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Food for Thought: A Senior Project Showcasing Philly’s Food Scene

February 07, 2019

Kat Brandel interviewed Marc Vetri '90, a local chef and philanthropist, for an interview for her KatsKrave blog. Photo credit Kris Tookes.
Kat Brandel interviewed Marc Vetri '90, a notable local chef, for an interview for her KatsKrave blog. Photo credit Kris Tookes.

For her senior project, Drexel University student Kat Brandel had to develop a year-long project that showcased all of the skills she had developed at Drexel. Everything else was up to her.  

So, the entertainment and arts management major decided to create KatsKrave (“My name is Kat and I am always craving something good!” she said), a blog and Instagram account incorporating video interviews that she filmed with prominent Philly food experts like Marc Vetri ’90 of Vetri Cucina and other people from local establishments like The Rooster and CHeU Noodle Bar, among others. And, as if creating a platform highlighting the local foodie scene wasn’t enough, she’s also digging deeper into food in Philadelphia by creating a GoFundMe fundraiser to raise money for Philabundance, a local hunger relief organization. To help with her project, the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design student recruited the help of music industry major Kris Tookes (as an audio mixer) and College of Engineering mechanical engineering major Jonah Graciani (as a production assistant).

She talked to DrexelNow about what she’s accomplished so far — and what she has planned for the future.

Q: What made you want to pick this for your senior project?

A: I chose this as my senior project because I wanted to take a risk outside of my comfort zone while still being in a safe space with the support of Drexel’s faculty. I have never worked in video production, I have never interviewed anyone and I am most definitely not a chef. Instead, I focused on my marketing, outreach and development skills and went from there.

This project is essentially a marketing and development project for me. The marketing goes from creating a clean and optimized website to social media management to reaching out to people for PR. It has really helped me have a space to explore marketing options I may not have been able to do under the direction of someone else. I absolutely love the contrasting creative and analytical sides of marketing.

Development wise, I knew from the jump that I wanted to include a fundraiser in this project. As I began to curate posts I realized that there is an incredible amount of people who don’t have the same opportunities as I do. One in five people in Philly are faced with food insecurity. And the food insecurity does not discriminate, it can impact anyone. So I set up a video interview with the communications coordinator from Philabundance, one of the city’s best-known hunger relief organizations, to learn everything I could. From there I set up a GoFundMe account that funnels the money directly to Philabundance. My goal is $350, which may seem small, but it is incredibly ambitious for a new brand/blog that has started just under two months ago. That, of course, loops back to my marketing abilities.

As far as the food blog aspect of things, I have just always loved food and what it can do for a community. It’s beyond just what we eat; it’s a vessel to discover other cultures and perspectives. Moreover, it is a source of entertainment. So I thought it would be a beautiful topic to explore. 

Brandel setting up a camera for an interview for her KatsKrave blog. Photo credit: Kris Tookes.

Q: How do you choose what to write about, or who to interview?

A: I chose places that I either love to eat and feel inspired by or have heard lots of buzz about. I didn’t want to go with just the big, fancy spaces in Center City — I wanted to explore whatever I could with whoever would sit in front of a camera for me.

I found that the culinary community is actually SO open to talking to people about what they do and what their experience is. I just sent a simple email explaining what I was doing, and the response has been so great and welcoming. Every time I leave an interview, my crew and I are blown away by how patient, open and genuine these people are. Chefs are extremely, extremely busy people and they did not hesitate to show us (or feed us) a dish, answer an extra question or give us a tour. It has been nothing but a positive experience.

I would say my only issue, that I am fully aware of, is the lack of diversity in my roster. The men I have interviewed have been nothing shy of perfect interviewees, but I am disappointed that I only have two women lined up. That’s why my interview with Maria Campbell, founder of Cooks Who Care, was so important to me because she really opened up about the inclusivity issues in the food industry. She runs her own YouTube and website, so she shared that she also went through the process of being like, ‘Wait? Why am I only interviewing white men?’ It’s been an eye-opening experience for me to remember how important it is to include all narratives, not just on the diverse of types of food, but people too. 

Q: How do you decide what food or establishments to highlight on your Instagram account? What were some of your favorite posts?

A: The Instagram account is sort of just a fun place to promote what I am doing. I find it a lot easier to funnel followers from that page to the website rather than vice versa. The food I post there is truly just anything I am eating that week, not just places that have agreed to work with me. I’ll be honest on there. If I wasn’t impressed — I will say it! It’s also a great place to stay connected with my followers and other food pages or restaurants.

My favorite is definitely difficult, but if you scroll down enough you’ll find my posts labels “OC Fest” from the Old City Festival this year. I got to try and discover some delicious places like Barry’s Buns, Inspired Brews and Moon Dawg. One of the reasons I label the pictures is so that followers can easily scroll through and know exactly what they’re looking at. It makes finding new places a lot more accessible and it’s definitely faster.

Q: What are some of your favorite dishes and/or places in Philly? Did you have any experience working in the food scene before this project?

A: I LOVE Philly food. A lot of people just associate us with the cheesesteak, but there is so much to learn about the food scene here. Even I have only just scraped the surface.

I’ve only worked as a hostess, but it made me really appreciate the service aspect of a restaurant. I wrote about my experience at Double Knot and that was a fantastic experience. The service was lovely, the food was extraordinary and the ambiance was unforgettable. It is expensive, but I always tell people that if they’re going to splurge on a dinner that is absolutely the place to go.

I also loved my interview with Thirsty Dice. The concept of a board game cafe opening up in Philly got me so excited. I went once as a KatsKrave interviewer and once as a regular patron. Both times I was blown away by not only their selection and quality of food, but also the care they put into making sure you have a memorable experience.

Q: What have you learned from this project so far?

A: Besides the standard marketing and development practice, I’ve learned how to be resourceful. I don’t know anything about video production or editing or the depths of the food industry. I’ve become way more comfortable with reaching out to friends, faculty or culinary professionals and just explaining my ideas and asking for advice. You find that people are really excited to help you learn and achieve things.

I have been working on this project since September and it will be going until April. Most of the fall was just doing outreach, research and networking so now I’m doing a lot of the fun stuff like editing, interviewing and, of course, eating. After it’s all over I hope to keep KatsKrave around, maybe in the form of a YouTube channel.

Q: How does this project relate to your co-ops and/or classes — and/or what you want to do (or will be doing) after graduation?

A: All my co-ops and internships have been either related to marketing and development. I love doing both so I think that’s why I wanted to bring them together for this project. I plan on working in marketing when I graduate, hopefully staying within the entertainment world (or food).

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