Serving Mario Batali

January 25, 2012 | Brooklyn College

Brooklyn, N.Y.—It all began with a job post.

“My dad sent me a link to a job with Mario Batali back in May,” explains Andrea Bernardi ’11, who received her degree from the CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies (CUNY B.A.) program. “They had this really splashy video with Mario talking about the position. It sounded perfect for me, but totally crazy to think I would have a chance.”

In the splashy video clip, Mario Batali, world-renowned chef and restaurateur, announced he was looking for the perfect media production coordinator — an individual who was “expert, relevant and hip.” This person, said Batali, had to think “not only out of the box; they need to be questioning the box’s existence.” To aid in the search, Batali employed Monster.com, a popular global online job recruiter.

Within 55 days the Batali post received more than one million views; more than 50,000 people applied. With little hope that her dream job would crystallize into a career, Bernardi submitted her résumé without a cover letter.

Two weeks later, she unexpectedly found herself chatting with Batali in the flesh. “I looked up, and there he was texting in the street,” said Bernardi, who was on her way to catch a movie with her boyfriend, now fiancé, when she spotted Batali in the West Village. During the brief encounter, the two talked about food and the job. Batali wished her luck, and the two parted ways.

That same night, Bernardi wrote a cover letter and resubmitted her résumé.

Fast forward two months, three rounds of interviews, 13 finalists and one “sizzle-reel,” and you may catch a glimpse of Bernardi whizzing past tables at Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, located just a few blocks from Manhattan’s Washington Square Park. The din of clinking glasses, light conversation and dim lights are a familiar backdrop for Bernardi, a former waitress, but chart new terrain for her as Batali’s new — and first — media production coordinator.

“Going up to Mario Batali in the middle of the street — that encapsulates Drea,” says Brian Dunphy, one of Bernardi’s mentors and a lecturer in the Department of Television and Radio. “For her to have the audacity to say she was applying and have a pre-interview, that’s genius. That is using skills you learn from just living and parlaying them into a really cool job.”

For Bernardi, 33, “just living” meant bucking against tradition. She did not go to college straight from high school, pick up a few internships along the way, graduate and apply for a job. Instead, she dropped out of San Francisco State University in 1997 and opted for a less traditional education in the arts. She attended Dell’Arte International in San Francisco, “a hippie clown school,” she says.

Bernardi stayed in San Francisco for a while, then moved to Europe, where she took “the free spirit thing to the 20th degree.” After getting a “life education,” she came back to the United States hoping to continue her career as an actress, this time in New York.

For a year, Bernardi waited tables and performed in plays, but she grew weary of the financial instability that comes with being an actress. “My friends who still were acting had trust funds, parents, husbands; I didn’t have any of those things. I had to pay my own bills.”

After hearing praise from some friends about the CUNY B.A., a CUNY-wide program that allows students to mold their own major, Bernardi decided to enroll. In 2008, a decade after she withdrew from San Francisco State, Bernardi found herself back in a traditional classroom.

For many, entering college a second time can be a scary thing, but for Bernardi, her age, marked by unique experiences, gave her an edge.

Miguel Macias, assistant professor of television and radio, and another of Bernardi’s mentors, said it’s only natural for an older student to kick it into high gear when they re-enter school. “You feel the pressure to move a little faster than when you’re in your early 20s.”

In the end, the stigma that comes with being an older student only hampers one’s progress if they allow it to, attests Dunphy. “I always felt that her age — as long as it didn’t become a burden for her — would become an asset to everyone else.”

With today’s deflated economy, students have to strive more than ever to be marketable by advertising the intangible skills gained from experiences outside of the classroom, says Macias. “She is aware that in today’s job market you have to make yourself stand out from the rest.”

Despite Bernardi’s life experience, she credits Brooklyn College and its “very cool professors” for giving her the hard skills necessary to do the job.

“I took a digital media production class with Christopher Langer. That class is what I am doing now for work,” says Bernardi. “I learned Photoshop. I learned Final Cut Pro. I learned how to use a camera, and I actually shot a healthy cooking demo. I think that stood out for team Batali.”