Tuesday, June 26, 2012 12:00 AM
Alumni Feature

Sara Levine: from 34th Street to the Food Network

The description on Sara Levine's '06 tumblr page says it all: "Editor. Writer. Blogger. Cook. Passionate about all things food."

She's been combining her love of food and writing ever since she was a child growing up in Chevy Chase, Md. 

She remembers taking vacations with her "food-loving family," when the entire itinerary would be based on what, and where, they would eat -- and she would detail each trip in her personal journal. 

"Looking back on those journals, they are hilarious," she says. "All I wrote about were the meals."

At Penn, Levine combined her two loves as the food section editor of 34th Street Magazine. And she is doing it today, as a blogger and editor at Foodnetwork.com with a special pedigree -- an associate's degree from Le Cordon Bleu North American Culinary School.

"The best part about my job? Writing about food," she says.

Levine is second generation DP. Her dad, Lee Levine '76, served on two DP boards, as DP managing editor and 34th Street editor. "I remember wearing DP tee shirts as a kid -- it was always a part of my life," she says.

Still, "There was never any pressure from my parents to join the DP. I've always enjoyed writing. It's a path I naturally followed in high school, and then in college."

At the DP, after two years as a news beat reporter, Levine established herself as a serious foodie, writing about restaurants bordering campus and beyond.

"I did a feature for 34th Street on the Marigold Kitchen, in West Philly. One of the owners was a Penn grad who left finance and moved back to Philly to start this restaurant. I spent a lot of time hanging out there and getting a feel for what the restaurant life was like," she says.

"The chef I profiled is now a big deal in Philly. He is so wonderful and always remembers that the first time his face was on the cover of anything, it was the cover of 34th Street."

A communications major, Levine beefed up 34th Street's coverage of food and restaurants, "and it just kind of clicked that I should combine food and writing in some way after graduation."

She parlayed a summer internship at Washingtonian Magazine after her junior year into a job as assistant editor after graduation. She did a little bit of everything but gravitated to -- what else? -- writing about food. "The food critic there was great and took me under his wing," she says.

After her boyfriend -- now husband -- enrolled at Emory's law school, Levine followed him to Atlanta.

"I wanted to do something that would give me credibility as a food writer," she says.

"It seems like everyone wants to be a food blogger; there are so many food blogs out there. I wanted to be someone who actually knew what she was talking about. So I did a year of culinary school in Atlanta. It was amazing -- one of the best years of my life."

"In class you would get these mystery baskets of food and you had to prepare something for your chef instructor. It was totally different than anything I had ever done," she says. "I gained so much confidence. I really saw what it takes to succeed in that world."

To fulfill her required "externship," Levine applied to a three-month program offering culinary students the opportunity to work at the Food Network's test kitchens in New York. Her tryout -- in her chef's outfit, her trusty knife kit at her side -- consisted of preparing an Emeril Lagasse dish.

She was accepted into the program, and then stayed on, first working in the test kitchen and writing for the website on the side, and then, two years ago, joining the website full time.

Levine (who goes by her married name, Sara Levine Rosenblum, outside of work) is now the lead editor for shows and TV-related content, which she describes as "putting together packages of content online for our biggest prime-time TV shows," from "Chopped" to "Iron Chef." The job includes writing show summaries, interviewing contestants and judges for the network's reality shows, and writing about what is going on behind the scenes on those shows.

"But what I love the most is just getting the opportunity to blog about food," she says.

"I have a side project now that is getting me back to my 34th Street roots. Scripps (an owner of the Food Network) just launched a new venture, cityeats.com, a competitor to [restaurant review and reservation site] opentable.com. We are gearing up to launch in New York. I have been writing restaurant reviews for them. It has been fun getting back to that."

"People love food. Food brings people together. Getting to be a part of that, getting to do that as a job every day, I feel lucky."

-- Joel Siegel

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