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Mary Nolan
Executive Chef at Bon Appetit magazine
New York City

Alumni Q&A

Mary Nolan '00

In a series of interviews with notable alumni about their experiences at Assumption, we recently caught up with 2000 graduate Mary Nolan,Executive Chef for Bon Appetit magazine in Manhattan.

Q.  What are you doing now?
I'm the Executive Chef for Bon Appetit magazine in Manhattan. I wear many hats at my job. Cooking, of course, but also developing recipes, doing demonstrations, videos and representing the brand at events around the country. And when I'm not doing those things, I'm spending time with my husband and chasing around my two toddler boys.

Q: How did you land your current job at Conde Nast?
I started at Conde Nast right after I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2004 with a degree in journalism. I took a job as a sales assistant at Gourmet magazine. Truthfully, I didn't even know what that title meant and took a huge leap moving to Manhattan with no place to live (and my pillow in my suitcase). I look back and I'm actually impressed I had the courage to do that. I worked at Gourmet for about 4 years in various roles and then spent a few years working in the culinary field. One day a position opened up at Bon Appetit, and I jumped at the chance to return to publishing. Working in restaurants gives you experience that you can't get in a classroom, but the lifestyle is really tough.

Q. What made you want to go into the culinary arts?
When I was working at Gourmet, I felt like I was in the right place but doing the wrong thing. After a brief stint with the Food Network, I was really craving some culinary experience. I had thought about going to culinary school for years and finally came to the realization that there was no time like the present. Once I started, I never looked back. I loved every minute of it, so I knew I was doing the right thing.

Q. What is a typical day like for you?
Everyday is very different, which is one of the things I love the most about my job. Sometimes I'm cooking for a large group people, other days I'm teaching cooking classes--the print media landscape has changed so much since I started, that my job has changed with it. I've always worked on the publishing side of the business, so everything I do is geared toward leveraging sales for the brand.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your current position?
Probably that I still learn something new everyday--but you have to be in that frame of mind and be open to learning. I work with a really creative group of people that constantly inspire me.

Q. What are some of the things you learned at Assumption?
I learned that you can't go wrong if you operate with kindness and faith in God's plan. But I also learned a lot of things the hard way! But even as an obstinate teenager, I knew some of the value of these lessons at the time. 

Q: How do you feel your time at Assumption has helped you in your career thus far? 
I learned to be accountable for myself. There wasn't a lot of hand-holding and I think that's invaluable when you're preparing for college. And I find myself using words from Mr. McFerran's daily vocabulary lesson quite frequently! 

Q: What are a few of your favorite memories from your time at Assumption?
I had a lot of fun playing softball, basketball and running track, even if I wasn't the most "coachable" athlete. I loved going to football games and the camaraderie of cheering on the Knights. I also really enjoyed going to Boston for Harvard Model Congress with Mr. Trimble and Mr. Reagan.

Q:  Looking back on your time at Assumption, what are some of the experiences that helped prepare you for what you’re doing now?
I learned early on that working hard would serve me well. I also learned to deal with failure--this probably isn't the answer you'd be expecting here, but it's a really important lesson. Turns out I can't do a toe touch. It's a part of life that's not fun, but something you need to learn to deal with on your own. 

Q: Who were some of the biggest influences during your time at Assumption?
Foods class (seems obvious, I know) with Miss Swope was hugely impactful. She taught me how special it is to break bread with someone and share a meal. And to always tuck in your chair when you get up from a table, because it's the courteous thing to do. Mr. Greene taught me that I actually really like chemistry--enough that I took it in college too, even though my degree was in journalism. Mrs. Brennan helped to sharpen my public speaking. Miss King helped to hone my journalism skills. And I'd be remiss not to mention Mr. McFarren again--he was a witty teacher and I enjoyed his sense of humor while teaching us to think like adults. 

Q:  What suggestions or advice do you have for students who may want to pursue a career in the culinary arts?
I'm really glad that I decided to do a more traditional undergraduate experience first, because I learned a lot during that time that has only helped shape my professional skills and experience. So while I'm happy I decided to go to culinary school, nothing beats hands-on restaurant experience. I would recommend doing that first so that you can decide if culinary school is worth the investment for you. 

Q: Do you have any last words of encouragement for the Class of 2017?
Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose! Yes, a quote from the fictional Coach Taylor. But I like that saying for more than just a prep rally. If you really put your heart into something and clearly focus on that goal, you can't lose no matter the outcome.

Thanks, Mary. We appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule for the interview.  Congratulations on all the great work you're doing!
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