“I have to pinch myself,” she says. Her sincerity and humbleness come across clearly, even over the phone. “I'm very happy and lucky and grateful to be where I am.”
When she first started college, Carolyn Gross (C ’09) could never have imagined that her future would be in food entertainment—she was a psychology major until the second semester of her junior year, and although she frequently hosted dinner parties and loved watching Barefoot Contessa, she dismissed her culinary appetite as nothing more than a hobby. After four formative years of self–discovery and memory–making at Penn (as well as lots of slices from Allegro and BYOs at Branzino), Carolyn graduated with much more than a degree. Her decision to switch to a cinema and media studies major granted her connections, clarity, and rock–solid advice. She credits these experiences with inspiring her to jump at a job offer with the Food Network that combined all of her passions. Nearly ten years later, she has no intention of looking back.
As the director of production and development at the Food Network and Cooking Channel through Discovery Inc., Carolyn oversees the creation of shows at all stages, from picking out talent, to working on set, to making edits in post–production. She has worked on shows like Chopped, Holiday Baking Championship, Outrageous Pumpkins, and Man Fire Food. Carolyn believes that in order to work with food, one needs to know it intimately. She makes it a priority to both visit and read up on new chefs and restaurants, and, of course, to taste as much deliciously creative food as she can.
“While it's not a requirement that you have a love for food or cooking in order to work in food entertainment, I personally think it's a huge benefit in terms of understanding the subject matter, capturing its nuances, and enjoying what you're working on,” she says.
A love for food is not all that has helped Carolyn find success in food entertainment. Her background in cinema and media studies at Penn contributed greatly to where and how she operates and why she does the type of work she does. Much like a movie studied in class, “When developing and producing a show, I'm starting with a concept or a talent, and then creating the world for the show via very deliberate decisions about creative casting, location, art, direction, set design, ingredients, graphics, music, lighting, and so much more,” Carolyn says. “These elements really work together to reinforce the show's overall premise and give the show a distinct identity so the audience has something to hook into and come back for.”
When asked about her favorite course, Carolyn enthusiastically recalls the semester she took a screenwriting class taught by Kathleen DeMarco Van Cleve. In this class, Carolyn started a screenplay she's still working on to this day. She also met a future coworker who would help her to apply for her first entertainment job. Carolyn cites the course as the reason she changed her major to cinema and media studies and ultimately sought to work in a creative field, remembering that “she loved it,” and “was also completely terrified by it.” For Carolyn, the combination of love and a little bit of fear was evidence that what she was doing was worthwhile.
This message rings true in her short but sweet advice to students: “Take risks and don’t be a jerk.”