Fortune’s Entry/Level column is dedicated to people looking for and working in entry-level positions—read the full series here. We interview entry-levelers about their jobs, how they got them, what they want to do next, and more. This interview has been edited for clarity.
Sarah Entwistle, originally from New Jersey, received a business degree from American University in 2012 and moved to Salt Lake City to work in finance. After five years, she realized she wanted a change. In 2017, she began her training at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. Now 29, Entwistle lives in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan and commutes to Williamsburg, Brooklyn for her job as a recipe tester at Blue Apron.
Here’s what she has to say about...
Her life pre-career change:
While I was finishing up my senior year at American, I interviewed with Goldman Sachs for their operations department, and ended up getting hired out of their office in Salt Lake City, Utah. I moved right after college, and worked there for four years. But I wasn't loving the company culture and I wasn't super passionate about finance. I ended up working at a marketing and sales company in Salt Lake called Clearlink. I worked in their finance department for a year, and by that time, I was ready to make the change. So, I moved back to the East Coast.
My program was eight months total, six months of classroom learning and two months of externship. I graduated in May of 2018. My degree is in culinary arts, which is more general than something like a pastry degree.
Her culinary experience:
I did my externship at Gramercy Tavern in the prep kitchen. I did lots of knife work, helping prep various vegetables for service, and making some of the sauces. I did a lot of the prep that goes into serving lunch.
Getting hired at Blue Apron:
I was looking for a job because I had left Gramercy Tavern. It was an amazing experience and I loved it, but I knew I wanted to do something that blended my business background with my new culinary skills. I thought a tester role would be a great place to get my foot in the door.
I started applying to a lot of places cold. I didn't have a lot of contacts, and I wasn't hearing back from a lot of places. I knew I had to start being smarter about the way I applied. I was able to use LinkedIn to find fellow ICE alum who were working in the food industry and I came across a now-colleague. I reached out to her and we ended up talking on the phone. She was really nice and friendly, and gave me all sorts of information. There happened to be a role open for a recipe tester that she thought I would be great for. I applied that night, and she referred my resume for me through their employee referral, and that's how I was able to break in.
The interview process:
The first round was a cooking test in the test kitchen. I got the lay of the space and met some of the people I now work with. I felt very comfortable in the space and with the people. After that, I was called back for a more traditional interview where I came in and sat down with various people in the organization. I had been working with one of the recruiters at Blue Apron, who was checking in with me throughout the whole process. She called me up to give me the offer over the phone. I verbally accepted right away, because I knew that I really wanted to work for this company.
A day in the life:
My main job is cooking and testing. So I get to work, settle in, get some breakfast, check emails, and then I jump right into testing. I test anywhere from four to six different recipes a day. We test each recipe several times to make sure that we're really confident in it. It's a very collaborative process. Once I cook one recipe, everyone comes together to taste, and we discuss what we like, what works, what didn't work, what we want to change, and then move onto the next recipe.
Each day, I'm testing a different phase of a recipe. For example, when I'm testing a recipe for the first time, I'm looking for more general things like, does it taste good, is it well-balanced? Then by the time we're final-testing something, it's more about refining the cook time and making sure all of the details of the recipe are exactly right before we send it off to the next team.
Anywhere from the 9:30 in the morning to 5:30 at night would be like a typical day. And we work Monday through Fridays. And we'll host various events in the test kitchen. On those occasions, we might stay until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. to see dinner through.
Choosing to work in a test kitchen over a restaurant:
A restaurant job is very different from working in a test kitchen. They’re similar in that you're doing a lot of cooking, but restaurant hours are very different from what I'm doing right now. When I was working at Gramercy Tavern, for example, I was working from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. because I was covering the lunch shift. It's nice to have an actual 9-to-5 job with weekends off and good PTO.
Blue Apron perks:
We have a fully-loaded snack kitchen. During the day, we're constantly cooking and eating. Really, there's no need to bring lunch. Every Monday, we cook family meals for the whole test kitchen. Each week, two different people team up and plan the whole menu, and cook for the whole team. We do a lot of fun team outings, like we just brewed our own beers. We're going on a couple of food tours around the city this summer. A lot of the perks are definitely food-related because we all love food.
On taking a pay cut:
Cooking is never going to be the same as working in finance, but I went into the career change knowing that, and I've been able to get myself in with a company where I'm able to support myself. Being happy at my job is the most valuable thing for me.
How her finance background helps her as a chef:
A lot of the soft skills that I developed at Goldman have carried with me into the test kitchen. Being organized, communicating, analyzing things, critical thinking–I think those have really served me well in the test kitchen.
How she feels about changing careers:
I’m so much happier now. I'm really passionate about what I do. I know what it's like to go to work and not like your job and how slow the day can go.
Her living situation:
My situation is a bit interesting because my mom has an apartment in Hell's Kitchen, so she let me crash there for a bit while I was doing school and getting established in this new job. Now that I'm comfortable, I'm going to be moving out on my own. I’ll probably end up moving to Brooklyn by myself. The people who work in the test kitchen are in Brooklyn. You can get a lot of apartment for your buck there. It's also just a fun place to be.
New York City:
I love it. For someone in the food industry, you really can't look for a better place to live.
I just got promoted about two weeks ago to culinary associate. I’ll still be doing a lot of recipe testing, but now I am also working on more projects related to the recipes. For example, when we try to on-board a new product that we want to be able to offer customers, there's a whole process that needs to happen before we're able to do that. Just one of the things I do now is help come up with recipe ideas for these ingredients. Before we even try to get it on board, we want to have different uses for it and different recipes already pre-created and pre-tested, so that when we on-board it, it's very seamless and easy.
I think I definitely want to stay in food. It’s my passion, and the fact that I've been able to make a career out of it is great. I'm just excited to see where it takes me.
Advice to her younger self:
I would definitely tell her to stop worrying so much about what you're supposed to, or what everyone thinks you should do. Do what makes you happy.
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