Jennifer Pagano is the Director of Research at Wine Opinions, a wine industry consultancy, and Wine Market Council, a non-profit trade association.  She was the Director of Programs for the American Institute of Wine & Food before holding research positions at Merrill Research & Associates and the B/R/S group, where she conducted market research studies for major food and wine companies.   She attended Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School and holds an undergraduate degree in Public Policy from Stanford.  Currently she is doing graduate work in Food Studies at the University of the Pacific.

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When did you first decide you wanted to make food your career?
After I got out of college.  I had spent my college years working as an assistant at a cooking school at night and was inspired by the cooking teachers I supported (Flo Braker, Joyce Jue, Bruce Aidells, Donna Nordin, Beth Hensberger, Marge Poore to name a few).  The school’s proprietor, Louise Fiszer, and Flo Braker encouraged me to go to cooking school, and of course to join the SFPFS! I didn’t know what I wanted to do in food, I just knew I had caught the bug.

How did you get where you are today in the food business?
Serendipity.  I went to cooking school and tried professional cooking (uh, really professional salad spinning) and baking, but I didn’t have the grit.  I landed a job as a researcher at the American Institute of Wine & Food when it was headquartered in San Francisco.  It was a dream job and I worked my way up to being Director of Programs.  It was a combination of connections I made through that experience and working the market research business that led me to the wine industry.

What is your favorite food experience?
Coming upon a late street vendor grilling thinly pounded beef directly on burning embers late at night in Oaxaca with my SFPFS food history book club buddies back in the day.  People had pulled over and haphazardly parked their trucks, and there was a crowd spilling into the street to buy the grilled meat wrapped in large flour tortillas.  I’ll never forget it.  Oh, and filling plastic water bottles full of mezcal at the home of a mezcalero so we could take some home on the plane.  There was no 3oz. rule to stop us!

If you had one last meal, what would it be?
Actually, it would be dessert – probably a blackberry pie made with wild blackberries from my backyard.

What advice do you have for young people who wanted a career in your field?
Don’t give up and network, network, network.  A career is a journey – you learn something from each job that gets you to the next chapter.

What condiment is always in your refrigerator?
Best Food mayonnaise.

What was your first cookbook?
The Winnie the Pooh Cookbook by Katie Stewart.  It was a gift from my mom when I was a kid.

What cookbook could not live without?
I must say I’m cooking less from cookbooks in the age of the Internet.  Although my most battered is The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum, I probably cook most from the Canal House cookbooks.

What is your go-to recipe for entertaining?
I very rarely cook the same thing, and lately I tend to go with something easy.  My easy go-to entertaining meal is very thin smoked pork chops from my local Mi Rancho butcher on the grill, buttermilk cornbread, and big salad of bitter greens.

Where do you shop for food?
Lots of places – For fruits and vegetables and fish, the San Mateo or Menlo Park farmer’s markets on the weekend, or Sigona’s.  For most everything else Whole Foods, Piazza’s and Trader Joe’s (and Costco!).  I also shop at Mi Rancho and 99 Ranch.

What project are you working on today and how will it impact your career?
I’m currently working on my master’s degree in food studies at the University of the Pacific.  My thesis will be based on Sunset Magazine in the 40s and 50s.  I’ll be researching the differences in recipes and cooking instructions for men and women.  I’m hoping to incorporate more food-related projects into my career after I’m finished with the program.

Are you involved with a food non-profit?
I’m on the board of directors of a small non-profit called Worldsong that has a cooking-related component.  It is an organization that is doing work in Thailand to help women coming out of prostitution get the training they need to find a job in cooking, jewelry making, hairdressing and other industries.

What chefs or blogs do you follow?
Smitten Kitchen and David Lebovitz.

Have you held SFPFS board positions in the past?
I’ve been the Treasurer and the Parliamentarian.

What have you gained from being a member of the SFPFS?
I’ve made some great connections and met some wonderful people.  Membership has given me the opportunity to learn about many aspects of the food business I would have never had the opportunity to learn about anywhere else.