The Duckmaster at the Peabody Hotel

"It's not a very subtle outfit, but it's not a very subtle job," says Anthony Petrina, who has been the duckmaster at the Peabody Hotel for about three years.

“It’s not a very subtle outfit, but it’s not a very subtle job,” says Anthony Petrina, the duckmaster at the Peabody Hotel.

“I never thought you could get a condescending look from a duck, but as it turns out, you definitely can,” Anthony Petrina explains.

He remembers the day clearly: It was his second week on the job as the duckmaster at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, and he thought he was doing a pretty damn good job of marching those ducks down the red carpet in an orderly fashion. (It’s a twice-daily occurrence at the hotel that attracts hundreds, including names like Jimmy Carter, Oprah, an incognito Michael Jordan and Nicholas Cage.)

But he had pressed the wrong button on the elevator, and instead of opening into the lobby, Petrina was greeted by an open expanse of balcony. The five mallards turned around and just looked at him – the duck equivalent of major side-eye.

Along with his assistant duckmaster, a retired hotel veteran, Petrina oversees the decades-old, now-famous Peabody Duck March – and the care and keeping of the ducks. He can even see the duck palace on the roof of the Peabody from the window of his apartment down the street. “I can literally keep an eye on them at all hours,” he says, “though that’s probably taking the job a little too far.”

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Foodie Friday: The Dog Food Tester

Food fit for a king (Charles Spaniel). Photo: Nancy Rica Schiff 2006 from her book, Odder Jobs, More Portraits of Unusual Occupations

Patricia Patterson samples food fit for a king (Charles Spaniel). Photo: Nancy Rica Schiff 2006 from her book, Odder Jobs, More Portraits of Unusual Occupations

“It really wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be,” Patricia Patterson remarks thoughtfully. She remembers its porous surface – it resembled lava rock. She inserted a chunk into her mouth, moved it around for a few seconds. Spit and repeat. Spit and repeat.

At the Sensory Analysis Center at Kansas State University, Patterson, a former restaurateur, analyzes a slew of products for flavor, texture, and color – fragrances, fruit, gelato, coffee, air fresheners, and fabrics. But dog food is the product that makes people raise eyebrows and cock heads.

“I admit, there’s a certain stigmatism to eating dog food,” Patterson said. “But I don’t eat it. I taste it and analyze it.” In fact, its distinct flavor is harder to identify than many might imagine.

Age: 65
Graduated from: Business school in Salina, Kansas
Based in: Manhattan, Kansas
Years in the business: 12
Previous jobs: I started out as a secretary, but I got bored sitting behind a desk. I wanted something more people-oriented, so I went into the bar and restaurant business. I did that for a good many years, but I got burned out.

You left one food job for a very different food job. I basically retired from my restaurant job, and I was looking for something part-time. I saw this newspaper ad for the job at Kansas State University, which appealed to me because it said something like, “If you like to work with food, people, and products.”

Human vs. canine food: a sometimes-blurry line. Photo: businessweek.com

Human vs. canine food: a sometimes-blurry line. Photo: businessweek.com

No mention of dog food. No.

Tell me about your first day on the job. Well, before you’re accepted and trained, you have to pass a test. You have to describe and differentiate between different products. Take cinnamon, for example. They want you to say brown, sweet, woody. But an individual who hasn’t been trained doesn’t think about those things. They might just say that it smells good. 

So developing a lexicon filled with rich adjectives is part of the training. Yes. We’re always coming up with descriptive terms and definitions. It comes with time and experience.

Preparation and special tactics: We don’t prepare the products, so we don’t need gloves or hairnets. But we wear white lab coats [when testing], and stay away from perfume or anything scented. No flavored lipstick, no hand lotion or hairspray, no detergent. We work in a clean conference room, with a table, chairs, blackboard, and sink to wash your hands.

How did you react the first time that dog food appeared on the table in front of you? I was like, yuck, nasty! Animal food was a totally new area we hadn’t approached before.

Have you ever dined at a restaurant and thought, Wow, this kind of tastes like dog food? Yes. Sometimes, you’d like to shut it off, but you can’t.

Your objective in taste testing: We’re not told specifically what we’re looking for; others extract the information they need. We just examine the aroma, flavor, and texture. We determine attributes using references.

Do you mean points of reference? Yes. We have about 40 references for dog food, for attributes ranging from smokiness to mustiness to fishiness. We have references for its appearance, too: color, shape, size, and surface texture.

Testing dog food wasn't half bad, says Patterson. Her worst memories stem from testing cat litter. Photo: Sensory Analysis Center

Patterson has also tested cat litter (for aroma, not taste). “It’s one of my least favorite products,” she says. Photo: Sensory Analysis Center

Your beef with dog food: We had one that tasted like sponge rubber. But we also had one that was very, very good. I’m sorry, but it was. It was meaty and had vegetables.

Did you swallow it? No – you don’t want to mix the flavors. You leave it in your mouth for a certain amount of time, maybe moving it around, maybe chewing it. Then you expectorate it.

Skills required for the job: Patience. A testing can take one day, or it can take weeks, months, or years. It depends on the project. You also need to be unbiased; it doesn’t matter whether or not you like the product.

Best part of your job: Seeing so many different products. I also like the international travel. I’ve been to Germany to work on cheese; Thailand to work on soy sauce and a variety of miniature fruits; and Italy to work on gelato.

Most challenging part of your job: Coming up with new terms and attributes. But it’s a group effort; that’s why we have panels of sensory analysts.

What would people be surprised to learn about your job? It’s not an eating job. We taste, over and over and over. It’s very repetitive.

Woof. Source: 4gifs.tumblr.com

Woof. Source: 4gifs.tumblr.com

You mentioned that you own a dog yourself. He must benefit from your sophisticated palette. He’s spoiled rotten. I cook for him a lot – chicken, beef, potatoes, rice, carrots, and pork. But if I’m traveling, he does get dried dog food.

Recently, the radio show This American Life investigated a story about meat plants selling pig intestines as fake calamari. It suggested that consumers couldn’t differentiate between the two. Do you think the same goes for dog food and certain “human foods,” like chopped liver? I have to say, some of the dog food we had was better than people food.

Salary: $10 to $16 per hour.

LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
There’s a certain satisfaction in improving and developing products that eventually end up on shelves. It’s very rewarding. It’s also interesting to be exposed to products that consumers may never see – the things that don’t make it to the shelves.

Like Patricia Patterson, many No Joe Schmos started out in more ordinary professions. Meet the tech entrepreneur turned pooper scooper and the real estate agent turned hot air ballon pilotThen, check out more of the cutest dog GIFs of all time.

The Sculptor With a Palette of Butter, Chocolate, and Cheese

Jim Victor and Marie Pelton created a life-size chocolate replica of the No. 18 Toyota Camry M&Ms car. Photo: designboom.com

Jim Victor and Marie Pelton created a life-size chocolate replica of the No. 18 Toyota Camry M&Ms car. Photo: designboom.com

When it comes to chiseling 1,000 pounds of butter into life-size manatees or molding a Santa from cream cheese and mascarpone, no one does it better than Jim Victor. Just don’t ask him to use meat. That’s gross.

The food sculptures can take Victor and his wife, Marie Pelton, up to a month in their Philadelphia studio, using heavy-duty cutting tools, whittling implements, and cheese graters.

Age: 68
Graduated from: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Based in: Philadelphia, Pa.
Years in the business: 30 or so. I made my first chocolate sculpture in 1982, but didn’t do any again until 1995.

Did you attend art school with the intention of sculpting food?  No. I started out with wood, and did my first chocolate sculptures in the 80s. But didn’t grow serious about food sculpting until the 90s, when I realized a real demand for it. I actually got my first butter-sculpting job through a wanted ad that my brother saw in a local Harrisburg, Pa. newspaper. As a sculptor, your opportunities are few and far between.

Andy Warhol's "Marilyn Monroe" using marshmallows for the Orange County Fair in 2010.

Andy Warhol’s “Marilyn Monroe” using marshmallows for the Orange County Fair in 2010.

You work with quite a range of materials, from steel and wood to cheese and vegetables. A lot of the same sensibilities come into play; I have to think about textures and colors. But there’s an added concern with perishables, like fruits and vegetables. You have to create them the day before a show.

Your workspace: We have a regular studio and two temperature-controlled trailers for sculpting on the road. The sides of the trailers are windowed so that people can watch. Many fairs also have butter booth facilities.

How do you prevent the butter and chocolate from melting as you handle it? For butter, temperatures must be below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Chocolate is a little more forgiving — it just needs to be away from the sun and moisture, and below 80 degrees. For cheese, we work with harder ones, like hard cheddar.

Favorite edible medium: Parmesan cheese.

Your toolkit: Lots of clay modeling tools, or wooden tools that I carve myself. For something slippery, like butter, I need a big handle.

This butter manatee appears to be floating, but the seaweed supports the mammal's hefty body mass, explains Victor's wife, Marie.

This butter manatee appears to be floating, but the seaweed supports the mammal’s hefty body mass, explains Victor’s wife, Marie. Victor works mostly with unsalted butter, but salted butter is softer and easier to shape.

Which comes first, the subject or the medium? They’re usually commissions from corporate sponsors that want specific materials. After planning, we make armatures from wood, wire, or steel. That’s the skeletal frame around which the sculpture is built. People think we’re cheating, but you need an understructure to hold up the cheese, or chocolate, or whatever.

Your strangest commission: It was for a politically incorrect-themed party in California. We made Fidel Castro out of fruits and veggies, and Hitler out of cheese.

I didn’t see those on your website. It shocked me so much that I left those off.

Is there any food you won’t use for sculpting? For a long time, I said I wouldn’t work with meat. Then I did, but just a little. I don’t want to work with big quantities of meat — I think that could be really gross.

You’re not grossed out by 1,000 pounds of butter? Not really.

The nature of your job involves a sizable waste of food, considering your sculptures are not for human consumption. We use waste butter from dairy plants that would be thrown away anyway. A lot of our butter is turned into biofuel using digesters on farms or at university campuses to run cars.

Does the same go for cheese? No. We give some of [our cheese sculptures] to a food bank in Texas after a job. But for the most part, our sculptures can’t be eaten because we handle the material too much. We’re not chefs.

Best part of your job: Getting commissions to do work you love.

Mark Ingram, Jr., a running back for the New Orleans Saints, recreated in bread, raisins, cranberries, and chicken salad.

Mark Ingram, Jr., a running back for the New Orleans Saints, recreated in bread, raisins, cranberries, and chicken salad.

Most challenging part of your job: The technical challenges and demands that people and corporations throw at us. For Subway, we recreate heads of NFL stars using sandwich materials. It’s like, how do you make [Washington Redskins quarterback] Robert Griffin III out of chicken salad?

What would people be surprised to learn about your job? How difficult it is, both physically and technically. It involves a great deal of engineering and is very physically demanding. We’re lifting hundreds of pounds of butter. It’s also very long hours. For the past month, in preparation for a chocolate show in New Orleans, we’ve been working 10-hour days, seven days per week.

President Jimmy Carter, plaster, 1974.

President Jimmy Carter, plaster, 1974.

Your work in non-perishables is quite popular as well. Your plaster bust of Jimmy Carter currently resides in the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. That’s a funny story. New York magazine commissioned that bust — they wanted to smash it to pieces and then photograph it for their cover, to symbolize [what everyone thought would be] Carter’s failed negotiations for peace in the Middle East. But it turned out that his deal pulled through. So I wrote a letter to Carter, offering him the head for the museum. He accepted.

Average rate: We charge anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 per day, depending on our work. But we don’t always make that much, once you factor in design, shipping, and hiring people to help.

How do you unwind after a long day carving butter? With a stiff drink.

LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
There are only so many jobs you’ll find in the wanted ads. The most successful people figure out what they want to do and make their own jobs. Opportunities are very fleeting; don’t ignore any of them.

Meet more artists with creative palettes: the dirty car artist, the soap maker, and the pop-up paper engineer.

Unless credited otherwise, all photos courtesy of JimVictor.com. Find more of his sculptures below:

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The Dirty Car Artist

Scott Wade was dubbed “Lord of the Dust” at an event in Istanbul, Turkey, and “the da Vinci of Dust” by the National Enquirer.

Like many others with families to support and mortgages to pay, Scott Wade works full-time in an office cubicle, glued to his computer screen for a majority of daylight hours.

But in his other life, cars are his art and dirt is his palette.

Wade began doodling in filthy car windows as a way to relieve the stresses of his 9-to-5 job as a graphical user interface designer. He discovered a new meaning of “screen time” — one that involved intricate designs on windshields and 10-foot-tall storefront windows. A hobby that began on small-town dirt roads in Texas evolved into the viral phenomenon of Dirty Car Art, bringing Wade to Lisbon, Istanbul, and London. But his toolkit remains simple: brushes and vegetable oil.

“[My artwork] challenges our perceptions of what’s beautiful,” Wade explains in earnest. “It takes what we think of as an eyesore, and flips that on its head.” But like sidewalk chalk art and sand sculptures at the beach, impermanence comes with the territory. His masterpieces only last until the next rain.

Age: 53
Graduated from: Texas State University, BFA in commercial art
In the business for: 9 years
Based in: Wimberley, Texas (about 30 minutes from Austin)
Previous jobs: Arts and crafts instructor; freelance designer; drummer

The dusty roads in Texas must make for ideal dirty car conditions. I used to live on a long dirt road, and the blend of limestone dust and gravel and clay resulted in a fine white dust that coated the rear window. My first 50 or 60 creations were on cars that got naturally dirty just from driving up and down that road, building up successive layers baked on by heat and humidity.

And now? I don’t live on that dirt road anymore, and I’m doing a lot more creations for events. So I had to figure out a way to make a car dirty that wasn’t. I ordered Fuller’s Earth substitute — the same thing that makes dust clouds in the movies — and made it stick to the windows with a thin coat of vegetable oil. But I still love working on real dirty cars; they look much more three-dimensional. I miss those old days.

Wade creates original drawings as well as representations of recognizable art, such as Girl with a Pearl Earring.

What sparked your realization that a dirty rear window makes the perfect canvas? If you’re a fairly curious person, you can’t resist playing on a dirty car window, even if it’s just a smiley face or a “wash me.” It’s an impermanent canvas, so you’re free to play with it.

It probably helped that you majored in art. I think I picked up drawing from my dad; he was a really good amateur cartoonist. Living on a mile and a half of dirt roads, we never washed our car, so I’d always doodle in the windows. Then, one day, I used my fingernail and a popsicle stick to do some cross-hatching. And then I went inside to get my brushes, and realized that I’d found a real medium.

Your toolkit: A chisel-point rubber paint shaper tool, which acts like a pencil; different-sized fan brushes; and large brushes for the background. I do lot of work in Adobe Photoshop to figure out my designs, but the dirt is forgiving.

Do you carry the brushes with you for unsuspecting dirty cars? Sometimes, actually. That would be a great candid camera TV show: I could hang out at movie theaters, and when a really dirty car pulls up, draw in their windows. Since they’re at a movie theater, you know they’ll be gone for at least an hour or so.

Your first drawing: A reproduction of the Mona Lisa with van Gogh’s Starry Night in the background. I sent it to some friends via email, and bloggers began linking to it. Then I got a call from the National Enquirer.

And then your work went viral. Did that surprise you? Who would have thought people like looking at dirty pictures on the Internet? [Laughs.] I did receive some serious flack for a portrait of my daughter, which looked like she was being abducted. It was supposed to be funny, but it turned out creepy.

Your dream dirt drawing: I want to do a portrait using someone’s cremated ashes on the windows of a hearse. It would be weird, but also compelling.


Best part of your job: Most artists are isolated in their studios, but I’m creating artwork while people look on and talk to me. It took awhile to get used to, but I really enjoy that aspect.

Most challenging part of your job: Dealing with the business side of things, which I think a lot of artists can relate to. The medium itself is also very challenging. Dirt is not uniform, and the results are never what I totally expect.

What would people be surprised to learn about your job? A dirty car is typically an ugly thing. But when people see that dirt can be turned into beautiful art, it really challenges their perceptions.

Best reaction to telling a stranger about your line of work: I always get a cocked eyebrow. I can tell they’re thinking, Oh, it’s probably just some little doodles. Then I show my representation of the Birth of Venus by Botticelli, and they’re totally floored.

Do you wear protective gear to avoid breathing in dirt and dust? I might wear a paper mask, depending on the wind’s direction. When drawing on storefront windows, I wear goggles and a respirator.

You mentioned the medium’s impermanence. How do you justify putting so much effort into something that the rain will wash off in seconds? It’s a lesson in letting go, in understanding that life is just a series of moments passing by. If you try to hang on to something, it causes grief and heartache. If you can just be happy you had the experience, it frees you up.

One of Wade’s most recent works: The Marx Brothers. His creations can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 6 hours.

Fee per job: I charge by the day, not by the car. My corporate rate is $3,500/day, especially overseas. My nonprofit rate ranges from $650/day to $1,200/day.

When you tell your daughter to clean her dirty room, does she argue it’s just “art”? I don’t think she’s ever used that argument, and I’m not going to mention it to her.

LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
There are a lot of people who have made careers out of doing something special in their medium, like Julian Beever’s 3D pavement drawings. Be unique in the way you do art: that’s what gets attention. This type of work can be very rewarding and enriching. Click here for a full gallery of Scott Wade’s work.

Impressed by dirty car art? For more artsy No Joe Schmos, meet the glassblower and the pop-up paper engineer.