On How I Work, we like to find people with especially challenging jobs. Making the recipes at a meal-kit-by-mail service seems challenging: Each recipe must be crowd-pleasing, easy to follow, and use ingredients that can be shipped around the country in vast quantities divvied into tiny portions.
At Plated (acquired last year by grocery company Albertsons), that job belongs to Elana Karp. We talked to her about creating and testing recipes, shooting video guides, and her evolving culinary career.
Location: New York City
Current Gig: Head chef and culinary co-founder of Plated
One word that best describes how you work: Multitask
Current mobile device: iPhone X
Current computer: Macbook Pro
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I’ve pretty much always been interested in food, from cooking at home to eating out at local restaurants to trying new dishes when I’m travelling around the world. I began cooking when I was about six years old. I would help my mum or dad in the kitchen and it soon became one of my favourite hobbies.
After university, I taught Year Two with Teach for America. I saw firsthand how little my students understood about health and nutrition, and it became clear to me that I wanted my career to focus on making a difference in the way people eat.
To do this I knew I needed professional culinary training, so I moved to Paris and enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu to learn from some of the very best chefs.
After graduating, I started a small business teaching families and children how to cook, and ran an after-school nutrition program for local NYC primary schools.
I learned about Plated shortly after it launched, and I joined the company to build the culinary program from the ground up.
I was so excited to have the opportunity to be a part of something that was all about helping people cook more and eat better. The idea that I could be a part of making change and impacting people’s lives on a national scale was incredible!
Take us through a recent workday.
My day always begins with coffee. And I love breakfast, so I’ll usually make myself scrambled eggs and sprouted grain toast before heading into the office.
One of the things I like best about my job is that it allows me to spend time both in and out of the kitchen doing a wide range of things — every day is different!
For example, I might start off at my desk researching and conceiving recipes for upcoming menus or meet with colleagues on our BAWS team to plan some of our upcoming employee events. (BAWS stands for Bad-Ass Women Society and is our internal support system aimed at fostering an ongoing dialogue about issues affecting women in the workplace.)
I’ll always spend time in the test kitchen and studio — on a recent day I did a late-morning taping for a cooking demo video of a Plated beef noodle bowl recipe.
Then I may have lunch in the test kitchen, combining eating lunch with taste-testing a bunch of upcoming recipes with the Culinary team.
In the afternoon, I’m often in and out of meetings addressing topics ranging from menu planning and marketing campaigns to analysis of customer feedback and what’s next for our in-store offering.
At the end of the day, I usually wrap up at my desk catching up on emails and meeting any last-minute deadlines.
What apps, gadgets or tools can’t you live without?
Coffee maker (I use a Bodum French press, the big one), Instagram, Google Maps.
I use Resy to make dinner reservations all over the city. I especially love their notification feature. When I’m trying to get a table at a popular new restaurant, Resy will notify me as tables pop up. Thanks to that feature, I’ve ended up getting to try places that were impossible to get into!
What’s your workspace setup like?
We have really open workspace and I sit with a mix of people from the Culinary and Studio teams.
I have my laptop with me all the time and a big screen at my desk for when I’m researching recipes, reviewing drafts, and checking out photos and videos from our latest shoots.
I also love spending time in our test kitchen, and I have a little table in there that I like to work at occasionally to be close to the cooking action.
What’s your best shortcut or life hack?
When cooking chicken or other proteins, deglazing the pan is one of my favourite shortcuts. It has a dual purpose: It is a simple technique for creating a delicious sauce, and it allows for an easy, quick cleanup after your meal!
To do this, you add a liquid such as wine, water or stock to your heated pan after you’ve cooked and removed your protein. This loosens up the little leftover browned pieces that cling to the bottom of the pan.
Then you stir and scrape up the bits to make a flavorful sauce. In doing this, you’ve also cleared out what was left in the pan, making it ready for a super-fast clean up.
Take us through an interesting, unusual or finicky process you have in place at work.
We are serious about our recipe testing. Once a recipe is written and gets tested for the first time in the test kitchen, all the chefs get together for a formal tasting of the dish.
We give individual reviews of the dish covering a variety of characteristics, from flavour to composition. We’ll give candid feedback to the tester and writer.
For me, these tastings are critical. Even if I’m in the middle of another meeting, I’ll duck out to make sure I’m there to try the dish right out of the oven or fresh off the stovetop!
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
I’m an obsessive calendar organiser. I use my Google calendar for work, personal, and everything in between. I like having all my plans together in one place. And for better or worse, if something is not on my calendar, chances are I might miss it.
How do you recharge or take a break?
For me, a great spa is the perfect place to unwind and relax. They aren’t phone-friendly which is a really good thing — it forces you to disconnect from your daily routine. Plus, a great massage or facial can make you feel like a new person!
What’s your favourite side project?
I just moved into a new apartment, and I’m really getting into remodeling and decorating everything, especially the kitchen!
What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
I recommend the book Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull. I read it several years ago when Plated was getting off the ground and growing rapidly. His insights on unlocking creativity while scaling a business resonated with me and provided smart takeaways that I could apply to the way I approached my work.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Several years back, I made a mistake that seemed huge to me at the time. It was one of those things that I lost sleep over. Getting through this challenge, I received some simple yet valuable advice: It is OK to make mistakes sometimes, as long as you don’t make the same mistake twice. And more than that, sometimes mistakes can actually be a good thing to help you grow and learn in unexpected ways.
We've asked heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.