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A Day in the Life of JBF National Scholar Matthew Johnson

Matthew Johnson

June 07, 2017

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I’m Matthew Francis Johnson, a James Beard Foundation National Scholar and recipient of three JBF Scholarships. These gifts, other scholarships, and cooking competition wins helped me to graduate this past December from the Culinary Institute of America without paying a penny. I now live in Los Angeles and work as a Tasty Fellow (a.k.a. food video producer-in-training) at BuzzFeed. This means I’m lucky enough to be one of the people who gets to cook for, film, and edit the Tasty food videos that millions of people watch every day. It’s the perfect post-college step for me, as it blends my passions for food, film, and Internet weirdness. We may not make the gourmet creations that many culinary professionals do, but we teach millions of people across the world how to be creative when cooking, and help them become more comfortable in the kitchen. Here’s a brief example of three jam-packed days I had earlier this spring.

Monday, April 24, 2017
On Monday, I made a breakfast kimchi stir-fry to hit the ground running. I arrived at work a little before 9:00 A.M.. Monday was an exciting day because it was the start of “Tasty Junior” week, where all the Tasty producers focused on that portion of the brand and got to work with some awesome kids. The video I shot was “Veggie-Packed Tomato Sauce.”

I got to work with an adorable little girl named Riley who enjoyed my dish so much she asked for seconds! After each shoot, I always clean up my station, transfer all the footage to my laptop, and start editing the video to get a basic timeline worked out. Mondays are my preferred days to shoot, so they’re always the busiest. When I arrived home around 6:30 P.M., I made a simple chicken dinner, caught up on emails, watched some Netflix, and fell asleep.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Tuesdays are my hardcore editing days. This Tuesday, I started the day by sending out the video I worked on last week, “3 Seasonal Recipes to Try This May,” to our final review team. The approval process can take anywhere from an hour to all day, so I always like to start it in the morning. Next, I moved on to editing the tomato sauce video I filmed on Monday. I sped the footage up to about 1 second per movement, added text, color-corrected, stabilized shakiness, added music, edited around any small errors, and ensured the video flows well and communicates how to make the recipe.

I then sent the video to my co-workers for feedback. I love the notes process we have here because, with one person doing both the cooking and the editing, a second or third opinion can open your eyes to previously unexplored creative choices.

A fellow producer had filmed a steak video and didn’t use all the meat she purchased, so at lunchtime I cooked up a steak feast for my coworkers. I seared eight steaks and basted them with butter, garlic, and thyme. I then sautéed some shiitake mushrooms in the leftover beef fat with soy and mirin, and finished the meal with a side of sesame cucumber salad with gochujang.

After lunch, I read through notes on the cut of my video, quickly made the changes, and sent out another cut. While waiting for more feedback, I kept busy by archiving old videos as well as researching and planning future recipes.

On Tuesday night I joined some co-workers at Poinsettia Park to play first base in the BuzzFeed softball league! That night I got some great outs, scored a homerun, and we dominated the match! After our victory, I got a ride home and collapsed into bed.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Every other Wednesday we have global Tasty team meetings, where most of our teams join a video call to debrief each other on announcements, celebrate wins, and plan for the future. I spent the rest of the morning writing recipes and editing. By lunchtime, I was able to send out another cut of my Tasty Junior video, and by the end of the week it was packaged for publication.

At BuzzFeed, it’s always important to follow what’s trending on the web and plan ahead, so I spent the rest of Wednesday getting organized for the next few weeks. I wrote my shot list for an upcoming video and fine-tuned dishes to test for a “Dinner for Two” video for the following week. When work was over, I changed into gym clothes for my weekly Insanity workout with my co-workers. I got home at 8:00 P.M., a bit sore and ready to head to bed, excited to go to work in the morning.

I love my job and I’m exhilarated for the future in the food world that I’m creating for myself. Most CIA grads immediately go back to work for restaurants after graduation—not for websites. Here at Tasty, I may not be sweating on the hot line or preparing lavish dishes, but I’m learning how to reach a huge, global audience that is eager to learn more about food. I plan to continue developing my skills within food and media so that I can be a part of pushing the culinary envelope as the years go on.

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