Where Did Alejandra Ramos Come From?
And why her 10 year journey from magazine editor to PBS host may be just the beginning
Welcome to the Quarantine Creatives newsletter, a companion to my podcast of the same name, which explores creativity, art, and big ideas as we continue to live through this pandemic.
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I’ve been drawn lately to the idea of instant success and how it’s really a mirage. The entertainment press and the general public tend to hold up people that seemingly “made it” overnight, without diving into the full backstory. It’s very rare that somebody with no skills, practice, or natural talent can suddenly be a top performer in any field. More often, folks are laying the ground work for their big break for years.
Sometimes this is very intentional preparation, with one specific goal in mind. Olympic athletes, for example, spend years of their life waking up early to train, with the hope of one day competing on the world stage. Other times, somebody is working in an unrelated industry without even knowing what their end goal is, but they are gaining skills and doing the self-discovery work necessary to be ready for their moment when it arrives.
I ran across a tweet from Alejandra Ramos last month that hit upon this idea very succinctly:
There was a lot that really interested me about this post. For one thing, a new PBS cooking show was very exciting (I have previously interviewed PBS chef Lydia Bastianich on the podcast, plus Amy Traverso from Weekends with Yankee, and Julia Collin Davison and Kaitlin Keleher from America’s Test Kitchen, so you know I love good culinary programming, especially on public television).
But I was also really eager to hear Alejandra’s story about her 10 year journey to this stage of her career where she was now hosting a cooking competition show for a major network. What did it take to get to that point? What will viewers not appreciate about that process when they see Alejandra hosting The Great American Recipe next week on PBS?
Alejandra joined me on the podcast last week to paint the picture.
Her career started off in the publishing world, working as an editor for Cosmopolitan in New York:
“That was a job that I’d go to a party and someone said ‘what do you do?’ And I’d be like ‘I’m an editor at Cosmo’ and people would be like ‘Oh wow!’ But I wasn’t happy with the answer because I didn’t really love my job.”
Alejandra wasn’t satisfied in her work, but she also had no idea what else she wanted to do. A light bulb went off when the employees at Hearst Tower were invited to join a contest, submitting a soup recipe to the cafeteria. Alejandra entered and won, the prize being a shift as a cook, serving her winning soup to editors, writers, and reporters, including Gayle King:
“I remember thinking I am so much happier here than I am upstairs in my fancy office. That was when those wheels starting turning, like where is it that I want to be, what are the things that truly make me happy?”
That day in the cafeteria caused her to rethink her priorities. She left her role at Cosmopolitan and began cooking in any way that she could to learn skills and earn some money:
“I was doing cooking class, I was doing menu plans, I was personal cheffing, and making cakes and cookies and selling them online.”
Soon, Alejandra was invited back to Cosmopolitan, this time as a food editor for the newly launched Cosmopolitan for Latinas. She was back at the same company, but she was now writing recipes, taking food photos, and learning food styling. She was also asked to make television appearances to promote the magazine:
“My very first segment was a Cinco de Mayo segment on Univision, like the local New York Univision station. I just remember feeling like, I love this place, this feels like my power space. I was talking about food, which I loved, I was joking around and entertaining. I got to be like my playful personality, but I was also teaching and hopefully inspiriting and it was just fun being on television.”
Alejandra loved the feeling of teaching food through TV and wanted to do more of it. She was eager to book more appearances, but she needed help getting her name out there:
“I hired a publicist to teach me how to be a publicist, like she had a program called Be Your Own Publicist, so it was like DIY publicity. I couldn’t afford a publicist at the time, and so I just hired her to teach me how to be my own.”
That first appearance on Univision, combined with Alejandra’s own pitching (and later working with food brands that would pitch segments on her behalf) led to appearances on Telemundo, Good Morning America, and eventually NBC’s TODAY, where she is now a contributor and appears regularly. Alejandra told me how she sees her role on a fast paced morning show that can often swing from breaking news to celebrity gossip to lifestyle segments in a matter of minutes:
“The thing to remember, especially with these morning show segments, is it’s not really about teaching the recipe. No one’s sitting there with a notebook writing like 2 eggs, one half cup of sugar. The recipe’s online, if they actually want to make it. They just want to be inspired and they want to be entertained. That’s your job. You can teach a couple of fun tips and ideas, but it’s not about saying the exact measurements and all of that, it’s really about getting people excited about the concept of it.”
It was one of those TODAY appearances that caught the eye of the producers behind PBS’s The Great American Recipe. Alejandra was announced as the host of the show on an auspicious day:
“I know they announced it August 10, which I remembered because August 10, 2015 was my first every national TODAY show segment, and then August 10, 2021 was when the story came out that said that I was going to be hosting this show.”
The show filmed last fall in Virginia. It’s a cooking competition show, very much in the vein of similar shows like The Great British Bake Off or Making It (hosted by Nick Offerman, whom I also interviewed on the podcast). It features home cooks from diverse ethnic backgrounds and regions of the country and embraces their unique cuisines under an inclusive banner of “American food.” This clip gives you a good sense of the show:
Alejandra and I discussed the importance of taking an inclusive view towards all foods, and how her new show does that:
“It really is about these incredible cooks sharing their treasured recipes, their recipes from their grandparents, and from their cousins, their family members and their friends, things that they worked on their whole lives. So everything that they’re cooking for us is a piece of their story and their history. So it is really is all that representation. We’re letting people represent themselves.”
The first days of filming this series were very emotional for Alejandra. She very beautifully described what she was feeling to me, and how it felt like a culmination of her work at TODAY, which broadcasts from Studio 1A at 30 Rock:
“My first lines were ‘Welcome to The Great American Recipe, I’m your host Alejandra Ramos.’ It’s such a simple thing, but as someone who’s been introduced for years and you know, my name is Alejandra and not everybody gets that. I’ve been introduced as Alexandra, Alejandro, Alexandria, so many different things my whole life.
So just having this moment of getting to own that place and to represent myself and to be there as myself as the host of the show, it was this very moving moment where I was like ‘no, you can’t cry, what are you doing? You need to settle down.’ But I felt that, I felt that emotion, and I felt that same thing that I feel anytime I enter Studio 1A, where it’s just this sense of gratitude and enjoyment, but also an awareness of the magnitude of what it is.”
The Great American Recipe premieres on June 24 on PBS. Knowing the hard work that’s gone into her career thus far, I expect that this show is just the beginning of showcasing Alejandra’s talent and we will get to know her better in the years to come.
For more, including a discussion about the home cooking studio that Alejandra built during the lockdown and some great behind-the-scenes insights about working on TODAY, take a listen to my full interview with Alejandra.
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