Courtesy of Cornell University Program Board

Claire Saffitz and Matthew Merril '26 host a Q&A session in Statler Hall

March 6, 2023

Claire Saffitz Speaks About Building Her Career as an Iconic Food Writer

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Claire Saffitz, a recipe developer and cookbook author visited, Cornell this past Friday, March 3 for a signing at The Cornell Store of her latest recipe book, “What’s for Dessert: Simple Recipes for Dessert People,” followed by a question and answer session in Statler Auditorium. 

Hosted by Matthew Merril ’26, a chef influencer and Kids Baking Championship competitor, the sold-out Q&A offered Cornellians a chance to hear how Saffitz started her journey as a food lover and built her passion into a career as a food writer.

Having majored in history as an undergraduate at Harvard, Saffitz did not immediately pursue her interests in food culture. Only years after graduating did she realize cooking was where her true passion lied.

“All I wanted to do was cook all the time,” Saffitz said. “I would read about cookbooks, I would go buy the cookbooks and I would cook from the cookbooks. And I realized, at a certain point, that [food culture] was the only thing I had a really sustained interest in.”

Raised in a tight-knit family where cooking was a means of bonding, Saffitz’s passion for making meals and creating recipes stemmed from her childhood.

“Food was always a big part of my family and the time we spent together and how we socialized and related to one another,” Saffitz said.

After one year at École Supérieure de Cuisine Française and graduate school at McGill University, Saffitz began focusing on her passion and has since been featured on Bon Apppétit’s “Gourmet Makes” series on YouTube, along with being a contributing editor of Bon Apppétit magazine and publishing two of her own cookbooks.

Saffitz said inspiration for creating a recipe starts as an idea and then, from there, testing reveals whether the dish is actually feasible and worthwhile to prepare. 

“There’s some kind of spark, whether it’s an ingredient, flavor combination, something you see at the farmer’s market or something you taste in a restaurant or see in a bakery,” Saffitz said.

Saffitz also admitted that though she prefers to create her own recipes rather than following trends, no ideas — including her own — are entirely new. Many people try to invent food ideas or recipes from scratch, she said, but no dish is entirely original.

“It’s a general idea in recipe development and food that there’s really nothing new. I’m not going to invent a totally new idea,” Saffitz said.

As a food writer with a large fan base, Saffitz strives to be transparent in her cookbooks, offering instructions that clearly indicate the difficulty of each recipe. Saffitz said she wants novices and home bakers to be able to enjoy preparing desserts for their family and friends —  expertise is not required to bake from her cookbooks. 

“A big part of approachability is just being truthful about what the recipe is and what it requires,” Saffitz said. “I’m not going to tell you that something is going to be quick and easy if it’s not going to actually be quick and easy. And I think it helps to build trust between the homemaker and me as the author of the recipe.”

Saffitz also discussed how she aligned her passions with her work. Though writing recipe books does require hard work, she is pursuing her hobby as a career, thus making the work enjoyable.

“One anxiety I had when I decided to pursue cooking and baking as a career was — since it was my passion — if I did it for work, I worried it might no longer be my passion and extinguish the passion I had for it,” Saffitz said.

Saffitz also remarked that she understands how confusing and challenging the process of choosing a career path can be for college students. Students are often conflicted about how best to pursue their interests and obtain jobs that align with them. However, Saffitz also said she believes that a job does not necessarily need to be related to someone’s passion.

“I think there is an inappropriate amount of pressure placed on people your age to pursue your passion,” Saffitz said. “It’s okay to go to a job and to go home, and to then pursue your hobbies.”

When asked how she deals with the anxiety of messing up new recipes, Saffitz opened up about how she navigates failures and uses them to assist her rather than hinder her. 

“I think one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned from recipe development that is sort of a metaphor for life, is that sometimes it’s helpful to approach something with a nonrigid idea of what you want the end result to be, because if you go into a creative project with such a specific idea of what you want the outcome to be, then you might never be satisfied,” Saffitz said. “And you might miss the opportunity to realize that the thing you’ve created — that isn’t the thing you want it to be — is actually very valuable in and of itself. 

Saffiz encourages students to use their failures as a means to reach success. Her career as a recipe developer requires her to create, fail and succeed, and her journey through each of these processes enables her to share her talents with the world. 

“It helps to have the flexibility to realize the content you created is actually better than the thing you hoped it would be,” Saffitz said. “So, you have to take that disappointment and actually see it as an opportunity.”