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Orly Jaffe, 47, is the founder of Food Wine Speak, a new speakers’ bureau for food and wine industry professionals. Her roster includes culinary historians, food and wine writers, cookbook authors, restaurateurs, artisan purveyors, vintners and brewers.
J.: You have an interesting Jewish background, so why don’t we start with that?
Orly Jaffe: My mother is a Holocaust survivor. My father’s family moved to Israel from Egypt, but his family was from Turkey and Greece. I had a very diverse home food-wise as a first-generation American. I was the first kid to go school with pita and hummus way before they were popular.
You pursued a career in marketing for high-tech firms before you switched gears to wine and food. What made you change your path?
Even though my first jobs were always in food, I didn’t realize that I had an opportunity to pursue that vocation. The path was not so clear to me, even though that’s where my passion was. But some years ago, I found out firsthand how healing cooking could be, and I created a food blog called Yumivore. I connected with the most amazing community and group of women. A bit later, I realized I was surrounded by wine and knew nothing about the history of wine in California, and this propelled me into learning about it. For me, that meant feeling the grapes and learning how to make wine.
And how did you make that happen?
I started helping out at harvest at Woodside’s Thomas Fogarty Winery and they adopted me. I found friendship and warmth and something so exciting in the cellar. I felt so engaged and alive that I eventually studied with master sommelier David Glancy and was certified a California wine appellation specialist. Later, I was approached about selling the rights to the name Yumivore by someone working with chef Tyler Florence, who wanted the name for his recipe app. I was intrigued and flattered but said I’m not parting with it. It took a lot of negotiation, and finally we came to an agreement. For a food blogger like me to be recognized by someone of that status is beyond heartwarming, it was like a fairy tale. Having that relationship with them gave validation to my passion.
And is that how you ended up starting Food Wine Speak?
I was exploring what do I want to do and had clarity over a sip of sake with a friend in New York. I read constantly, and my topic of choice is often wine history or the culinary arts. I’m so appreciative of culinary and wine professionals and I love connecting with people, so I thought, “What if I worked with food professionals around events and speaking?” I started researching the subject, and while there are a lot of speakers’ bureaus focused on business speakers or motivational speakers, none are home to the food and drink and hospitality community. I thought this was a brilliant opportunity to create one. I want to celebrate people and deliver food for thought and intellectually nourishing talks.
Who are some of the people on your speakers’ roster? Are any of them Jewish?
Of course! San Francisco-based food writer Amy Sherman, Berkeley-based journalist and wine historian Frances Dinkelspiel and Sonoma-based restaurateur Sondra Bernstein are all part of the speakers’ bureau. I have a few people based in Israel, too, like Israeli wine critic Itay Gleitman and Israeli master of wine Eran Pick.
It’s interesting to see how many food industry professionals start in another field before their love of food wins out.
Yes, I started in the tech world, and my path wasn’t always clear, but I knew this was where my heart was taking me. I was in marketing before, working with people and developing business relationships, so this isn’t that different.