For one weekend in August, potato pizza took over SOHO, Manhattan at a pop-up restaurant. Once Upon A Tart, SOHO’s all-in-one bakery, coffee shop, restaurant, catering company etc. is becoming known for hosting tasty dinner parties in the form of pop-up restaurants. These dinners feature different female food industry peeps who create dynamic menus for their three day residency. One of the most recent chefs to capitalize on this opportunity to showcase her culinary skill and creativity is Caitlin Berkery, a personal chef based in Brooklyn. The pop-up gave Chef Cait the opportunity to share her love of pizza with lower Manhattan and show off her signature pizzas, which include her unique mash potato pizza.

crust, chicken, pizza
Dominique Evans

While some of us enter college with a major or career goal in mind, life is a messy rollercoaster and plans change. Graduation happens, followed by life, and you can find yourself in a completely different field than you once thought you'd be in. While it might feel like it, you are not the only one who has experienced this. Chef Cait is here to share her experience with changing careers post-grad and striking out on her own as a female chef. This past week I found Chef Cait at a café in Chelsea ready to spill how she found herself working in the culinary industry.

Spoon: What did your life look like before culinary school?Chef Cait: I went to undergad for wildlife science. [I was] always into nature and didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was in high school. After college I got a job teaching nature education to kids. I was being paid through a grant and the money ran out. That’s when I got a job at an animal shelter and I stayed there for five years.

Spoon: What did you think you would be doing post graduation?

CC: I took a class in college called Environmental Interpretation and that is basically working at a nature center and teaching people about the environment. I thought that was the best way for me to make a difference in the world

Spoon: What prompted you to go to culinary school?

CC: The reason I decided to change careers was because tough things happen [at animal shelters] and rather than getting upset I got to this point where I almost shut down inside. I got to a point where I couldn’t just deal with that, so what I would do was just think about what I was going to have for dinner every night. I started cooking these elaborate meals for myself and thinking about what I was going to buy from the grocery store. [At the animal shelter] I added to my own job making people things for their birthdays. I would make cakes, pies, whatever their favorite thing was. Then someone said ‘why don’t you just do this’ and I started looking into culinary school.

chicken, cheese, pizza
Dominique Evans

Spoon: When did you know that pizza was your thing?

CC: I loved transforming something. In the baking section [during my time at culinary school] I just really excelled. Anytime we were making dough that we had to knead with our hands—I was all over that. I loved getting my hands dirty and taking this thing that starts off a blobby mess and ends up being something so beautiful and perfect and then you bake it and it turns into something even better! It’s such a great feeling. It just felt right—and it’s delicious.

Spoon: You just ran a very successful pop-up restaurant at Once Upon A Tart, any advice to people showcasing their talent for the first time?

CC: I say don’t be afraid to try something new—actually, be afraid. Take that [fear] and run with it. If you don’t do something because you’re afraid you’ll regret it and miss out on something amazing. If it doesn’t go the way you plan it’s a learning experience. You should always be a little afraid to try new things because that’s what pushes you. Embrace the scared!

dairy product, dough, flour
Dominique Evans

When people think of you, they think of mash potato pizza. How did you come up with the unassuming but delicious combo?

CC: When I was living in Boston my friend and I would make dinner together once a week, which meant I would cook for her. One day I just thought of it. We both loved pizza and potatoes and I thought ‘why not put them together’. 

Spoon: You also work as a personal chef, how is that different than running an entire kitchen?

CC: [Being a personal chef is] a lot less stressful, not as fast paced and is kind of like hanging out and cooking casually. You obviously have a time frame to have everything done in time for dinner, but when you’re working in a restaurant you have a very quick time limit—it’s completely different. When you’re working in a restaurant you have to prep everything ahead of time. When you’re working as a personal chef you prep things but you can also prepare things as you go. In a professional kitchen you have to have everything ready to go. If you don’t, that’s it. You’ll be ‘in the weeds’ as they say.

egg, cereal, dough, flour
Dominique Evans

Spoon: You cater, teach and work as a private chef. Because you do all of these different things, how has social media played a role in building your brand?

CC: Its huge! I am not very good at it so I’m trying to get better but its huge. For the pop-up, Instagram was my primary means of getting the word out.

Spoon: If you could only eat one of your signature pizzas for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?

CC: That’s not even a question! Hands down mash potato pizza because my two favorite things are pizza and potatoes. Everyone has things that if you put them in front of them they cannot resist them and that’s potatoes and pizza for me.

Spoon: Any advice for females who want to enter the culinary field?

CC: It's a weird thing that it seems like a very male driven field. Right now we are in a climate where women are so empowered and that’s how I got the opportunity [at Once Upon A Tart] that showcases female chefs. We can do this too! Just don’t be afraid—just do it.

Spoon: What’s your advice for those who love food but don’t know how to make it a career?

CC: You can pick up shifts at a local spot in your neighborhood whether it’s a bakery, restaurant or café etc. go in and talk, get their advice. Especially if it’s a local place­— if they know you they might let you in the kitchen. Just try to get peaks of [profession environments] to see if its what you want to do.

While the thought of changing career paths can be scary, the idea of doing something you don’t love can be even scarier. The unction to explore new things can hit at anytime, but when it does, “embrace the scared” and don’t hold yourself back. Before you know it, others will see your passion and opportunities will be attracted to you. Take every opportunity to showcase your talents and see where they lead you. 

Photos provided by Chef Caitlin Berkery and Kiara Morales.