Jennie Schacht is a culinary writer and consultant based in Oakland, California. She is the author of i scream SANDWICH! and Farmers’ Market Desserts; co-author of The Wine Lover’s Dessert Cookbook, Southern Italian Desserts, and Without Reservations; and co-author, ghost writer, or editor of many other works. She consults to chefs, restaurateurs, and authors on developing their book concepts and proposals and in writing their books. Her culinary and health care consulting company, Schacht & Associates, has raised over $135 million for public and not-for-profit organizations. Jennie holds a certificate in Food and Beverage Management from the Hotel School at Cornell University and was 2006 president of the San Francisco Professional Food Society. More at http://jennieschacht.com.

Cookbook author Jennie Schacht

Cookbook author Jennie Schacht

When did you first decide you wanted to make food your career?
I came to food writing as a career gradually and indirectly. It began with my sister asking me to put some recipes in writing for her as a birthday gift. I ended up writing her a book, and then decided to shop it around to some of my favorite publishers. I was delighted to get great feedback but disappointed that none thought it right for their list. Some years later, when I noticed that the free local food paper, Bay Food, was looking for writers, I wrote an article and sent it over. Soon after, a contract poured forth from my fax machine. The editor said she hoped this would be the beginning of a long relationship, but the publication lost ad revenues and soon folded. I picked up some other writing assignments, attended the Symposium for Professional Food Writers, then joined several culinary organizations, including SFPFS. I guess that was the point at which I began to make the mental shift from my career in social welfare to food.

How did you get where you are today in the food business?
With a lot of hard work. And with the support of colleagues, many from SFPFS. As I got more serious, I got a Certificate in Food and Beverage Management from the Cornell University Hotel School, hoping to parlay my consulting experience in public health into restaurant consulting. It wasn’t until I attended the Symposium that I realized the better career bridge was as a writer. I met Mary Cech, who developed and taught the Baking and Pastry Program at CIA Greystone, at a chocolate tasting at SFPFS member Linda Carucci’s Kitchen, co-taught by SFPFS member Micki Weinberg of Guittard. High on theobromine, after the tasting I marched up to Mary, handed her a business card, and said, “If you ever want to write a book, please call me.” She did, and here I am 10 books later.

What is the most exciting thing going on in food right now, in your opinion?
I love that so many people are getting back to baking bread, which was unfairly demonized for so long. I’ve been having a great time experimenting with ancient and heirloom wheats and other grains: Khorasan (aka Kamut), emmer, spelt, einkorn, Sonora, Chiddam blanc de mars, sorghum, triticale, and more, which I grind using the Mockmill mixer attachment. Kamut is my current favorite: sweet, nutty, buttery, and blond. It’s also great to see more people making naturally fermented breads, which are made with a starter but don’t necessarily have to be sour. It’s what SF is famous for!

What advice do you have for young people who want a career in food?
I have two conflicting pieces of advice: Know that it is very difficult to make a decent living in just about anything connected with food, and especially as a food writer. There is a lot of competition from people who are willing to charge next to nothing, or nothing at all, to do just about anything you might want to do. That said, there really is something to the widespread advice to do what you love. Will the money follow? Hopefully enough to live on. But you will be spending your time doing something you find enjoyable and gratifying. As long as you can make ends meet, that’s a lot better than frittering your life away doing something you hate just to afford things you’ll never have time to enjoy.

What condiment is always in your refrigerator?
Sriracha. And kimchi. And my newest love: yuzu kosho. Look it up, buy it, try it. It makes everything salty-spicy-citrusy delicious—even desserts, which is where I first encountered it.

What was your first cookbook?
My very first cookbook as I child was the Peanuts Cook Book. My friend Emily and I would make Lucy’s Lemon Bars and other recipes, once setting a fire that burned the kitchen curtains. The first cookbooks I owned as an adult were Vegetarian Epicure and The Moosewood Cookbook. And the first I authored was The Wine Lover’s Dessert Cookbook, co-authored with Mary Cech. It’s out of print but available on my website.

What is your go-to recipe for entertaining?
For something casual, pizza or flatbread, baked on the Baking Steel. You can find a recipe here, and a good dough recipe here or here.

Where do you shop for food?
Between Berkeley Bowl, the Temescal (Oakland) Farmers’ Market, and Trader Joe’s I can find pretty much everything I need. I get my spices at the wonderful Oaktown Spice Shop, a place well worth taking time to explore (coupled with a walk around lovely Lake Merritt).

What are you working on today and how will it impact your career/business?
I’m currently moving into more editing, though I will happily author, co-author, ghost, or otherwise support the right book project. I also help authors to develop their cookbook concepts and proposals. And I still consult to a few health and human service organizations with a service called Proposal Check-up, which helps them to submit the strongest possible proposals for funding.

Are you involved with a food non-profit? If so, which ones and what do you do?
One of my long-time clients is a food policy organization called Public Health Advocates, an organization that has been instrumental in improving community health by getting junk food and junk beverages out of schools, parks, and other public facilities. I also support Planting Justice, which addresses social inequities by preparing formerly incarcerated and other difficult to employ individuals with skills and resources related to food sovereignty, economic justice, and community healing. And I am a founding shareholder in People’s Community Market, a for-profit venture with a social mission. It’s thrilling to see this market and community hub in a severely underserved Oakland neighborhood nearing fruition.

Have you held SFPFS board positions in the past?
I have participated on several SFPFS committees since I first joined in 1995, have been liaison to two SIGs, and have served on the board as Newsletter Editor, Treasurer, and in 2006 as President.

What have you gained from being a member of the SFPFS?
Through SFPFS I met my literary agent, many mentors, and a great number of colleagues who have become dear friends. I very much doubt I’d have been able to develop the career I am most grateful to enjoy without those people and the support of the organization. In fact, I’m quite sure I would not have. It’s also been a whole lot of fun, and I’ve learned so much.