Communications Film

Fearless Foodies: Two Meadows Alums Start an Edible Movement

Photo by Meadows alum Claire McCormack Hogan
Meadows alum Claire McCormack Hogan started a new passion project after graduation: Food photography

For Meadows alums Jennie Kelley and Claire McCormack Hogan, working with food was the beginning of a new movement.

Both alums left Meadows with a trajectory in mind, then adapted their majors into intriguing, and now buzzing, careers in the food industry. MPRINT checked in with the alums to talk about what paths led them to food, how they handled post-college challenges and how Meadows inspired them along the way.

Courtesy Jennie Kelley
Jennie Kelley (B.A. Film ’96) is the creator and co-chef of FRANK, an underground restaurant – Photo Benjamin Gibson Photography

JENNIE KELLEY (B.A. Film ’96) is a food stylist in Dallas, a MasterChef Season 2 finalist, a founding member of the popular symphonic choral group The Polyphonic Spree and creator and co-chef of FRANK, the underground restaurant.

I got the culinary bug from years of traveling around the globe with my band and musical ensemble, The Polyphonic Spree. I would be in random places, from Japan to San Francisco, and research the best places to eat. At first, it was because I loved food and thought, “When am I going to be back here? I better try this now!” Then, I felt inspiration from those chefs. I would go home and try to recreate my favorite dishes from the road for my friends at home.

Later I researched alternative restaurants and discovered the Underground Restaurant movement. I read the book Secret Suppers by Jenn Tracy Garbee and knew I wanted to bring that concept to Dallas. It wasn’t until after I was on MasterChef and met my then-competitor, now chef and partner, Ben Starr, that it became a reality with FRANK.

At FRANK, we do themed dinners, and one of my favorites was “Godfather Frank.” I researched, exhaustively, all of the food in the Francis Ford Coppola film, including the food’s history and the history of the dishes from Corleone, Sicily. It was inspiring to combine my film major with my most recent creative outlet, and cook and devise the menus based on this inspiration.

I loved my training at SMU. I’ve always loved learning, and it truly is a wonderful institution that fosters that love. It’s amazing when I think back on how small and intimate my classes were. I have the fondest memories of classes with Professor Alessandra Comini in art history and Professor Rick Worland in film. At the end of the day, Meadows instills a realization: If you have a fulfilled life, you will always be learning. That realization has made its way into my love of cooking. Also, Meadows inspired uniqueness and creativity. I’m a food stylist for photo shoots and commercials, and I think both my film and art history training helped hone my design and visual eye.

CLAIRE McCORMACK HOGAN (B.A. Corporate Communications & Public Affairs And Minor In Studio Art ’09) is a Dallas-based commercial food photographer whose numerous clients have included FIJI Water, Superbowl XLV, The Ritz Carlton, Stephan Pyles, The Perot Museum, American Way magazine and Southern Living.

Claire McCormack Hogan (B.A. Corporate Communications & Public Affairs And Minor In Studio Art ’09) turned her focus to a new passion project: Food photography
Claire McCormack Hogan (B.A. Corporate Communications & Public Affairs And Minor In Studio Art ’09) turned her focus to a new passion project: Food photography

After graduation I went in search of work I could feel passionate about. I did anything creative I could, from blogging to design work to painting closets, and then began shooting commercial photography jobs around town. In April 2013, I jumped into the market of food photography. I always loved working with creatives in the food world. It’s been over five years since I launched Claire McCormack Photography, and I’ve loved the challenges, the growth and the things I’ve experienced because of this company.

In the very beginning, I’d practice shooting foods that I created. Without the pressure of a kitchen or a restaurant waiting on me, I could learn to see all of the angles. I could learn how to plate something and how to get a good perspective. Then I went out into the field. I’d walk into restaurants and ask if they’d let me photograph their plates of food. I’d trade them their time for images. You just have to start somewhere. For me, I had to get over the fear of being told “no.” You have to know you’ll be turned down at some point, and there will always be images that may not work. But along the way, I built relationships with people, and those first relationships became some of my first clients. The fear lessened.

I’m grateful for my SMU training in communications and public relations, because I learned to write and I’m able to articulate myself better as an artist. Writing has been a big part of my photography story. With each photo shoot I do, I blog and I try to tell the story of my clients and their passion. I believe I honed my voice at SMU and grew as a person to be able to go out and confidently write my stories.

I’m thankful for SMU, for the professors like Rita Kirk and Nina Flournoy, who helped me find my voice. They never stopped challenging me and believing in me.

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By Nick Rallo