How Amanda Haas Rose from Sales Associate to Culinary Director of Williams-Sonoma

“I knew two things: I wanted to move to San Francisco and I wanted to work in food.”

These may have been the only truths Amanda Haas knew as a college graduate, but as it turns out, they were all she needed. When Williams-Sonoma came to the University of Arizona’s college campus to interview for several job openings, Amanda jumped at the chance to work for her dream company. She was soon hired as a senior sales associate, and quickly found herself being promoted to their corporate offices. Still, Amanda knew that something wasn’t quite right. “I was honored and privileged to be promoted so quickly, but as my role changed I realized that while I was working for my dream company, I wasn’t pursuing my passion.” With this in mind, Amanda made her way to culinary school at Tante Marie’s.

After 10 years of cookbook writing and recipe testing later, she just published her latest: The Anti-Inflammation Cookbook. (We’re obsessed!) And when Amanda’s dream role opened back up at her beloved company Williams-Sonoma, she jumped at the chance to go back, and she’s remained ever since. So we’d say Amanda is proof that once in a blue moon, you can go home again.

Name: Amanda Kate Haas
Location: San Francisco, CA
Age: 43
Current Title/Company: Culinary Director, Williams-Sonoma
Education: French major and Economics minor from the University of Arizona, graduate of Tante Marie’s full-time culinary program

 

You graduated from University of Arizona with a degree in French. What was your first job out of college and how did you land that position?

 

Williams-Sonoma was interviewing on campus the week I graduated from college. I knew two things: I wanted to move to San Francisco and I wanted to work in food. Williams-Sonoma offered me a job that combined both of my goals! My career in food began when I was hired as a “senior sales associate for a Bay Area store.

 

Seven years later you attended culinary school at Tante Marie’s Cooking School. Tell us about what prompted that decision.

 

At Williams-Sonoma, I’d worked my way through the store management process and I was eventually promoted to a position in our corporate offices. I was honored and privileged to be promoted so quickly, but as my role changed I realized that while I was working for my dream company, I wasn’t pursuing my passion. Going to culinary school allowed me to refocus on food and ultimately combine my interests and my skill set into one job.

 

What came next?

 

After completing the program, I started testing and developing recipes for cookbooks. I knew right away I’d made the right choice. Even though I’m a total extrovert, I loved the focused work of cooking and making other people’s recipes work for home cooks!

 

What inspired you to pursue recipe testing and cookbook as opposed to working at a restaurant as a chef?

 

Recipe testing and cookbook writing allows me to create, refine, and improve all day long. The work promotes collaboration amongst creative people so I constantly feel inspired by my fellow colleagues and cookbook writers. There’s a sense of accomplishment when a recipe is written and then perfected — and the perk of eating your creations can’t be beat!

 

Tell us more about your start at Williams-Sonoma.

 

I wasn’t afraid to take an entry level job right out of college. I would have accepted any position Williams-Sonoma would have offered me because I was so excited about the opportunities the company could provide me down the road. I embraced my role and loved the idea of being able to learn about all aspects of the business as I started to climb the corporate ladder from the first rung.

It’s common to feel entitled to an amazing job with a huge paycheck the minute you graduate but I believe that if you remain humble and hustle hard, the path to the corner office (or Test Kitchen!) of your dreams becomes quite clear.

 

Take us through your journey to culinary director of Williams-Sonoma. How did you work your way up?

 

I started as a senior sales associate in a store, then an assistant manager, then became a store manager at 22. I was lucky enough to open our store on Chestnut St. in San Francisco, so I felt like a little shopkeeper in one of the cutest neighborhoods around. After three years, I moved into store operations at our headquarters, where I was the project manager for new store openings.

But after being promoted to the manager level in our Pottery Barn brand, I realized I was losing sight of what type of work I wanted to be doing—that’s when I went to culinary school. Attending school allowed me to sharpen my cooking, testing, and writing skills enough to make it a career. After 10 years of working on cookbooks for others and myself, my dream job finally became available back in the place I loved! I was hired as the Test Kitchen manager, and that led me to the culinary director role.

It’s interesting that leaving to acquire new skills is ultimately what brought my dream job to me. It just goes to show you have to follow your passion and never stop learning.

It’s interesting that leaving to acquire new skills is ultimately what brought my dream job to me. It just goes to show you have to follow your passion and never stop learning.

 

What do your daily responsibilities and tasks entail as culinary director?

 

My work is divided into two worlds: the Test Kitchen and our stores. In the Test Kitchen, we write and test hundreds of recipes for our catalog and online businesses each year and we develop 150 food products such as our braising sauces, pasta sauces, and quick breads. My team and I test all the products our buyers find before they are sold in stores and online—you can even see me on the website in our product demonstration videos where we teach customers how to use some of our favorite items.

Each year we write four to six Test Kitchen cookbooks and we love to host events inviting chefs and cookbook authors to collaborate with us in our kitchen. For the stores, I work with our top culinary stores to create cooking classes that are compelling for customers. Every day is different but there is always an abundance of food involved!

 

In addition to your work with Williams-Sonoma, you also launched a business! One Family, One Meal is dedicated to helping people menu plan, shop, and cook for a family of four for $200 a week. You published a cookbook under the same name with Cooking Light in September of 2012. What inspired this endeavor? Were you working with Williams-Sonoma during this launch, and if so, how did you balance those responsibilities?

 

I started One Family, One Meal when I was working for Williams-Sonoma part-time. Teaching families how to come together around food is my passion, and One Family One Meal allows me to do that.  In addition, I love writing cookbooks because I think I can affect change in the world in a way that many only dream of.

The balance is tricky. My job at Williams-Sonoma comes first, and I make a habit of only working on my passion projects on off hours. My family is my focus group on the weekends, often eating the recipes that I’m testing for book and blog ideas! It has been said that you can always find me in one of four places: at work, commuting to work, behind my stove at home, or at one of my sons’ sporting events. Prioritization and meal prep are key to survival for any working mom.

 

You just released your newest work The Anti-Inflammation Cookbook in February of this year. Tell us about the inspiration behind this new collection! What prompted you to create this cookbook, specifically?

 

I’ve struggled with health issues for years. From chronic back pain to heartburn to signs of rheumatoid arthritis, I felt sick for 20 years. After trying everything from physical therapy to acupuncture to steroids for my joint and back problems, an allergist pointed out to me that all of these ailments were simply different forms of inflammation in my body. And he’s the one who said, “I know this has to do with what you’re eating.” He was right!

Removing gluten changed my health so dramatically within a week that I felt a need to share it with others. My goal with this book was simple: Help people understand why certain foods are making us feel lousy, then create recipes that are so delicious and good for us that we don’t miss the refined, junky ingredients that dominate the aisles in the grocery store.

 

Give us an idea of what goes into creating a cookbook from the ground up. How would one start the process?

 

It starts with writing a compelling proposal. It’s so much work to write a proposal because you have to state what the book is about, how it will differ from others, write an entire table of contents (including the name of every recipe you’d have), and present 10 of your tested and developed recipes. I joke that if you can make it through that process, you’re ready to be published. But most importantly, it all starts with an idea.

I am convinced that even in the world of cookbooks where it feels like everything has been written, we all have unique ideas to contribute. If you are able to articulate your unique ideas clearly, the chances of seeing your book come to life increases exponentially. That is why when I work on a proposal, I don’t look at any other cookbooks for reference—I want it to be uniquely my own.

…when I work on a proposal, I don’t look at any other cookbooks for reference—I want it to be uniquely my own.

 

Describe a typical day in the life of Amanda:

 

5:00 a.m. – wake up and make coffee
5:15-5:40 – meditate and eat first breakfast
5:45-6:20 – squeeze in a workout of some sort
7:15 – kiss my kids and race out the door to work
8:30 – arrive to work, make second breakfast in the test kitchen
9:00a.m. – 5:30 p.m. – Meetings, tastings, conference calls and LUNCH! Then I take a quick walk with work friends in our Wellness Club, and work some more!
6:45 – Home to eat dinner or cook with my family. Then we do homework, hang out, or watch some show that we’re addicted to like Brooklyn 99, Modern Family, or Survivor.
9:00-9:30 – attempt to read, but usually sound asleep with someone else reading in my bed

I am lucky enough to get out and do fun things for work like trying new restaurants, go to food events, etc., but I limit it to one night a week as much as possible. If I go out two weeknights in a week, I fall out of my routine and can feel out of balance in my personal life.

 

What does Williams-Sonoma look for when bringing people onto their culinary team? How would an applicant stand out?

 

I need so much more than someone who can cook. We are constantly collaborating with different departments and hosting events in our Test Kitchen. I look for cooks who have great communication and time management skills, a dynamic and creative personality, and a desire to think outside the box when performing even the most routine tasks.

An applicant can stand out by having confidence in themselves and their skills as we all have our own signature style of cooking. I love curating a kitchen of cooks in a way that creates an environment where everyone can learn from each other and complement each other’s strengths.

 

Best moment of your career so far?

 

Don’t make me pick!  It comes down to a few:

1.  I had the opportunity to cook for Thomas Keller, one of the world’s most revered chefs and he was kind enough to let me know how much he enjoyed my food. The experience was a turning point for me to learn the “I can accomplish anything I put my mind to” lesson. After cooking for him, I’m ready to cook for the President of the United States and the First Lady! (Seriously, bring it on.)

2.  Seeing my cookbooks in actual stores, and hearing from people that my work has improved their lives in some way. It’s an incredible privilege to be able to help people pursue a healthy lifestyle and I never take that for granted.

3.  Meeting Gayle King and having her like my food was a total “pinch me” moment. I have followed her for so long, and adore her ability to share her real self with people every day. I was super excited when she met with me and my colleagues and sampled some recipes from my new book with her O Magazine team. Shortly after the meeting was over, she reached out to me personally to tell me that she loved my kale salad. I was so flattered I screamed out loud on the side of a New York City sidewalk and immediately invented my new favorite hashtag: #gaylelovedmykale!

You have to believe you have something unique to share with the world.

 

What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?

 

Follow your gut. I knew what I wanted to do with my life at 23, but it took me six years to build the courage to go to culinary school. Then it took me another 10 years to realize that I should be pursuing my passion to the highest degree.

I sat back and worked part-time because I thought I was doing the right thing as a parent, but the minute I jumped back into the work world full-time, all of my dreams started to come true. Now my sons know that Mom is really lucky to have a job she loves, and they talk about loving their work one day like I love mine! I hope it’s a great way for me to model my life for them.

I’d also tell 23-year-old me that confidence is the most important thing, and no one is going to give it to you. You have to believe you have something unique to share with the world.

Amanda Haas is The Everygirl…

Kitchen gadget you can’t live without?
Our Williams-Sonoma fish spatula. Don’t let the name fool you—it’s the perfect tool for ALL kinds of food. It’s thin enough to get under any type of fragile food, but sturdy enough to last for years. It’s silly the amount of joy I get flipping pancakes with our fish spatula. You have to try it!

If you didn’t work in culinary arts, what would you do?
I would pursue dancing professionally. My dream is to be on Dancing with the Stars as I’ve never met a dance floor I didn’t like.

Go-to recipe when entertaining?
I’m a huge fan of making things to serve at room temp, so a bunch of different green salads, grain salads, and vegetable dishes. Bonus points are awarded to any recipe you can make in advance. My go-to menu includes a braised pork shoulder in citrus and spices I serve with pickled onions and guacamole.

Favorite way to unwind?
Watching some funny TV show with my kids or simply cooking!  I love being around others, but when I cook I go into a bit of a zen state and I love it.

If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
Can I invite an entire table’s worth and cook for them? I’d invite Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Amy Schumer, Gayle King, Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, Katie Couric, Suzanne Goin, and Hilary Clinton.  They all embody courage and strength for me for many different reasons.

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