My Food “Sabbatical”

by Jennifer Iannolo

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Sometimes in life, there comes a moment when you are willing to put everything on pause because there is something you MUST do. This past summer, that moment arrived for me.

2013 has been quite a year of metamorphosis; I’ve taken a good look at what I’m creating in the world, and checked in with myself to see if all the pieces fit. I had no idea what huge changes that moment of questioning would bring.

For the past 25 years, I’ve lived and breathed the world of food and wine, and have achieved milestones that would blow away a lot of “foodies”. I’ve supped 150-year-old Grand Marnier in Paris with Paul Bocuse. Cooked a dish on the line for fun at Le Bernardin. Been Charlie Trotter’s guest at the chef’s table at Ducasse in Paris. I talked the “local” phenomenon with Thomas Keller before it was a buzzword, and sampled the various buns being considered for the debut of the db burger — New York’s first luxe hamburger. I even helped to produce the James Beard Awards (the food “Oscars”), and was running the international culinary programs for Relais & Chateaux by the age of 30. This was before I co-founded the world’s first food podcast channel, the Culinary Media Network, with Chef Mark Tafoya. And for the last decade, he and I have traveled the world creating video and audio programs about farmers, winemakers, and chefs of every variety. I was invited to speak in Vienna, at Harvard a few times, and was featured in a GoDaddy commercial. And last year I got a little giggle when I was called a “culinary guru” in the documentary Eat. Cook. Love.

I say all of that not to boast — though I’m exceedingly proud of every item above. Rather, I’m asking myself: What’s left to do?

As many of you know, I started a project called Zenfully Delicious to cope with a world suddenly filled with food allergies and physical limitations, but I found even that was not enough. Yes, we’re helping people, but we’re barely scratching the surface. I want something that will impact the entire globe, and I’ve started looking at the legacy I want to leave on this earth. It has something to do with food, health, economic development and the giant gap that exists on the planet, and the idea first started forming in my head when I wrote my first article for ONE.org: A Tale of Two Women.

Now, that idea is so big, I don’t even know what the idea is yet. When I outlined it to my new friends at the U.S. Department of State, they gave me a long look and suggested I go build a coalition. That’s going to take some time — and likely the rest of my life.

So what happens between now and then?

Here’s the fun part: Before I had a career in food, I was an entrepreneur. I’ve been one from the age of 8 when I started my first business (by the way, NEVER trust 8-year-old customers with IOUs — you’ll never get paid!).

And my companion on this roller coaster ride of entrepreneurship is one Jennifer Kushell, who I met at 21, and who has since become one of my closest friends on this planet. We’ve been through all of it together — every moment of doubt and failure an entrepreneur can live through. Along with bubbles. Crashes. Funding. Bootstrapping. (That’s us below at BlogWorld Expo in 2009 – our 15th anniversary girlie getaway!)

thejens

And now, a vision of the future.

I joined Jen this summer to launch the first 100-country contest: the Subway Global Challenge. And as we sat in the State Department talking with Caron de Mars, the head of the Global Entrepreneurship Program, I realized THIS was what I needed to do next: Clear the way for the next generation so they can create even more than my fellow Gen X innovators did.

I’ve also spent many years wanting to work with global programs, the UN and world leaders, so all of that has come full circle as I have joined Jennifer’s company, YSN, as the Chief Operations Officer. I get to build, create, and bring her vision to life (and tell everybody what to do! Win!).

At YSN we’re preparing governments, organizations and corporations for the next generation. They are like nothing we’ve ever seen — and that’s not as frightening as it sounds. They are actually magnificent, and we need to discard the outmoded rules that won’t serve the world they now live in. I have more to say on that here, as well as some background on my own entrepreneurial journey.

We’re even building a Global Opportunity Marketplace to connect ambitious young people from around the world with opportunities they might never find otherwise. So if you are a food or travel company reading this, please send your opportunities to us so we can find you the very best talent!

So this is a very exciting time, and I can’t wait to see what the next few years will bring. And while I will never leave the world of food and wine, I am absolutely delighted that I can now enjoy it as a passionate hobby, and dabble here when I have time, while I help to change the world for the entrepreneurs to come. Out of that, I know I’ll find the answer for the big food questions simmering in my head.

Thank you for being here with me all along the journey. Next year is the 10th anniversary of this site, so let’s see what fun we can have. Game on!