We had the good fortune of connecting with Melissa Schwimmer and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Melissa, how do you think about risk?
In my early twenties I was comfortable. I had a 9 to 5 job, a partner, a great apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. On top of that I was a subway ride away from all my friends and family and my life was, on paper, pretty great…but something was missing. I never did anything new, had the same routine day in and day out and I had an itch that I couldn’t scratch. I had never been the biggest risk taker in my life ( I was a HUGELY anxious person so taking big leaps would send me spiraling) so I stayed in my comfort but when that itch came it didn’t quit. I kept having the feeling that I needed a big change, and so after months of planning and deep diving into my goals and dreams, I took a big leap. I quit my job, listed the apartment, and moved across the country from NY to LA. At first I was lost in my new LA existence- I didn’t know a single person besides my ex who I moved here with- but after a few months of just completely putting myself out there I eventually started to find my way. I did PA jobs, I worked for marijuana brands, did social media, went to the beach a TON, started making friends and eventually fell into what I’m doing now which is freelance private cheffing, food styling, and recipe developing.
My worst day in Los Angeles is better than my best day in New York and it took me leaving my comfort zone and taking a risk to find that out. I’ve loved my life in California and moving out here was honestly the best decision I’d ever made. There will always be a risk in anything you do in life but you will never know how things will pan out unless you give it a try.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
We’ve turned a necessary part of living (eating) into an art form. I think that, in and of itself, is amazing. I make food taste amazing for clients and on the complete opposite side of my job I make (sometimes inedible) food look amazing for brands. It’s very interesting switching my mindset from, cooking for clients where I tailor menus to their dietary needs and tastes and make dishes that excite and feed them through the week, to food styling a burger for an ad where it just has to look amazing but might be laced with chemicals. I promise I’ve never mixed up the jobs 😛
The short story of my career is that I have done legit everything in the food industry, have made a ton of connections and wound up at every job largely because of luck and good timing. The journey has not always been easy. I started as a Production Assistant working insane hours, carrying hundreds of pounds of food across NYC by foot, and sorting through 800 pinto beans to find the perfect 3. Being a PA was one of my first jobs out of college along with meal delivery and handing out flyers in Times Square. None of them were glamorous. I worked REALLY hard for a handful of years before I ever saw a job with perks or decent pay. I’ve worked my way up to where I am now and have NEVER STOP HUSTLING.
The most important things I wish someone had told me when I was starting out as a young professional-
1) Take every opportunity.
2) Work as hard as you can.
3) Network and makes connections.
4) Be a jack of all trades.
5) Be malleable, reliable and someone that others want to work with.
These are the most important lessons to getting consistently hired.
My personal and professional brand is fun/goofy, energetic and hard working. I enjoy food and making other people happy through the art that I create.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I’m still so new to LA and am always finding new things to do BUT since food is my bread and butter I’m going to just go ahead and list a handful (this is only a short list there’s so many more) of the restaurants I would take them to- Go support small business! Eat all the things and then go for a hike, head to the beach, people watch at Erewhon, vintage shop or pop into a Farmer’s Market (best is Hollywood on Sunday) and eat some more….
Tartine -Pastries and coffee
Botanica- cocktails and brunch
Yang’s Kitchen – Taiwanese lunch
Pearl River Deli- Pork. Bun
Courage Bagels- If Montreal, San Fransisco and New York had a baby in bagel form
Cofax – (Pastrami) Breakfast Burritos
Great White- (Favorite) Breakfast Burritos
Republique -CREME BRULEE DONUTS amongst other amazing pastries
Hail Mary Pizza -Pizza, good wine and the best Almond Cake you’ll ever have
Mason’s Dumpling Shop – the best dang dumplings
Sonoratown – Homemade tortillas and tacos
Night and Market- Thai Food and amazing wines
Delicious Pizza- it’s in the name
Mizlala- Shawarma, great salads and tahini milkshakes
Alta West Adams- the best oxtails I’ve ever have
Johnny Pastrami- PA STRA MI and bags of pickles
Jon and Vinnys- A real good salad pizza, pasta, and rainbow cookies
Ggiata- NY style sandwich -makes eggplant fun
Jinpachi sushi like NOBU but less $$
Sugarfish dependable LA sushi
Barneys Beanery- Dive bar, chain, essential, don’t @ me
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My mom! I mean I wouldn’t be where I am without her. She’s one of the biggest reasons I love food. We would watch PBS and Food Network and her cooking was bomb and I picked that up as a kid and took it with me into adulthood. She’s a huge support from helping me overcome anxiety, to talking through big life changes with me and also just being a goofy presence in my life. Despite her not wanting me to move across the country away from her (I think with enough persuading I can get her to move out here *fingers crossed*) she’s still been a hugely supportive and encouraging person in my life.