Food as a Connector

Maureen Petrosky on the set of the TODAY show.

Working at a bakery as a young girl, Maureen Petrosky P ’23, ’23 loved using her hands to make delectable treats come to fruition, and observing the joy they brought to her customers. As it turned out, that’s what has inspired her throughout her whole career, and continues to inspire her today.

As an author, food stylist, culinary judge, and TV personality, Maureen seeks to teach people how—simply—they can have a more beautiful life. “Tiny changes—a beautiful recipe, incorporating fresh ingredients into your regular routine, even just rethinking the way you maintain and organize your refrigerator,” explains Maureen. “There are so many simple ways to build a beautiful life around food.”

Despite the early-in-life inspiration that working in the bakery brought to her, Maureen—like so many college students—wasn’t quite sure what direction her career would take. She changed majors a few times, but determined to graduate from Villanova University on time, settled on a degree in Liberal Arts, and landed a job in the pharmaceutical industry upon graduation. A self-professed lifelong learner, however, she soon headed back to school—this time to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).

At CIA, an externship was part of the curriculum, and Maureen quickly landed at the then fledgling Food Network. Maureen worked closely with big-name chefs like Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, and Alton Brown experimenting and developing recipes, and eventually writing scripts and even ghost-writing for some of the network’s stars’ cookbooks.

“I was drawn to the intersection of food and media,” she remembers. “Through that work, I was exposed to so many different types of cuisines in such a short period of time, and I learned so much about working in television.”

After earning her degree from CIA, Maureen landed in Atlanta and learned the restaurant business at Mumbo Jumbo, a downtown hot spot with a modern, eclectic menu where she worked on the line and waited tables. While she never had a real desire to own her own restaurant, she knew it would be important to her career to fully understand that part of the business.

The food industry is enormous and it’s constantly changing, opening many directions to take a career. In Atlanta, she began her television career at CNN. She moved back to New York City and back to the Food Network for a time, then became a contributing editor for Bon Appétit magazine and started appearing on NBC’s TODAY show.

When she became pregnant with twin boys (Chris and Eliot, now George School seniors), Maureen and her husband moved out of the city and she began tailoring her work to fit her lifestyle and family needs.

“As a mom, I want to show my children that I work hard and have a fulfilling career, but I also want to make sure they know that they are my first priority. And that means setting limits with work.”

It’s also important to the Petroskys that their boys see that Maureen and her husband Michael are partners and both contribute to home and family in different ways; neither of them are locked into traditional roles and responsibilities. As an extension of that approach, both boys “know their way around a kitchen” Maureen says.

“They love to eat, and they both are excellent cooks. When they were ten, I got them six-inch kitchen knives for Christmas. My husband turned to me and said, ‘This is going to be a trip to the emergency room. What were you thinking?’ My answer was, ‘It will only be a trip to the ER if they don’t know how to use them.’ So I taught them; and they are both very skilled now.”

“Chris, who tends to be a little bit more adventurous—we have pictures of him eating oysters when he was about four years old—took part in some of the cooking competitions George School held during the pandemic,” Maureen remembers.

So what’s next?

“My new book, Wine Club, will be released this spring, so I’m gearing up for a big launch, which is exciting!”

The idea for the book came to her through her book club. Like many book clubs, each month some members would show up not having read the book at all while others were more committed to the intellectual pursuit.

“Essentially, though, we all just wanted to be together,” she says. Chapters in her book are based on months of the year, and each chapter focuses on a style of wine and food that pairs well with it. It encourages regular social gatherings but provides an educational opportunity too.

“I wrote a version of this book when my boys were little, and I approached it with a chef mentality.” Maureen explains. “The recipes in this edition are much easier because now I get it! It’s written from a more practical perspective for an audience who is working and parenting, and also wants to entertain in their home—it’s a little bit more approachable.

As her boys prepare to transition to college, Maureen is working on a transition as well.

“This year, I am focusing on being more service-oriented in my work,” she says. This is in part inspired by her experience as a George School parent. “We talk about the culture of service that is part of our [George School’s] ethos. I’ve seen my children embrace that, and I also want to embrace that in my career. Over the last few months, I have completely immersed myself in the online networking space and building local groups for creatives that are in the area. We now have a local creative circle that meets monthly, and supports solopreneurs in whatever business they are in. I’m also preparing to teach online courses, sharing my experience and expertise in writing and marketing to professionals looking to develop their own brands and businesses. I’m shifting my thinking to ways I can give back to my professional community,” Maureen shared. “I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished—I’ve had four books published, I’ve been on the TODAY show over one hundred times, and hope to use my experiences to really help others learn that space and how to market themselves.”

She has recently rebranded her company as Punchbowl Media.

“Historically, punchbowls were created to be a place people would come back to,” she explains. “The cups were made tiny on purpose, so that people would return to refill, and that would create a place where people would congregate and connect. Now more than ever, we need real face-to-face connection in our lives.”

“The history behind food and entertainment can be really powerful and empowering,” she says. “It connects us, it creates comfort and joy. It can be an indulgence. It can create solace for people. It is a very emotional space. Everyone has their own connections and stories around food.”