The Colgate Scene
A full menu
|By Vicki L. Wilson|
Chef Lauren Braun Costello shops for fruit at an outdoor market in New York City. [Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]
Most newly trained chefs pick one of two entrées as their career main course: join the staff of a major restaurant, or open their own eatery. Lauren Braun Costello '98 chose the chef's special.
A professional cook who earned a Grand Diploma in Culinary Arts with distinction in 2003 from The French Culinary Institute, Costello is the chef owner of Gotham Caterers, a private catering business in New York City, where she lives with her husband Sean '97. She also writes a weekly recipe column for cdkitchen.com, serves as a food stylist for celebrity chefs and TV shows such as The View, and is a cookbook recipe tester and freelance chef instructor.
"When you go to culinary school, you don't really have an idea of how deep and wide your career in food can go," said Costello. "I've never worked harder in my life. Today is the first day I've had off in 14 days."
One Tuesday, for example, she served as food stylist for the Food Network's Sandra Lee, who was appearing on The Tony Danza Show.
"They hire someone like me to come in to work with the chef in the days leading up to the appearance," Costello said. Before the show, she arrives early -- often before dawn -- and arranges the cooking table, provides the bowls of ingredients, and preps the final dish the celebrity chef will "make" on TV. Other days, Costello showcases her own recipes live on television programs such as Today in New York on WNBC 4, on which she has appeared 10 times, or works as the food stylist for the nationally best-selling Sonoma Diet.
"I also have been recipe testing for the Joy of Cooking," she added. "Since 2004, we have been testing every recipe in the cookbook for the upcoming 75th anniversary edition. I've been one on a team of about ten other chefs."
Costello analyzes the recipes and submits reports for editorial review.
"We're on the bread chapter now, so I have been testing different corn bread and corn muffins. We have one more chapter to go," she said. "It's thrilling. I have had a hand in a great culinary tradition. A couple of things we developed may even end up being in the book."
The Joy of Cooking is not the only food tradition she has been a part of. Costello regularly assists bestselling author and famous health-conscious chef Michel Nischan. Nischan recently began filming a TV show to air on the Lime TV network. Costello serves as culinary producer. Two years earlier, she traveled with Nischan to India during the Grand Chefs on Tour program.
"I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be so lucky to meet such a famous chef like Michel, that he would want me to work with him, and that he would take me to India," she said. "I just never thought I would get these opportunities."
While at Colgate, Costello said, she never thought about becoming a chef. But as the "unofficial" cook for Shabbat dinners every Friday night on campus, Costello -- who worked in business after graduating -- was unknowingly getting a taste of her future.
"I will never forget this -- one Shabbat, [Colgate] Rabbi Joan Friedman said to me, `Lauren, you're going to be a cook someday.' I said, `what, are you crazy? I'm going to Colgate to cook?'" Costello said. "Of course, my education plays a huge role in my success today, for sure. I couldn't run the business myself or be sophisticated enough to work with the people I do without it."
Through Gotham Caterers, Costello serves business and individual clients for events including showers, food and wine tastings, formal dinner parties, book signings, and fundraisers.
"I have my hand in a lot of different pots," she said. "Many nights, I only have three or four hours of sleep. But I couldn't be happier with my career and what I chose to do."
So what pot will she stir next?
Perhaps her weekly food column on cdkitchen.com. "It's called The Competent Cook," she said. "Basically, I talk about everything from the history of food to really technical stuff like how to blanch your vegetables. I'd love to expand the writing, go further with my food column, wherever that may be."
Continuing as a freelance cooking instructor and augmenting her food styling career are also options on Costello's table, as well as opening a new company with her sister, Nicole, called Colie & LJ Stationers. Costello styles food that her sister, a food photographer, photographs for their stationery line. They plan to launch with Christmas, Chanukah, happy birthday, Valentine's Day, and thank-you cards.
Costello has a full plate, for sure.
"It's all tough work," she said. "At the end of the day, you're a laborer. You clean, you cook. But if I quit tomorrow, I would have accomplished far more than I ever thought I would in only three years. I feel very lucky."
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