We are super excited to share the beauty and brains of fierce Black women in our new weekly feature and newsletter, ESSENCE Network. This week meet Chrystal, a culinary stylist who took the leap from a media career to follow her foodie passion.
Name: Chrystal Baker
Title: Freelance culinary assistant and food blogger
Location: Los Angeles, CA
The gig: I research, shop and help prepare food for print features, television segments and online features, and have the opportunity to work side by side with world-renowned chefs. I also write about food for CBS and my own website, The Duo Dishes. Each new recipe that comes across my table presents the chance to learn about new ingredients and techniques.
The journey: My first full-time job after college was a Production Assistant for E! Networks’ True Hollywood Story. During those two years, I met several celebrities, went to fun parties and ate too much leftover pizza, doughnuts and cake in the employee kitchen. I've always loved food and cooking. After a few years in media I created a food blog with a friend to share recipes. I started volunteering at a local cooking school, which lead to a paid position. The moment I left my corporate life was when it all became real.
Network Tip: Don't be afraid to reach out to people you do not know. I have poured through websites and called to introduce myself to food stylists. I have also made new connections via LinkedIn. The worst that could happen is a rejection note, and even then, many people will be nice about turning you down. It is important to make people aware that you are available for new jobs and projects.
Secret superpower: I know a few lines, if not all of the words, to nearly every song in the world. And I’m a great exaggerator.
Her mantra: “You might as well. . .” serves as a verbal push. What’s the worst that could happen if you do or say something that is top of mind? You might as well do it, or say it, and see what happens.
What’s on her plate: My breakfasts have always been boring! I’m usually an almond milk and cereal kind of girl. Lately though, I have been eating toast or warm pita bread with a runny egg sprinkled with smoked paprika and salt. That’s what I had this morning. My lunch was a homemade roasted corn, lima bean and quinoa salad with lots of garlic, lemon juice and olive oil.
Her biggest lesson learned: One of my biggest mistakes was the day I was running around a busy kitchen, preparing a dessert array that would be televised. I was making whipped cream, and there were containers near me--one with salt, the other with sugar. You can imagine the mix-up that happened. Luckily for me, no one noticed the extra salt. Ever since, I make sure to slow down a little bit and endure a few seconds of a salted or sugared tongue in order to avoid a repeat.
Tech must-haves: CamScanner is an easy way for me to scan and fax documents, as well as keep electronic records of recipes and receipts. I also use Hours Keeper. It’s a fast way to log hours spent on billable projects, and I can create invoices directly in the app.
Her beauty bag: I always have a good moisturizer and lip balm! If I can’t get to my moisturizer during a busy day, I’ll drizzle a few drops of olive oil on my hands. It’s natural and great for the skin.
Music must-haves: India Arie, P!nk and Alanis Morrisette are my top artists. I’m surprised the CDs and yes – tapes, still work after the many times I’ve played them. My computer has everything from Ani DiFranco, Daddy Yankee and Kelly Clarkson to Major Lazer, Niki & The Dove, SWV and Wale.
Her stress relievers: Because I spend a lot of time cooking and eating, I try to find new ways to fit in physical activity. I do a lot of walking and jogging around my neighborhood, or go hiking at nearby trails. I also squeeze in yoga and spinning sometimes, and recently added volleyball to the mix. 2-3 times a week is enough to help me break out of the work mindset and relax.
Her time-saving strategy: I live by lists. I make a list of things to do and the order in which to do them, things to buy, people to call or email. I no longer try to remember things because it takes more time for me to remember than to write it down.
Proudest accomplishment: I volunteer as a cooking instructor with the Social Justice Learning Institute in Inglewood because I wanted to do something with food that would actually be beneficial to someone else. Two and a half years ago, I started leading a monthly cooking demonstration to educate participants on nutrition, planting and gardening.
Confessions of a professional foodie: Think outside of the box when it comes to the culinary field. Not everyone wants to work in a restaurant or be a caterer. Luckily for people like me, the food industry has exploded in more recent years, which means there are now more ways to be involved. If you do not have a culinary degree, learn what you can wherever you can, and don’t be afraid to start your own channel of content. That content may create the foundation you need to show your best skills, and that could translate into compensated work.