Why you should care
Documenting what you eat might be a hipster’s hobby, but for Ali Rosen, it’s a successful and growing career.
If you’re walking around New York City this week, you’re likely to spot her face on a subway sign or at a bus stop. Ali Rosen is the face of Potluck Video, a food-and-drinks show that started online and is now airing on NYC TV.
Rosen is more than just the host of Potluck — she plans, produces, shoots and edits all of the footage herself. She’s a one-woman-band who makes five videos a week for her website. (For those of you who don’t produce content for a living, I assure you, that’s a lot for one person to pull together.) Rosen built her name with videos focusing on food, ranging widely from recipes and celebrity chefs to nutrition and food sourcing. The title Potluck is apt — Rosen brings lots of different things to the table.
Recent Potluck stories have included a recipe for sophisticated Jell-O shots, chef interviews, behind-the-scenes looks at restaurants, the changing chef uniform and a professor’s look at why it’s important to know about antibiotics in food. She gets most of her video views from partners like Huffington Post, People.com and Edible, publishers that buy her footage and display it on their own sites. Last month, her New York-related content began airing on NYC TV.
Sell it once, then sell it again
“So many sites create video content and they are so precious about it,” says Rosen. “My model has been: Sell it to as many people as possible and sell it at a lower price. If I’m giving the same video to three or four different partners and they all have different audiences, they don’t care [that it’s appearing elsewhere].”
I may not be the most voracious online video consumer you’ll meet, but I find her vision for distributing her product compelling: She has a personable, easily digested, nonintimidating take on the food world. And she’s turning a profit.
It’s easy to see why the big names in food enjoy interviews with Rosen: She is a charming and engaging conversationalist with a self-deprecating but cheery sense of humor. Rosen has traveled to places like Alaska and Japan to find the story behind a meal, interviewing chefs such as Daniel Boulud or Mario Batali. Like any good millennial with a constantly shifting attention span, she splits her website into a variety of series, looking at food from multiple angles. With her friendly and sunny disposition, she brings a young, Rachael Ray-like quality to her videos.
Rosen was listed on Forbes’ 30 Under 30: Food & Wine this year.
The 28-year-old says that, while she has an appreciation for “really abstract, beautiful content” or “high-brow” food content, that is not what Potluck Video is about. “Some people create one video a month and it’s really beautiful and a mini documentary, and I think that’s amazing. There’s a lot of sepia tones and inside jokes — I don’t really do that. It’s beautiful and that stuff wins awards. I don’t ever win awards,” she says in her straightforward, candid manner. “But I try to make every video fun. My goal is to never create a video where at the end of it, you didn’t learn something new.”
She says that doesn’t mean she’s into gimmicks, either. “I’m also never going to do ‘18 hottest hot sauces that will burn your mouth.’”
I was one of those weird kids.
— Ali Rosen
Rosen grew up in Charleston, South Carolina as a middle child to two lawyer parents. She got an early start cooking, inspired by her mother’s mother, who made an amazing strawberry rhubarb pie.
“There’s pictures of me at 7 years old wearing a ski mask and chopping onions. I was one of those weird kids.”
In middle school, her recipe for ginger cookies made the local newspaper. And while she started out early with an internship at a Charleston restaurant in eighth grade, her restaurant experience is mostly limited to working as a waitress and bartender in college. Much as she enjoyed cooking as a hobby, Rosen wasn’t drawn to being a chef and working on her feet 12 hours a day.
She graduated from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland with a degree in international relations, then began working her way up the hard-news reporting ladder in NYC, starting as a page at NBC and then as a video reporter at NY1 covering Queens and Staten Island. She took a career detour in 2010, when she took a year off to move to India, work on a short documentary on domestic violence and sort out her plans for the future. By the time she returned to Manhattan, she had decided to return to her childhood passion: food.
Doing it herself
Rosen beat out a host of candidates for the job as video producer for the then-recently launched food-and-drinks website The Daily Meal, and went on to produce 10 videos a week for the site for about two years before leaving a year ago. “I was creating so much content for somebody else,” she says.
She’s a part of a DIY online entrepreneurial culture that is increasingly popular amongst millenials who would prefer to take the risks of working on their own on a shoestring budget rather than work for another person or a big-name company. Nevertheless, Rosen says her time at The Daily Meal was crucial in learning how to produce video at a rapid pace, while also developing friendships with people in an industry that is notoriously insular.
“She did a really good job,” says Colman Andrews, the editorial director of The Daily Meal and an award-winning food columnist. He commends Rosen for her work as a “one-person department” and says her most significant contribution was creating the series “At the Chef’s Table.” In the weekly series, Rosen interviewed top chefs like Thomas Keller and Wolfgang Puck, talking to them about their origins. “That was one of the things that got us the most attention,” says Andrews.
Celebrity chef and Food Network TV host Melissa d’Arabian worked with Rosen at The Daily Meal and again at Potluck Video. She calls Rosen “warm and friendly” and “as charismatic as she is creative.” In an email exchange about Rosen, she writes that she is “super-knowledgable about the industry, food and cooking, so she can engage in a deeper and more meaningful way.”
In contrast, an expert on NYC’s food scene (who declined to release his name) criticizes Rosen for her “softball” questions. He says he doesn’t feel Potluck Video has a strong enough editorial point of view, and her interviews come across almost like “video versions of press releases.” He adds, “She’s more about creating content with boldfaced names than having a honed opinion.”
Rosen’s videos focusing on restaurants and chefs are purposely positive: She explains that when she visits a restaurant and doesn’t end up liking it, she declines to cover it.
“I’m a big fan of restaurant criticism,” she says, “I love reviews, but I couldn’t do it because I know that every restaurant that opens in New York, someone has to put all of their money and all of their clout on the line. Sometimes they suck and sometimes they are terrible, but I don’t want to be the one to say it.”
So what’s next for Rosen? She thinks some of her series could become stand-alone shows or books, citing her Inspired Recipe series, which explores chefs’ childhood inspirations to start cooking, as an example.
“In reality, my overarching goal has always been to create food-and-drink content that is smart, avoids trends and profiles people who are doing really cool stuff that deserves more attention,” she says. ”If I can keep doing that but grow to a larger and larger audience, then I think that my goals are ultimately being met.”
She says she already gets to do “the coolest job” on a daily basis. ”So having it get bigger would maybe just mean I don’t have to lug all my gear by myself, which would definitely be nice.”