own shop. In June, she launched ShahSquared Consulting, a communications and marketing firm dedicated to food and beverage, hospitality and travel clients. To set herself apart, Priya focused on three core elements: 1.) expertise; 2.) authenticity; and 3.) approach. She would provide her customers with the utmost hospitality while cutting through the fluff. Her greatest joy comes from sharing her clients’ stories and watching them succeed and prosper. But, don’t be mistaken — Priya doesn’t take herself too seriously. Between promoting her dog to Chief Morale Pawficer and her blatant obsession with pineapples, Priya’s not afraid to let her personality shine in her business.

Many of Priya’s passions and achievements she attributes to her time at BU. Her exposure to different industries and educational experiences through her peers made every class discussion worthwhile. Whether she always agreed with her classmates’ opinions was another story. Outside of the university, Priya has enjoyed using the alumni network to connect with other gastronomy grads. It was through the network that she met Shaun Chavis (BU Gastronomy ’07). Now a friend and confidant, Shaun was influential in Priya’s entrepreneurial pursuit. Together, the two have used their talents to collaborate on client projects and support each other in their respective businesses.

As for the future, Priya looks forward to expanding her businesses and attaining more clients. The world is her oyster and she prefers hers with homemade Mignonette and a little fresh grated horseradish.

Get Hired or Die Baking

by Leigh Shaplen

Student Leigh Shaplen shares her path to finding a food career, as well as some handy tips. She is currently residing in California while finishing her MLA in Gastronomy.

at the summer culinary lab

Ten hours after packing up my life in Boston and moving back home to San Francisco I am in route to Napa for a job interview. I am amazed by the drastic change in my surroundings. This is farm country and a far cry from yesterday’s home at the foot of Fenway Park.

I was unsure how exactly my degree in Gastronomy would help me get the restaurant marketing dream job I’ve been seeking my entire life. I entered the job market with a plan. I developed a 15 second pitch about my graduate work (I wasn’t sure anyone would give me 30 seconds, so I kept it short). I gave my speech to anyone who would listen: “I’ve been learning from some of the world’s top sommeliers, cheese mongers, food anthropologists, and journalists. I’ve been cooking alongside some of Boston’s most prominent chefs.” As it turns out a lot of people wanted to listen.

I conducted the majority of my job search through LinkedIn. I kept an excel document with every position I applied to. There are 62 jobs on the list. I tried to submit applications for 3 opportunities every day. I researched the companies and its employees. I sent a personalized note following up on each application, and this tactic worked for my interview in Napa. When sitting down with the Director of human resources she thanked me for reaching out directly.

I spread the word about my job search. I decided to embrace it rather than hide from it. I emailed 30 friends and family members letting them know about my goals and thanking them for keeping me in mind. More often than not, I got replies with very fruitful leads. I took interviews for jobs I didn’t want and when asked about my dream job, I was honest. The conversation shifted to how they could help me get that job instead. I said yes to anyone (and that means anyone) who offered to help. I traveled for interviews on my own dime, which included buying cross-country plane tickets. I read the San Francisco Chronicle Food Section and cut out the pictures for inspiration. I found Gastronomy graduates in San Francisco and had a lot of coffee dates (I don’t even like coffee). I started sending thank you notes sealed with a fork and spoon stamp to develop some personal branding.

The fork and spoon stamp

My network has grown exponentially, and I’m joining a food marketing networking group with new friends. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with two “celebrity” chefs, a bunch of industry leaders, and have had lunch at Twitter. The tech company’s complimentary made-to-order, breakfast, lunch, and dinner food mecca spans two floors and is a gastronomic heaven.

When I wasn’t interviewing I baked. When all else fails I turn to food. Sound familiar? I made a lot of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with too much butter and froze the dough. Whenever someone went out of their way for me, I baked a stack of cookies and delivered them in a green plastic strawberry basket wrapped in cellophane, a trick food writing instructor Sheryl Julian taught me. Needless to say, people went wild for the thin, crispy cookies with soft centers. I’m calling them the “get hired or die baking” cookie and am willing to share the recipe.

A month and a half and five interview rounds later, I received a job offer in Napa. The offer letter cites my graduate education in Gastronomy as part of a unique combination of skills. I think I’ll accept and eat the rest of my get hired cookies. I’ve earned them.