Food Network Recipe Developer Sarah Copeland

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align: left;”>Sarah Copeland, a fellow graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, was kind enough to take a break from her fabulous Food Network job to talk to me and offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse of our favorite cable network. (Photos courtesy of Sarah Copeland)


On the opening day of Julie and Julia, Sarah Copeland tried to make clear why her husband needed to buy tickets in the morning. He just laughed.

“But everyone is talking about it,” she said, worried the movie would sell out and ruin date night.

“You just think everyone is talking about it because you work at the Food Network,” he said. It isn't Star Wars, he reasoned.

For Copeland, whose 9-5 job and greatest passion is food — both cooking and growing it — it's easy to get caught up in the culinary world. Professionally trained by the Institute for Culinary Education, Copeland worked as a personal chef in France and has experience in the famed kitchens of Savoy and Café Boulud. But as a recipe developer for the Food Network, she has to cater to a broader demographic.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of what many have told her would be their ideal job is translating her extensive culinary knowledge, belief in sustainability and love of fresh and occasionally gourmet food into something to be shared with the masses. She and a team of five chefs develop about 100 recipes each month for the Food Network Magazine, a publication more for moms than culinary students.

None of that, of course, is a bad thing. It just means Copeland has to be creative to keep recipes to a maximum of 12 ingredients and 40 minutes in the kitchen.

“I always try to think, 'what's a shortcut I feel good about telling my sister to do?'” she said. “How can I give my best friend, who has two kids and works, the tools she needs to cook a meal that she's proud to serve her family?”

So the woman who used to cure her own duck pastrami and spent weekends making a dozen pie crusts in a row has learned to simplify. She might buy dough from a local pizzeria or use canned beans, and she's happy to tell America to do the same.

“You don't have to be a slave to cooking,” Copeland said.

For her own meals, Copeland keeps it fresh, simple and mostly vegetarian. But to make things interesting, she keeps what she calls “an arsenal of flavor.” For instance, she'll take a few extra minutes on the weekend to make a chimichurri herb sauce and then have it on hand to use several ways throughout the week.

“It's a smart way of infusing a meal with a lot of flavor,” she said.

That way, Copeland says, she has more time for “adventures,” which she writes about on her personal blog, Edible Living. Like any journalist at heart, Copeland has a passion for experiencing the world and sharing her stories.

copeland-gardenBesides writing Edible Living and creating recipes for Food Network Magazine, Copeland contributes to the Food Network blog. Her focus is often gardening since she is a cofounder of Good Food Gardens, a collaborative effort by Food Network and Share Our Strength to raise awareness of child hunger and to promote healthful eating habits. The latest Good Food Garden will be in Altadena, Calif.

Most New York chefs aren't also planning where carrots will grow in a West Coast garden, but that's what Copeland gets to do and she loves it.

“Cooking and growing food represents such a value,” she said.

“To put this little seed in the ground and one day have a meal on your plate…” she trails off in wonder of one of the world's greatest processes. Copeland hopes to own a small farm and orchard one day.

In the meantime, Copeland will be in her office, a nook in the Food Network test kitchen above Chelsea Market in New York. On one side of the space is a tiny desk and a computer. Just a chair swivel away on the opposite wall is a full oven.

It's there that she creates recipes like Masa Corn Cakes with Poached Eggs and Chocolate Pots de Creme that are tested between four and 10 times before publication.

And although as chefs, she and the other recipe developers don't get especially excited about chicken breast, they will remember their audience and do what they can to make it interesting.

“The whole point,” she said, “is to create recipes that are beautiful, easy and i

spire people.”