Activating the best of you!

Dear Readers,

Laurie Figone, a lifelong Sonoma/Marin resident has a career that’s taken her to Scotland where she won a Porridge Championship, to appearances on major TV talk shows and reality shows, to winning a cook-off show in LA. Our local Laurie has worked with: Giada, Emerill, and Ray Lampe, Dr. Barbeque.

I met Laurie at Wine Country Barbeque at the Petaluma Fairgrounds where I had the pleasure of tasting her Fingerlickin’ Ribs.
I kept her card, and recently followed up to share her career story with you.
Laurie, what exactly do you do as a celebrity chef?
Joan, my work is multi-faceted:
– recipe developer
-brand ambassador
– TV personality
– cookbook author
– cook off competitor
-food judge
Laurie is a self-described  cookaholic.   She’s been involved in all aspects of the world of cooking since growing up on a ranch in Novato. Her family used everything from their garden, orchards and fields, including foraging for mushrooms in the hills. She took a hobby and went professional with it at the prompting of friends and family. One thing led to the next. “It’s not a typical 9-5 job. One day I’m developing a recipe, and the next day I am a judge at a cooking competition.”  Laurie is comfortable on both sides of the stove.
For three years she was the featured chef on KTVU TV, Oakland. She had enjoyed free rein and loved developing creative recipes using local ingredients. “I love using and promoting our fine local deliciousness, from local cheeses to meats, eggs, produce, even local beer and wine.”
Laurie was the featured chef at the Sonoma County Fair for three years doing several demonstrations a day and inviting local growers on to the stage with her. She loved connecting with the local community.
“I think myself as a real pioneer, cooking and eating seasonally since the 1960s.  In those days most Americans were eating out of cans and preparing frozen dinners.”
When Laurie enters big competitions, such as the World Food Championships, she competes with home cooks and professionals from all over the world.
In 2014 she was the world dessert champion with her King Cake meets Banana Fosters meets Pecan Praline. With the competition in Las Vegas she actually had duck eggs flown in from Petaluma! (She is a stickler for using the best possible ingredients) She won the top prize of $10,000!
What are the most rewarding aspects of your celebrity chef career?
I love to share my love of cooking with others. I love seeing my first cookbook in print, and getting feedback from readers who are successful with the recipes.  I love teaching myself new techniques and combining ingredients in innovative  ways. And I adore the adrenaline flow that comes with being in the competitions.
What are some of the challenges of your profession?
It feels great when you’re a winner of thousands of dollars, but oftentimes the expense of competing can eat up much of the winnings.
It’s a career that has its highs and lows and it is very physically demanding. This career involved a lot of travel which can be stressful to family life.  And it can involve cut-throat competition.
How would one follow in your footsteps?
There are several roads to getting here. Mine was a unique and personal journey that didn’t involve special schools or certificates.
I was born into the opportunity (on the farm) and had encouraging parents. I called the kitchen my playground, and clearly have keen passion for food and cooking.
Some people go directly to culinary schools like the Culinary Institute of Napa, or  start out with cooking classes at Santa Rosa Junior College.
It  is a career that takes tremendous passion, talent and a stomach for very hard work, determination and little guaranteed income.
For readers interested in finding food competitions go to the web site:
What is your personal philosophy or approach to being a celebrity chef?
Laurie’s mantra is  ‘What do I have to lose? I have everything to gain and nothing to lose’
She loves preparing dishes and watching people enjoy eating them…even if they are not contest-winning recipes. Her family and neighbors have been her tasters.
Important to know, too, is that to  win a competition your food needs to taste great and look great. Some dishes don’t look so great but they are fantastic to eat. Laurie learned the hard way that they have to be the best in both dimensions to win. Food for the eyes and for the mouth.
I am a strong supporter of  local growers. Their products taste the best. We are so fortunate to live in a place with such natural bounty!
Laurie is clearly a unique combination of entrepreneur and performer, with a foundational love of food and cooking. You can learn more about her at
Onward in the career of celebrity chef,
Coach Joan

Dean Katzung, a Healdsburg-based winemaker says, “There’s true magic in winemaking. Each year we create something that didn’t exist before, and each harvest year is different. There’s both art and science in winemaking, and many decisions to make along the way. Winemaking is my occupation and recreation.”

Dear Readers,

I thought you’d find it interesting to learn about locals in our community involved in various careers. We’ll cover what the career entails, the rewards and challenges, and how to get into the field.  Living in wine country, I’m starting with a focus on winemaking and meet with a local winemaker, Dean Katzung.

What’s involved in the career of winemaking, Dean?

To be a good winemaker you need a good palate to be able to evaluate grapes and wine at all stages.  You need analytical, scientific,  and problem-solving skills – there will be problems along the way.  Above all, you need a genuine interest in wine. That’s what spurs your curiosity to keep thinking, learning and growing as a winemaker.

You have to really love it.  I know for me, most every vacation my family takes involves visiting wineries. I’d say that winemaking is both my occupation and recreation.  I love getting outdoors, working in a team, and reacting to changing conditions.

How did you become a winemaker?

I’ve always loved science and followed that path through my doctorate in biochemistry. But pure science and research weren’t enough. I needed something more tangible. Being a Wisconsin native, I was lucky to join the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewery as a brewer  and found it a rewarding form of biochemistry. But for someone with a science background, brewing proved to be more science (especially engineering) than art.

I moved west to winemaking because it has seasonality to it, and winemakers make countless decisions throughout a vintage to make the best wine they can. The harvest period, roughly Labor Day to Halloween, is high-intensity time. We work closely with our vineyard managers and operations team to find the optimum time to pick each of our vineyards.  Winemaking is a team process.  With smaller wineries, it can be a team of 2-3 and with larger wineries it can be a team of 10, 20 or more.  The team needs to work well together. They need to have the talent, and a balance of artisanal flair and scientific rigor, plus a kind of human chemistry to make the magic come together.

What credentials, skills and background are needed to become a winemaker?

There are typically two tracks. First, people who go straight to college to earn a Bachelor’s and or Master’s in Enology (the study of winemaking).  Schools such as UC Davis, Fresno State and  Cal Poly offer programs in Enology. Many of these students are legacy people who grow up in winemaking or farm families.

I followed the other track, which is to come to winemaking from another career.  Often, they end up at a school like Davis, too, just later in life.  But there are other ways to get into a winery, such as diving in as seasonal help.

How would one become a winemaker, say mid-career?

Our Santa Rosa Junior College offers classes in grape growing, cellar operations, basic winemaking and sensory training (developing your palette). With that training, you can often get your foot in the door through a seasonal job at a winery. You’d need to prove yourself to advance to a secure position. Once in the field, there is always opportunity for proven talent.

Are there downsides to being a winemaker?

Purple teeth! Winemaking is not all glitz and glamour. As with most other professions, we deal with spreadsheets, too, and lots of logistics.

Anything you’d like to add, Dean?

My philosophy after 20 years of California winemaking and visiting some of the most traditional and respected wine regions in Europe is  I like the dichotomy of celebrating the good and traditional ways, and being open to innovation for improvements. There is a time and place for both in winemaking. We need to capture and celebrate the innate goodness in the grapes,  and also be open to  improvement. Again, a dichotomy that requires both experience and good judgement.


Thank you, Dean. Perhaps others in our community are now inspired to look into the fascinating career of winemaking.

Coach Joan

PS- Readers, if you have interest in learning about a specific career, please write to me at [email protected]

Dear Readers,

Clients often come to me with many aspirations. They want to have a challenging and satisfying career. They want to have a positive impact on the world. They want to help others, and they want to make a good income. They want to have career and life balance. They want professional growth and development. Often they want to travel the world. Most of them want to have a family. And oh yes, they want to own a home. A nice home.

I love that enthusiasm! And I do believe they can have it all (with very hard work, naturally!) but just not all at once.

And therein lies the rub. How do you parse what what to do when, and which motivation and value to follow when? That is the tough part.

Let’s begin with breaking it down to key motivations and key drivers or values. Then, let’s see the skills involved in getting there. Then, let’s see the needs one has in one’s life cycle. That is key. Because it is often difficult, for example,  to match altruism and the financial backing needed to buy a home and raise a family.

But the fundamental truth I want to impart is this:

You can have it all, only not all at once and not always on the terms you might imagine.

The best way to look at this balancing act of aspirations is to follow someone’s real career.

Mary came to me with a bachelor’s and nursing degree wanting to get a job at a top hospital in San Francisco and see the world. She also wanted to work on her master’s in nursing, and save to buy a home (yes, in pricey SF). She had multiple goals. She also wanted to have a family and stay home with her children for at least a few years.

I suggested we map out a plan for her.

First goal, within the next 3 months was to secure a nursing job in SF. We updated her resume and Linkedin profile, had her research to find available nursing jobs and put her job search first. I advised her not to talk about her further aspirations in the job interview, but focus on the skills, credentials and desire she had to be a nurse and fulfill the requirements as posted in the job. At the three month mark she got her job!

Then, her plan was to give herself a few months to adjust to the new position and do a fine job. Once that happened she looked into the training and development programs the hospital offered and started taking some classes.

After a year, she looked into a master’s program in nursing.

And the last I spoke with her, now 5 years out, she has her master’s and is looking to work overseas. She has postponed her plan for house purchase for another 5 years as working overseas is a priority. She also realizes that San Francisco is a very, very expensive city and she will look to relocate to a less expensive area when it’s time to look toward home purchase. Mary has now met her life partner and realizes that she’d like to take time off from work to raise children. She and her partner have decided to move to a less expensive part of the country as they can’t have the lifestyle they’d want in an expensive city. And they are researching where to move and have already saving for their next stage of life.

Now it’s your turn to plan:

  1. List your aspirations. Identify the skills, credentials and resources needed for each one.
  2. Make a life achievement plan. Yes, it might change but anticipate year to year what you’d like to achieve and how you can make it happen
  3. Be open to change and compromise. Like Mary realizing SF is too expensive a place for her to have the kind of home she’d like.
  4. Balance out enjoyment of today with goal attainment for tomorrow. Life goes quickly.

Most highly successful people do put together life plans. They realistically consider their goals and map out their steps over time. They are open to compromise, changes and sacrifices today, for reaching tomorrow’s goals.

Remember, you can have it all, just not all at the same time.

Onward in your career and life success,                                                                                           Coach Joan