Our first feature of the new year is someone near and dear to our heart, who has been a great asset in helping us develop and write the curriculum for The Formula @ Garden State Kitchen. Stacy Basko is not your typical entrepreneur focused on a single small business or product. Rather she is like a human encyclopedia; her business is sharing from her enormous vault of trainings and experiences. With a degree in journalism and criminal justice, Stacy started her career working with incarcerated women. From there, she transitioned into branding and advertising. Then at 39, Basko decided to take a leap and enrolled in culinary school. That led her to work in restaurants and as a personal chef.
Today Stacy doesn’t do any one of those things. Drawing on her eclectic professional past, she manages to find a way to do a little bit of everything she loves. She nourishes her passion and love for cooking by working with different people in the food industry, using whatever skill is necessary for any given task on any specific day. Keep reading to hear how Stacy describes her rollercoaster of a journey.
Can you tell us what you do and the evolution of your career? How did you come to do what you’re doing now? So, I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve worked in marketing for a bank, I’ve worked in branding and marketing for agencies and for a global branding consultancy. I also ran a non-profit and worked with incarcerated women, and I’ve gone to culinary school. I had a business being a personal chef and cooking meals for people. I also thought about developing a small food product. So I have this kind of varied background – I have a nonprofit social services arm, I have a corporate marketing arm, I have a food arm. I also went to school for journalism so I can write.
How did you decide to go from working for other people to using your skills to work for yourself? I went to culinary school and I never intended to work in restaurants, but when you go to culinary school, working in a restaurant is like going to graduate school. So I ended up working at 4-star restaurants in the city. Then I realized I wanted to start a family, and that’s when I started the personal chef thing. I cooked for wealthy families on the Upper East Side. I also catered small parties, nothing big, I wasn’t renting equipment or spaces, just cooking.
So, then what? I had my kids in 2007, and after a while, I just I needed to start doing something professionally. I was running the local community garden and donating produce to their school and one of the teachers asked me to teach an after-school class on farm-to-table cooking. So, I did. That evolved into different classes and then I started cooking for people again. It’s all just networking. A friend of mine who I met because our kids went to preschool together, she’s also a chef and a culinary producer. We started developing a cookbook concept together and we had a blog and an agent and we were shopping it around, but nobody bought it. But, that’s ok because that got me writing again. It opened that journalism door in the back of my mind, and then that opened the marketing doors because they kind of go hand-in-hand. I also started developing recipes in a serious way, so that was cool. Another thing I do is assist food stylists on photo or video shoots. I can jump in, get the food ready, and work on set.
What do you do mostly now? Writing and marketing and once in a while I freelance on shoots. I’ll start pitching recipes again when my kitchen is no longer under construction.
What are your favorite and least favorite parts of being either an entrepreneur or freelancer?
I hate how you have to market yourself and network all the time because it’s exhausting. My favorite part is the flexibility. I’m a parent, and people don’t think of that as a job, but it is a definitely a full-time job. When I worked for the branding consultancy, I was at my desk by 9:00am and there until six or eight o’clock at night. Being a freelancer, I can pick my kids up at 3:00pm.
Any interesting facts about yourself that people may not know that you haven’t told me yet? I used to work in a prison. The nonprofit I worked for was a halfway house that was also a state prison for women. This was way before I started cooking. I also worked at one of the first coed organic farm and garden programs at a county jail in San Francisco.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own business?
Be true to yourself and know it in your gut. You’re the bottom line, it’s you and your business, so you have to find that answer from within. Definitely talk to everybody and get perspectives and have mentors and people you go to for information, but you need to know in your gut that you’re doing the right thing for you. When you make a decision, trust it, because it’s your show. It’s scary, but that’s why it’s great.
What does success look like to you?
Just being happy and having enough money to live on.
Who are your culinary inspirations?
I love Dominique Crenn because she’s also an artist. I’ve never eaten her food, but it’s gorgeous. And then, just all the women that were in the trenches with all those dudes in the 80s, getting their butts grabbed, but staying strong and getting it done. They paved the way for the rest of us long before #metoo.
Do you have a quote or mantra that you live by? It used to be go ‘big or go home,’ but now it’s ‘just go, you might have fun.’