When Sarah Marx Feldner (MS ’02) graduated from the University of Wisconsin with her undergraduate degree in Spanish, she had no idea that she was about to embark on a path that would take her through the mountainous terrain of rural Japan to the demanding environment of graduate school and eventually lead her to the dazzling world of cookbook publishing.
Growing up in Wisconsin, Sarah was always interested in other cultures and also had a penchant for cooking, but she didn’t necessarily think these interests could combine to make a viable career path. After obtaining her bachelor’s degree, Sarah continued at UW to complete her certificate for Applied Linguistics, a specialization that offered her the opportunity to travel abroad to teach English for a year. Although she had little experience speaking Japanese, the country’s beauty intrigued her and Sarah decided to take a risk, choosing Iwaki, a seaside town two hours north of Tokyo, as her teaching location.
The nature of the town, along with the fact that Sarah didn’t know a single soul there, forced her to immediately immerse herself in the Japanese language and culture. She soon became fast friends with the owner of one of the town’s restaurants, and while there she helped translate the menu for English speaking visitors and learned the ins and outs of Japanese cooking.
Upon her return to the States, Sarah knew that she wanted a career in the food world, preferably one that would allow her to research various recipes and the cuisine’s cultural background. With this in mind, she decided to pursue a degree in library science and although the admissions board at GSLIS found her application to be a bit unconventional, Sarah’s dedication along with her fascinating interview of the librarian at Oscar Mayer won her admittance to the program.
While at GSLIS, Sarah specialized in culinary collections and food research, and as the first GSLIS student to focus in such an area, she basically had to formulate her own curriculum consisting of traditional library classes and independent studies under the guidance of faculty. She worked on several projects during her graduate studies, including the reorganization of cookbooks in the ACES library and the cataloging of the Urbana Free Library’s cookery collection. She also wrote food reviews for the CU City View, a weekly news and entertainment paper for the Champaign-Urbana area.
After graduation, Sarah went on to work as the associate editor at Cuisine At Home magazine, where she researched foods and cooking methods while developing recipes. After a few years, Sarah decided she wanted to write a book about the cuisine she discovered in Japan and soon left her position to pursue that dream. “I found myself missing Japan and especially missing the food,” Sarah says, “I wanted to show other people what I liked so much about it.”
Sarah will tell you that the recipe for getting a book published is a dash of luck, a lot of work, and a heaping of patience. After leaving her position at Cuisine At Home, Sarah returned to Japan, where she spent four months researching and gathering recipes, a process that put her hard earned library skills to the test. Once back home, she had to attract a publisher, which is as any author can attest to no easy feat, and work with an editor to organize the layout and look of the book. Meanwhile, Sarah was constantly testing and retesting all of the recipes, making certain that the dishes maintained their Japanese authenticity while accommodating Western style kitchens. The process from the beginning of Sarah’s research to the book’s publication date in April 2010 will have taken four and half years to complete.
While working on her book, Sarah also began her current position as senior editor of tasteofhome.com. Although she has a few projects in mind for the future, she plans on taking it easy for a while and perhaps enjoying a few food memoirs or experimenting with some new baking recipes.
Sarah’s book, A Cook’s Journey to Japan, will be published April 10, 2010.