They Want To Talk To You About What You're Eating

L-R: Emily Schildt and Naz Riahi. Photo courtesy of Leah Pellegrini

L-R: Emily Schildt and Naz Riahi. Photo courtesy of Leah Pellegrini

We all have a relationship with food whether we want to admit it or not. And like most relationships, they sure can be complicated. Whether the discussion is a heated debate over who has the best pizza in New York City or trying to figure out if high fructose corn syrup is really all that bad for you (hint: it is!) there are a lot of opinions flying around. Don't get us wrong, food is also the ultimate unify-er, take the immense popularity of mobile food photography accounts on Instagram or the rise of pop up dinners promising the chance to meet new people and mingle over a labored meal. This ideology is exactly where Bitten Conference steps in. The 1 day NYC conference was founded by Naz Riahi and Emily Schildt and aims to dig into all things food from tech and innovation to growing trends. We're proud to be media sponsors for the event that is being hosted on February 12th. We sat down with Naz and Emily to hear all about their inspiring journey to launching this one of a kind conference.

Find out why Emily and Naz are Daring Creatives.

Photo courtesy of Christine Han

Photo courtesy of Christine Han

When did you decide to pursue your current career path?

ES: I made my way to Memphis for college where I got my start in social media, working for an art museum at the time Facebook brand pages just launched. I fell in love with the feeling of being a part of something at its inception, so I suppose that’s when my entrepreneurial mentality jump started. I moved on to Boston where I was brought early on to what is now one of, if not the, fastest growing food companies in history, developing and leading the social media team. I had always loved food, personally, but once I got to experience the incredible potential of a food business, I was changed forever. I met Naz a year after I left in 2013, and we started Bitten.

NR: I’d worked for many years as a marketer, bringing other people’s vision to life. But for me, it wasn’t enough. I knew early on that I wanted my life to have meaning by making an impact for a greater good. And the most effective way I can see myself doing that is through running my own company. So, when I left my last job at an agency, I decided to move into the food space, because it is such an impactful space. But something that people often forget in the conversation around food (which entails health, economy, environment, hunger, animal rights and so may other serious aspects) is how fun food is. How creative and innovative it is. That over the last few years it’s become as much about nourishment as it is about self identity. I wanted to be a part of getting more people to tap into that and in the process, do something good, which is where our giving comes in (each year we donate the profits from the conference to an organization doing good work in the food space).

 

How did you go from idea to execution?

ES: When Naz approached me with the idea of putting on a conference, she made it sound super simple—just three easy steps: get sponsors, get speakers and get people to come. Little did I know, each of those steps are painstakingly difficult, and all things I’d never done before. We’ve learned a lot about planning an event, particularly in putting on our first in 2015, like how much the littlest details matter, from the food served to the seats occupied to the sound and the temperature in the room. And, I’ve learned, above all, about persistence. There’s not a sponsor or speaker with whom I haven’t been a (polite) pest. Following up is key and I’ve had to get comfortable with the uncomfortable feeling of being a little pushy.

NR: I don’t want to go on record and advocate for stupidity, but it’s important to point out that a bit of naiveté goes a long, long way. If I had known how hard it was going to be, I’m not sure I would have had the will to do it. But, as they say, it’s one foot in front of the other. I don’t think anyone ever starts out knowing everything. We’ve Googled, asked and guessed our way through this experience and in a lot of ways that’s helped us, because we weren’t hindered by past experiences. Everything was possible. They key to building our brand was that we had an idea and instead of overthinking it and talking about it forever, we just did it.

 

Photo by Leah Pellegrini

How does the city you live in influence your creativity?

ES: New York inspires me every day, that’s why entertaining the idea of leaving someday is really difficult. While it’s incredibly hard—you’re constantly in the presence of others, rent is seemingly never going down and the pressure to do more is always lingering—there’s an energy here that is unmatched. It may not be a forever place for me, though I never say never, but it’s certainly a motivating place for igniting creativity and starting your own thing.

NR: I’ve lived in a few different countries and a lot of different cities, but since leaving my childhood home in Iran, I had never really felt at home anywhere until I arrived in NYC. It was the first feeling of home after many years. I moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 2003 with a few boxes of books, a suitcase and $1500. I didn’t have a job or know a single person. It was one of the most difficult, terrifying things I’ve ever done. But it was also one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. All the stories I read, the fashion I see, the languages I hear in this city—all of the ambition, creativity and hustle—it blows me away, humbles me and inspires.

 

In your words, what does it mean to be a “creative”?

ES: I consider myself creative because I put concerted effort toward thinking for myself, whether that’s in my work or in decorating my apartment or in picking what to wear.

NR: Creativity is as much about risk as it is about vision and a point of view.  

 

Has rejection ever affected your creative process? If so, please describe.

ES: Of course. In working for myself, it’s extremely difficult to not constantly doubt what I’m doing—is what I’m creating good? Is anyone going to buy it? Is anyone going to listen? I have to consciously dismiss my judgments to move forward confidently in what I’m doing, and that’s really not easy.

NR: Happily, no. I’m a fiction writer and in my MFA program it was drilled into me that in the beginning rejection letters from publishers and editors far outweigh acceptances. And that someone once one person accepts you, everyone else will, too. They key is persistence. This was a good lesson. It taught me to consider my own happiness and pride in my work above anyone else’s opinion of it.

Photo courtesy of Leah Pellegrini

Photo courtesy of Leah Pellegrini

In thinking about the things that you have created, is there something that you hated but the public may have loved - and perhaps purchased?

ES: Hate is a strong word I struggle using to describe anything, less terrorism or scrunchies. I definitely wouldn’t use it to describe my work. That being said, of course there are times where you’re surprised at the positive receipt of something you were unsure about. That’s always nice.

NR: Not at all. While we are certainly our own worst critics, I would never release something that I couldn’t stand behind.  There is already too much noise and clutter in the world. So anything that I add to it, has to be meaningful and well thought out.

 

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to pursue the same career as you?

ES: Start today. We always say that we never would be where we are with Bitten if we had known what it took to get here. A little naiveté goes a long way and it’s important to just get moving, and keep moving forward.

NR: Don’t let anyone deter you If you believe in something, you’re halfway there. Trust yourself and bet on yourself before you ask anyone else to do it. We live in a culture where VCs and fundraising and unicorns are so sexy. But it’s all very counter-intuitive to me. I wouldn’t invest in anything where the founders hadn’t put their own lives on the line for it. That’s the kind of passion and vision we need to see more of.

 

What has been the pit and peak of your week so far?

ES: (First, yes. Thank you for referencing a tradition by KUWTK.) I met with a few of our speakers to review their talks and was definitely the high of my week. They’re all so incredible—I’m really excited by and proud of our lineup for the conference this year—and personable, and hearing their stories first hand in conversation is inspiring. I can’t wait for everyone in attendance in February to hear them too! And my pit… that the week is over! There is so little time and so much left to do.

NR: We are really in the thick of it, with the conference less than a month away. I am entering that phase where I’m either so concentrated on something that I can’t think about anything else, or I’m thinking about so many things that I can’t get anything done. I’m highly aware of my brain and how it’s working for and against me! That is both a high and a low for this week.

 

Who is someone famous that you think is killing it at the moment? In other words, is there someone whose career you admire.

ES: I often criticize myself (is there a trend forming here, or something?) for wanting to do several things and having too many ideas. For that reason, I really admire Tina Eisenberg, founder of Swiss Miss and Creative Mornings. She also founded Tattly, adorable, quirky, contemporary temporary tattoos, and Friends/Studiomates, a co-working space. She makes me feel like I can actually make sense out of all of my ideas, and having several streams doesn’t mean I’m misguided.

NR: Hilary Clinton is definitely killing it at the moment. Having to face so much sexism, criticism, judgment and other bullshit and to stand strong against it is awe-inspiring. I also love the fact that she’s been a public figure for so long that we’ve seen her evolve and change her mind. I think that’s very important. Most people her age are retired and she’s working harder than ever. And of course if she does become our next president it will have a huge impact on the women’s movement and the struggle for gender equality.

 

Photo courtesy of Dan Saelinger

Photo courtesy of Dan Saelinger

Finish this sentence:

I want people to remember me as:

ES: Full. Full of life, full of good food, full of rich experiences, full of love. Someone who really took advantage of life’s opportunities.

NR: Someone who inspired them.

 

If I only had 24 more hours to live, I would do:

ES: Well, if I know this and can plan ahead, I would have all of the people I love with me somewhere in Italy, where we can eat all of the pasta and drink all of the wine and laugh and reminisce.

NR: Wake up early, go surfing, eat at some of my favorite restaurants, listen to some of my favorite music, get a suite at The Bowery or the Greenwich Hotel, invite all of my friends, order cases of champagne and party all night long. My dog Hugo would be with me the whole time. And I would definitely break some rules.

 

If I had to choose a theme song to represent me it would be:

ES: Wow, that’s hard. I guess I have to go with Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” Yes, I want to dance with somebody who loves me. Always. But, also it was a top hit the year I was born and it’s my go-to karaoke song. (Only the very privileged get to see that performance.)

 

NR: My heart is still heavy with David Bowie’s loss. He was a brilliantly talented alien who made the world more interesting. So in his honor, the song that best represents me (most of the time) is "Ziggy Stardust" for how meta and how magical it is.

To purchase tickets to Bitten Conference being hosted on February 12th, visit the website: thisisbitten.com

 

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