Kayla Hoang '19 is a JWU Providence Baking and Pastry graduate with a deep love for all things food. She has just completed five months exploring the world of food development at the Martha Stewart Test Kitchen in Chelsea, Manhattan. Here she reflects on her time in the test kitchen and shares advice for those with the same passion for food media.
Like most people, my love for cooking and baking started at home. Food has always been just as important to my family as it is to me and it is their shared passion and encouragement that led me to where I am today. When I was little I remember always watching my mom making dinner in the kitchen. I always wanted to help so badly. My desire to help my mom with dinner all the time is likely why my earliest memory of being in the kitchen is of me standing on a step stool cutting white button mushrooms with a butter knife.
My time at Martha Stewart Living has been nothing short of a dream and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
As I got older, I found myself wanting to do more baking than cooking. I slowly went from helping my mom measure out ingredients for chocolate chip cookies to finding recipes to bake all on my own. The first big baking task I ever took on was actually something I had seen in an issue of Martha Stewart Living. It was called the “Sunflower Cupcake Cake” and was made up of a tiny cake topped with blackberries to mimic the center of a sunflower and was surrounded by dozens of mini cupcakes frosted in various hues of yellows and oranges to mimic the petals. From then on, I found baking to be more than a hobby. It had become a passion. It was a way to express my appreciation for loved ones as well as an outlet to express my own creativity.
I graduated JWU this past May with a degree in Baking & Pastry Arts. While baking is still my greatest passion, I had realized over time that I also really love food styling and wanted to explore food development.
In my search for an advanced internship for my senior year, I knew that I wanted to do test kitchen work somewhere in food media as a stepping stone into food styling and food development. Through Experiential Education & Career Services, I was able to connect Kavita Thirupuvanam at the Martha Stewart Test Kitchen and was lucky enough to be brought in for an interview. As you may have guessed, I got the job!
Working for the Food Development Team at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSLO) has been so surreal. I’ve been able to learn so much from both my bosses and the magazine team. I’ve been exposed to so many new experiences and opportunities, and been able to work in a beautiful test kitchen in Chelsea.
No Such Thing as a “Typical Day”
The question I’m sure everyone wants the answer to is, “What is a typical day like?” It’s sort of hard to describe because there really is no such thing. Each day is something new. There are always new projects and challenges to take on, but I’ll do my best to paint a picture for you all.
My job as an intern for the Food Development Team is to prepare the products for our team’s daily development and tastings. Depending on the week and project, the products prepared could vary between a number of things. Often it means taking a recipe from either one of Martha’s cookbooks or from the magazine and further developing it to be sold as a retail product. Other times it means testing out products that have been developed for us to ensure they create the perfect “Martha Moment” for consumers. I’ll test anything from a cake to a cookie to even savory dishes (side dishes, proteins, etc.).
My biggest piece of advice is to step outside of your comfort zone. Trust in your own skills.”
The development process is very collaborative. While I am usually the one who executes the actual preparation, my bosses Kavita and Thomas Joseph '06, MSLO’s culinary director, will work with me through it to create what we hope to be the best product. Once our products are done, Kavita and Thomas — and often Martha and/or editors from the magazine — and I will taste the products to evaluate our next steps.
While development is our main focus, there have been plenty of other fun experiences that I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of. For example, one of the biggest honors is to be trusted enough to prepare “Martha Lunch” for when Martha is in the office. While it was definitely nerve-wracking the first time I prepared it, it’s so fun to put together something not only delicious, but beautiful just for her.
The fun doesn’t end there. Early on in my internship I was able to meet cookbook author Anna Jones and watch her demo a dish from her newest cookbook, “The Modern Cook’s Year.” I attended my first food expo at the Summer Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center to see up and coming trends and new products in food. I’ve even been able to work with the food team for digital shoots for both Martha and for Thomas’ show “Kitchen Conundrums with Thomas Joseph.”
My time at MSLO has been nothing short of a dream and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I know a lot of people that go off to work in kitchens and when they get home they want nothing to do with food. Cooking or baking is their job and that isn’t how they want to spend their free time.
I feel lucky in that I feel even more inspired to cook and bake in my free time because of what I’ve learned at MSLO. I’ve come across an abundance of recipes at work that I may not have ever tried on my own and I get excited to share them with my family.
One of those recipes includes these Plum-and-Blackberry Cornmeal-Almond Crumb Bars. Between the ripe plums and blackberries and the crunch from the toasted almonds, they’re a perfect summer treat made for sharing. And of course for those days when I need a little extra inspiration, I turn to Instagram.
Looking for Your Own Dream Job? My Advice:
I’ve learned far more than I could have imagined I would in my time at Martha Stewart. In looking back at my time, I think it’s important that I share some advice for those who are looking into test kitchen work.
My biggest piece of advice is to step outside of your comfort zone. As someone who majored in baking, I hardly, if ever, felt comfortable just cooking. It was always something I was tentative about. I was so used to always having a formula/recipe that was followed straight through and cooking seemed so very opposite of that. In test kitchens and with R&D [research and development] you have to be comfortable in developing different types of food. It can’t always be what you specifically are familiar with or specialize in.
Trust in your own skills. Be okay with doing something different. Ask for help when you need it. Stepping outside your comfort zone will only improve and strengthen your skills.
My other piece of advice is to really pay attention in all of the fundamental labs and labs that lay the foundation for culinary and baking skills. They may seem like a drag or you may not understand what the point of them is at the time, but those classes, especially for those pursuing R&D, are the most important classes you’ll take. They truly are your foundation for a successful future and they’ll get you a lot further than you think.
ABOVE: KAYLA HOANG '19 (CENTER MIDDLE) WITH THOMAS JOSEPH '06 (CENTER FRONT), KAVITA THIRUPUVANAM (FAR LEFT), AND THE TEST KITCHEN CREW. BELOW: KAYLA IN THE MARTHA STEWART TEST KITCHEN, AND A SELECTION OF SOME OF HER MSLO CREATIONS. (THE SALMON NICOISE WAS CREATED FOR A MARTHA LUNCH.)