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Top Chefs Give Aspiring Entrepreneurs Food for Thought

Montclair State gives voice to strategies and trends in food industry.

Posted in: Business, University

Photo of attendees of "A Taste of Entrepreneurship" festival tasting jarred sauces.

When top chefs and food entrepreneurs get together to dish out the secrets of their success, they boil it down to three ingredients: passion, perseverance and pivot. At the invitation of Montclair State University, culinary leaders took a fresh look at this recipe to inspire aspiring farm-to-table enthusiasts in doing what they love for a living.

Their secret?

“We dream about food, we talk about food, we eat food, we go out,” said Floyd Cardoz, the pioneering Indian restauranteur and winner of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters. “We let that passion drive us every single day.”

In a novel networking event, the University’s Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship partnered with the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies on March 19 to bring together the area’s food tech startups, farmers, food artisans, chefs, home cooks and – of course – students for “A Taste of Entrepreneurship.”

The event provided both sage advice and savory delights. About 220 guests sampled sweets, sauces, meatballs and more from 18 local startups at an informative and flavorful “taste and talk.” Commenting on the shared interests, Karan Fischer, executive chef and owner of Montclair Culinary Academy, observed, “Food is a universal language.”

It’s also big business. “Food and its ancillary components comprise a business sector that spans the globe, has impact on gross domestic product and employment,” said Douglas Murray, chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies.

Montclair State convened the entrepreneurs to explore the growing opportunities. It’s among the recurring events consistent with Montclair State’s commitment to providing learning for students that place them at the heart of their respective industries.

The trending interest in food and nutritional businesses is part of New Jersey’s long, rich history in the culinary arts. Dennis Bone, founding director of the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship, has seen a particular interest among students in launching food startups. “When we ask our entrepreneurship students what type of business they’d like to own, they often say a restaurant or other food venture,” he said.

That’s good news for the Garden State. “Entrepreneurs at every level of the food and hospitality industry are energizing New Jersey’s vibrant food community and contributing to a healthy economy,” said Nancy Brannigan Painter, founder and co-publisher of Edible Jersey.

Among the leaders is the Newark-based AeroFarms. The company grows produce in vertical gardens without sun, soil or pesticides inside repurposed industrial spaces. Chief Marketing Officer Marc Oshima said the efforts are addressing food deserts, educating students about agriculture, and bringing healthier greens to the market.

Aspiring entrepreneurs came away with a better understanding of the many components necessary to start and sustain a business. That includes everything from developing a viable business plan, registering the business, obtaining a health department permit and finding a commercial kitchen for rent, said Djenaba Johnson-Jones, founder and CEO of Hudson Kitchen, a business incubator that provides support for culinary entrepreneurs.

“Do your homework,” said chef Natale Grande, CEO of The Flying Meatballs, “because you are in for a rollercoaster ride.”