Christmas is a magical time of year that brings wishes, hopes and unimaginable dreams. The joyous season continues into a New Year’s celebration that brings a chance for new beginnings and goals created to enrich the mind, body and soul.
Each year, we make a list of Christmas wishes and New Year’s resolutions with notions that we have a pretty good idea of the things we would like to happen in our life and how we think the New Year will be. But life has a way of surprising us at almost every turn.
This is the story of three individuals who dared to dream big and were more than surprised by the outcome.
Four years ago on New Year’s Day, I packed my car and began the long drive on Interstate 20 to Atlanta where I would spend the year attending Le Cordon Bleu. I had a plan to reinvent my career in an unimaginable way that many, even me, thought was a little crazy. I had rented a small apartment, sight unseen, and decided to embark on a new beginning.
One year later at Christmastime, I had finished Le Cordon Bleu and was working in Italy. The year had been like no other, and I found myself alone in a foreign country working somewhere that I didn’t even know the language.
At the restaurant where I worked I met another American, Aram Reed, who was following a similar path. He had just completed Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago and, just like me, had been a victim of corporate America restructuring and decided to take one of life’s left turns and turn it into a new career.
Each afternoon during siesta, we would wander the streets of Italy. Almost all the businesses were closed, and typically our walks were very cold and wet, but unlike the Italians, we weren’t interested in taking a siesta nap. As much as I like to sleep, I was in Italy and I could sleep when I got home.
We talked a lot about what we hoped to do when we got back to America, but the reality was that both of us needed to hit the ground running and find any kind of work and find it fast.
Call us crazy or stupid — I did several times — but fast-forward to Christmas present and maybe our big dreams weren’t so far-fetched. Aram went back to Chicago and started cooking dinner parties for friends and doing free rotations in some of the area’s best restaurants. He used his former contacts in Chicago’s corporate world to begin building a client base for catering and private events.
He also wanted to be on television and finally broke the ice in that area in 2013 by appearing on ABC’s “The Taste” and most recently on Food Network’s holiday edition of “Guy’s Grocery Games.” He came very close to winning and made it down to the final round, but what the experience brings is what matters more than the prize money.
Sunday night, while the show was airing we were both on Twitter chatting back and forth and one of the show’s judges, Melissa D’Arabian jumped into the conversation. She’s another one who had a crazy dream and decided to go for it.
As the winner of “Next Food Network Star” Season 5, she has been one of the more popular winners of the show and went on to star in her own show “Ten Dollar Dinners” and is a regular guest on many other Food Network shows. Her cookbook is a New York Times best-seller and her articles for Good Housekeeping magazine and “Picky Eaters” Web series are loved by many.
This mother of four with a former career in corporate finance lights up the screen with a huge smile and offers unique yet relatable food and lifestyle solutions that are part of a bigger story about how to eat well, be a responsible consumer, and spend with a purpose. I remember watching the season of “Next Food Network Star” when she won and was inspired by the way she chased a dream and made it a reality. Seeing her accomplish that goal planted a seed in my mind that maybe I could create a similar path.
For me, I had spent 15 years working in marketing and promotion for Fox Sports and was offered a “love it or leave it” opportunity by moving to Los Angeles. I chose to leave it and take a leap of faith. Forced change is sometimes the big push you need to guide you in a direction you might have been too comfortable to pursue in other circumstances.
After turning down the transfer in the fall of 2008, I packed up my house, put almost everything I owned into storage, and headed back to Texas to make Tyler a temporary home base for whatever opportunity was on the horizon.
I didn’t expect my journey of discovery to take as long as it did – almost 2 1/2 years – but through the grace of friends, family and surprising resources the means to keep going was provided.
On the job front, there were many good prospects that for one reason or another did not work out. Now, I am extremely grateful they did not. It was a hard thing to experience, but being told no was the best thing for me in each of those situations.
Meanwhile, I kept coming back to cooking. I had always been a writer and wanted to keep it up, along with the creative skills I had developed with my years at Fox. I thought to myself, if I had been successful at both for so many years in sports, why couldn’t I do the same with food.
Desperate times called for desperate measures and it was necessary to put some credentials behind the cooking. I enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu with an end goal to write about food, work in a test kitchen, teach cooking or produce food shows. I’d spent years behind the camera as a producer, but moving in front of it was nothing I ever imagined. Funny to find the tables turned with FRESH Ideas.
Sharing food through writing and teaching is something I get very excited about. So when the opportunity came this year to write a cookbook this surprise marked another unbelievable accomplishment. My first cookbook, “Favorite FLAVOR” was published in December, and I still have difficulty believing it is real.
The book is a compilation of the most talked about and flavorful recipes in nearly three years of creating recipes for the Tyler Morning Telegraph. I am humble, honored and amazed in a way I can’t explain.
Since embarking on this journey in 2008, I can’t help but remember all the fear and anticipation that came with each twist and turn. With every new step, even to this day, the journey has been full of incredible awe for God’s plan for my life.
The biggest lesson I have learned is to never doubt, lose faith or question what comes next. It is most certainly not in my hands. Things will fall where they may, in place or not, and definitely not according to my plans. All I can do is remain faithful, stay positive and keep pushing forward.
As I spoke with my friend Aram after the airing of “Guy’s Grocery Games,” we realized this holiday season was an interesting intersection of events for both of us. He has been successful as a chef in Chicago and had the opportunity to be on Food Network. He is super-excited about what he has accomplished and anticipating where it takes him.
Even though the show aired in December, it taped in August. The entire season was filmed in a two-week span where the production crew closed down a Los Angeles area grocery store to film each episode. He explained that the timing, pace and surprises of the game are as you see them on the show, but there is a good bit of editing that goes into the dialogue that actually makes it into the finished product.
The one-hour episode took all day to tape and he had a great time hanging out with the other contestants, along with host Guy Fieri and the panel of celebrity chef judges.
With Melissa D’Arabian being one of the judges, we found it ironic that she had also trusted faith and accomplished unimaginable goals. We had all made similar career choices and managed to accomplish our goals in unexpected ways — Aram with his success in Chicago, Melissa with Food Network and me with the new cookbook filled with work I am very proud to share.
God truly works in mysterious ways, and Christmas is definitely a magical time of wishes coming true.
But when it comes to setting goals and making dreams come true, Melissa had the best advice when I had the chance to interview her last week. Perhaps these words of wisdom will encourage you to live with purpose, achieve your goals and dream big in 2014.
Q: What made you take such a leap of faith and audition for “Next Food Network Star”?
A: I am very purposeful in the way I live my life. I know what I want to accomplish on this earth while I’m here. So when the Food Network audition came up, I was very clear on how a cooking show could fit into my personal life mission. And I also understood that getting a cooking show was only one potential manifestation of my life mission, which kept me focused on the process, not the results.
Q: As the show progressed and the dream started to become a reality, what were some of the personal adjustments you had to make to handle such a major life change that happened so quickly?
A: Winning “Food Network Star” was, of course, incredibly exciting. And I still have “pinch me” moments when I almost can’t believe this is my life. But the vast majority of the experience has really been about being a working mom, and managing those logistics — how to balance the schoolwork, the dance recitals, the soccer games with my work schedule. Luckily, I’m in good company because millions of parents out there are working full-time too. Having a personal life mission helps a ton in this area too, because I know, what to say “yes” to and what to turn down. I say “no” a lot. Because every time I say “no” to something that is outside my personal life mission, I believe I am also saying “yes” to something that matters dearly to me, such as my family.
Q: What advice would you give others who are interested in making a major career change but are held back by fear of the unknown?
A: Get clear about what you want your unique mark to be on this earth, and start making decisions about how you allocate your resources (time, energy, finances) according to that. Once you know what you want to do, start reducing “the unknown:” do research in that area — get books, subscribe to magazines, join organizations, attend lectures, get to know people doing what you want to do, build your expertise in any spare time (or “make” spare time by getting up an hour or two early a few days a week.) At a certain point, though, you’ll need to decide which side of the line you are on, and you will likely need to decide that before you have complete visibility or stability. They say that when one door closes another opens, and that sometimes you have to spend time in the hallway, waiting for the new door to open. I happen to love the hallway, I think because in the depths of my heart, I’m an optimist. New doors are often incredibly exciting. So my best advice is: Be strategic, be willing to do the hard work to learn, and most of all, don’t fear the hallway.