For the right person, the right school can be a life changing experience. This is true in the case of local foodie and founding Paste Magazine Food Editor, Sara Bir. Sara is a native to the Mid-Ohio Valley, but spent time exploring various locations in the United States before moving back to Marietta, Ohio and making her home.
Originally, Sara enrolled at Ohio State University and took a sizeable amount of English classes in hopes of becoming a writer. Although the English classes did benefit her, she felt swallowed up by the student body and was left floundering. So, she moved home. Encouraged by her mother, Sara started experimenting in the kitchen.
“I started reading Saveur and researching world cuisine. It was like my own little pocket of independent study. The tough part was not having access to the things I was passionate about,” she said.
This is where the right school comes in to the story. Sara applied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, where she was accepted conditionally. She agreed and learned a lot about different management styles and working with people from different social and economic backgrounds.
Sara loved her time at the Culinary Institute of America, even though her class consisted of people from very strong, and very advanced, cooking backgrounds. Sara considered herself the oddball of her class because everyone there had intentions of becoming a chef, where she had intentions of becoming a food writer.
After graduation, Sara moved to California’s Wine Country to pursue becoming a wine writer. She took classes on wine at the Culinary Institute, and worked her way up to staff member level on an underground music magazine. This magazine needed her to go interview a band, and she did. She also ended up marrying the band’s drummer, Joe Ryckebosch.
Leaving California, they had a brief stint in New York City where Sara hoped to find a job in writing for a cooking magazine. New York wasn’t the place for them either, so she and her husband relocated to Portland, Ore. Portland brought forth many opportunities for Sara – including the chance to write for the food section of a daily newspaper. There, she not only wrote, but also did recipe testing for the paper.
“It was very cool because the test kitchen was in a photo studio – everyone learned and it’s always easy to find people who want to eat the recipes we tested,” Sara said.
Portland is also where Sara started, and formed a passion for, teaching cooking classes. However, as their family grew and they welcomed their daughter into the world, they realized that they might need to move away from Portland which was suffering a housing crisis at the time. They decided to move back to Marietta.
The culture shock of moving from Portland back to Marietta was strong, especially on Sara’s husband who was used to the big city vibe. However, they were both able to start assimilating as Sara took on a job at a library and her husband started working for Heirloom Finds. As Sara started to really evaluate what she wanted from life, she decided to leave the library and become a full time freelance writer.
“It’s nice to be away from a big food scene because I can see what people actually have access to,” she said. “Some people can’t just go to the store and pick up a bulb of fennel.”
She succeeded in that endeavor for a year before she saw her chance to become the founding food editor with Paste Magazine. Although she enjoyed the job, Sara stepped down as the site’s main food editor in February and moved to a role as Contributing Food Editor so she could focus on several cookbook projects.
One of the more interesting things about Paste Magazine is that Sara was not penning articles about recipes daily. She is curating other stories about food, and eating.
“They create content that is consistent about the intersection of pop culture and the way we eat. We run essays about the place food occupies in our society. One writer made the food from The Simspsons and wrote about that,” Sara said.
For Sara, another great part of being a food editor is getting the chance to connect and interact with emerging writers. “I’ve built my own community of people through Google Hangouts, food groups and meeting monthly with free lancers from other industries. It’s helpful to be around people who are not like me,” she said.
Currently, Sara is collecting recipes for an Ohio volume of Farcountry Press’ series of state cookbooks, and will be working with local photographer Melanie Roby for the photographs. Sara is also well-known for her recipe zine, The Pocket Pawpaw Cookbook. Currently Sara teaches cooking classes at The Seasoned Farmhouse in Columbus, and is about to teach her first class at Passiflora Studio and FOUND Antiques in Harmar Village this coming June.