Foodie Friday: The Food Spotter

Amy Cao in her kitchen in Brooklyn, NY.

Amy Cao, the head of community at Foodspotting, admits it straight up: she can’t cook. In fact, she’s afraid to cook; she’s worried it will make people sick. So instead, she dines out half the week and orders in the other half.

And that’s perfectly acceptable – lots of people can’t cook. But those people typically don’t blog about food, host cooking shows, and hold positions at websites centered on finding good food. Amy does all three.

Below, Amy dishes about the one food that freaks her out, how she avoided the Freshman 15, and a new Foodspotting project launching in July.

Position: Head of community, Foodspotting
Age: 27
Graduated from: Boston University, degree in mass communications
Has held the position for: 9 months
Previous jobs: Editor at Zagat Survey; freelance food writer for Zagat, Tasting Table, and others

Job description in one sentence: I handle Foodspotting’s conversations on and offline, meaning I work on everything from customer service to content creation to video production to social media.

What’s the purpose of Foodspotting? It’s a website and mobile app for finding good food around you, based on photos of dishes that our users recommend. [Editor’s note: a previous Foodie Friday, Mayumi Ando – she’s the creative director at Dylan’s Candy Bar – uses Foodspotting regularly!]

How you got the job: I built a strong following on my blog, Amy Blogs Chow. The job opening at Foodspotting was ideal because they were looking to define their voice online, and I love building relationships with people. It’s a combination of personal and professional.

Latest crazy food you tried: Live lobster at 15 East [a Japanese restaurant] in Union Square. It was presented live, then whisked away to the kitchen.

Why is it important to connect with foodies online? You can dine out and enjoy the experience, but sharing it makes the experience last longer. Everyone is a food critic now, or passes as one – and people aren’t looking to experts as much as they’re looking to their peers. Word of mouth from a trusted source is extremely valuable to our decision-making.

How did you come to terms with your love for food? I love food because it’s welcoming to everyone. When someone cooks for you, it means they care about you. My parents weren’t amazing cooks, but if I wanted to eat something, they would get it for me. There was never a no – food was always a big yes. We had a wonderful dining hall at [Boston University] where I spent a lot of time; I loved being surrounded by food all day.

Does that mean you gained the Freshman 15? I didn’t. Though I eat constantly, I only eat until I’m full. And my roommate, Jenna, whom I dined with most often, would eat half my food. I have a pretty fast metabolism, and if I craved a late night snack, it would be a chicken Caesar salad, which isn’t the worst thing to have at midnight.

Favorite dining hall delicacy? Fresh peanut butter cookies.

Amy with a batch of homemade baked sweet potato fries.

Cooking videos can be long and boring to watch. How do you keep your video series, “Stupidly Simple Snacks,” short and sweet? Each video needs to be under three-and-a-half minutes, and I edit the footage to fit the background music. Cooking isn’t the most approachable thing for me, so I make my videos silly and goofy. The goal is entertainment, and to make food less scary.

How long does editing take? Filming takes less than an hour, but editing a three-minute video can take two days. And that’s in between working full-time [at Foodspotting].

What do you use to record videos? The built-in iSight camera on my MacBook.

Your favorite episode? I had a great time working with [NYC restaurant owner and beverage director] Joe Campanale on the wine cocktails video. We made three refreshing, stupidly simple wine cocktails: a spritz from Austria, Tinto de Verano from Spain, and Bicicletta from Italy.

Something you always cook wrong: Well, lots of things. But mainly, I’d say rice – I never know how long to keep it boiling for. I either don’t use enough water or use too much.

Never-fail snack: Strawberry yogurt parfait from Pret A Manger.
Food that freaks you out: Dried fruit. I don’t like the texture.
Best comfort eats: Anything with spicy mayo; fried chicken; cupcakes; banana pudding; and lattes, if I need energy.

What are you working on right now? We just launched a beautiful app for Windows Phone 7, and we’re launching a new video series in mid-July called Foodspotting with Amy. I’ll be updating users about company news and talking to food experts in New York and beyond.

Which food blogs do you follow? A Cup of Jo, Sunday Suppers, and Tasting Table. I also love fashion blogs like Oh Joy! for the gorgeous photographs. I rarely read recipe blogs, since I don’t cook.

A typical conversation for Amy. She did say she loved spicy mayo.

Wait, you don’t cook? You just eat out and order in? Yep, that’s why I do Stupidly Simple Snacks. I dine out half the week, and order in the other half. I’m afraid to cook, because I’m scared I’ll make people sick.

What do you order? A lot of schnitzel, which is a traditional Austrian dish of deep fried veal cutlets. And Thai takeout. I wish I could make pork chops, because I love them – but I know they’d just be raw in the center if I tried.

You’ve always wanted to meet: My grandfather, who passed away when I was one month old. And Michelle Obama.

Engage with people who share your own interests online, and those relationships will help you find a job. It’s not just enough to have a resume; you need an online presence. Also, if you have an idea, go for it – or else someone will! The best time to start anything is yesterday. Whenever possible, do something to help someone; that’s where the joy is, and that’s where you can relate.

Follow Amy on Twitter at @AmyBlogsChow and check out her Tumblr. All photos courtesy of Amy Cao.

PLUS: Click here for more Foodie Fridays!

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