Turning Your Private Passion into a Career

Something you’re doing right now—it might even be a hobby—could lead to a whole new job. Here, two women who made it happen

by Jennifer Jeanne Patterson
barrie lynn krich image
Barrie Lynn Krich, shown here with 180-pound wheels of Emmentaler made by Edelweiss Creamery, an artisanal cheese company in Wisconsin.
Photograph: Photographed by Sarah Wilson

Barrie Lynn Krich
From: Advertising executive
To: Cheese expert
Turning point: She attended a wine-and-cheese tasting

As an account manager for a Los Angeles advertising firm, Barrie Lynn Krich enjoyed a generous entertainment allowance and often took her clients out to dinner. One afternoon in spring 2004, she invited a client to a wine-and-cheese tasting at a restaurant. “I liked cheese,” says Krich. “I loved cooking and having friends over, and I’d serve cheese, although not with passion.” But at the tasting, she says, “my whole world shifted.” Krich sampled a Wisconsin raw cow’s milk cheese called Pleasant Ridge Reserve, produced only during the warm months, when the cows feast on lush pasture, and it was “as if Cupid’s arrow came out of the sky and hit me,” she says. “The cheese had a deep, ultra-complex, meaty flavor, and it almost melted in my mouth. It was amazing paired with wine.” Krich tried all the samples and sat riveted as the instructor talked about the cows, the goats and the land on which the animals grazed. “I thought, These family cheese makers care so much,” she says. “I wanted to learn everything I could about them and their cheeses. The event was a visceral, emotional experience—like falling in love with a man.”

Over the next two years, Krich, now 65, read every cheese book she could lay her hands on. She took classes at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. She invited friends to her apartment for cheese fondue or barbecued cheese or macaroni and cheese. And she read to them from her cheese books. One night, to test how much she’d learned, she invited 23 friends to a tasting on the rooftop of her apartment building. Under the stars, she gave a little talk about the cheeses—where they came from, how they got their flavors and when it was OK to eat the rind. “I developed an act, and I was funny,” she says. She began staging seminars for small groups of friends and contacts in the advertising and public relations world. She paid for the cheese and wine out of her own pocket. “I wanted to help cheese makers and artisanal cheeses reach a wider audience,” she says. “But it was all just a hobby, a way to explore and share the joy.”

Then, as the 2006 Academy Awards neared, Krich saw an opportunity to make a bigger statement: The Academy gives every Oscar presenter and nominee an official gift bag. Calling herself the Cheese Impresario (thecheeseimpresario.com), Krich offered the Academy gift certificates for wine-and-cheese tasting events, each valued at $1,200, for inclusion in its bags. Through her friends in the public relations business, Krich found wine and cheese companies willing to donate their products. When the Academy phoned to say her certificate was among the goodies chosen for the giveaway, she was shocked—and even more shocked when the press started mentioning her gift a few days before the awards. “I knew as a marketer how difficult it was for a product to get noticed,” she says. She decided right then, before the Oscars aired, that she’d try to make a living from her passion. In 2005, without a plan, Krich quit her advertising career of 30 years. “I’d saved a little money,” she says, “and figured the worst that could happen was that I’d have to get a couple of jobs—weekends, nights—to recover. But my dad was angry. He said, ‘What are you going to do? Give out cheese samples at Costco?’ I said, ‘No, Dad, for the first time in my life I’m going to follow my passion and see what I can do.’ ”

After the Academy Awards, Krich tracked down the rap group Three 6 Mafia, winners in the Best Original Song category, and they agreed to redeem their certificate. Then she pitched the event to Variety, which covered it. About 25 more certificates were redeemed, including the one belonging to Mira Sorvino, who wanted a wine-and-cheese tasting adventure at her baby shower.

Was it tough to start her business at the celeb level? “I’m not afraid of celebrities,” says Krich. “I treat them like regular people. I talk to them honestly, and they love that. Nobody talks to them honestly.” To extend her network, Krich again partnered with her friends in the wine and cheese industries to donate fund-raising events to her favorite charities. Soon corporations and individuals were paying her to do gigs at parties, weddings, wineries and conventions. She set her rates at $60 per person for fewer than 50 guests and $40 per person for 50 or more.

In 2011, Krich married and moved to St. Louis, where her husband lives. Today she travels around the country to speak and host tastings at events like the Ministry of Rum Festival in Chicago, the Wisconsin Cheese Originals Festival and LAWineFest. She does presentations at about six events a month, for groups ranging in size from 10 to 1,500. She occasionally writes a cheese column for The Beverly Hills Times, and she has created a series of 23 Internet TV shows about cheese (smallscreennetwork.com/cheeserules). She earns about half her old income, and the lack of job security sometimes keeps her awake at night. “But I’ve found this whole new part of myself,” she says. “I really like her. She’s fun.”

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Melissa Nicastro
From: Patient advocate
To: Photographer
Turning point: She took snapshots of her friend’s twins

Working out of Gloucester, Massachusetts, Melissa Nicastro snaps photos of beautiful, timeless moments: a bride and groom embracing in front of an elegant stone fountain; a cluster of bridesmaids swathed in satin, strolling down wooded paths; tuxedo-clad gentlemen raising toasts in mahogany-paneled billiard rooms. “The scenes sometimes remind me of a Regency novel,” says Nicastro, 39. But it’s the intimate moments that inspire her most. “I love watching couples in love, seeing that connection between two people,” she says. “I think I’ve become a sap!”

Eight years ago, Nicastro spent most of her time as a patient-care facilitator at a lung cancer center, a job that was upsetting. “One day they’d be talking to me and laughing. The next day I would get an e-mail saying they’d passed,” she says. Often she left her office crying. In April 2005, needing a break, she flew to Minneapolis to visit her childhood friend Rebecca Bell Sorensen. Nicastro began taking photos of Sorensen’s five-month-old twins with her point-and-shoot camera. “I always had my camera with me, and I was just snapping, snapping and getting such a rush from capturing their relationship,” she says. She caught them as they slept side by side in a baby jogger, draped in a blanket, their chubby legs and tiny feet sticking out. She visited again later that year, this time with an upgraded camera, a Sony SLR with a much faster shutter speed. On that trip, Sorensen marveled at how Nicastro seemed to anticipate which intimate exchanges best captured her twins’ interaction. “She saw little things that brought them together: the way they experienced something new to eat or cared for their baby dolls,” says Sorensen. “She has a true gift for telling stories with her camera.”

Back in Gloucester, to escape the sadness of her work, Nicastro began taking pictures of other friends’ babies. Yet her day job continued to weigh on her. “I felt myself shutting down emotionally,” she says. At a St. Patrick’s Day party in 2007, a friend commented on how depressed she seemed, and asked her what her dream job was. Without hesitating, Nicastro blurted, “A photographer.”

“What’s stopping you?” he asked.

“I can’t just be a photographer,” she replied.

“Well, you go to school first,” he said.

“It was a duh moment,” she says. “I hadn’t thought of that.” Suddenly her dream seemed possible. In June that year, she became a part-time student at the Center for Digital Imaging Arts at Boston University, and in August she quit her job. To cover tuition, equipment and books, she took out a loan for $20,000, pulled $15,000 from her savings and found part-time work at a mall studio, photographing children in their Halloween costumes. “It was chaos,” she says. “Moms would be screaming ‘Smile, Jimmy, smile!’ and Jimmy would be crying, and I’d feel this pressure because I couldn’t get the photo I wanted.” She found another job as a second shooter for a wedding photographer, earning $25 an hour, and started building her portfolio. At her first assignment, a winter wedding, “I was so nervous, I felt sick to my stomach,” she says. “But the minute I started clicking my camera, I felt like I was at home, in my zone.”

Nicastro graduated in 2009 and continued working as a second shooter for multiple wedding photographers. “I just loved being a part of the celebrations,” she says. “But I was dragging my heels about taking the real leap and breaking off on my own. I was afraid of failing.”

That changed in August 2009 when her brother’s friend’s wedding photographer vanished with the deposit. Nicastro agreed to step in. She took photographs of the bride dressing at her bridesmaid’s parents’ home overlooking the Atlantic, then followed the group to Stage Fort Park, in Gloucester, for the ceremony. Afterward, Nicastro led the bridal party down to Half Moon Beach. While there, she switched cameras to use her wide-angle lens, setting the other camera, containing 788 pictures, on a rock. “When I turned around, it was gone,” she says. “I continued photographing the rest of the wedding, but I felt like this was the end of the world, knowing I was going to reimburse the couple and apologize profusely.” She told no one what had happened except her mother, who went back to the beach to look for the camera. When she couldn’t find it, she buried her face in her hands and began praying. A homeless woman approached her and asked, “Are you looking for this?” The woman handed her the camera she’d stolen, saying she’d fallen on hard times. Nicastro’s mother gave her $40. That evening, Nicastro discovered that the thief had discarded the flash card that held the photos. She and her mother returned to the beach three times the following day to look for it—and on the third visit, they found it lying near the rock where Nicastro had left the camera. “I was shaking with relief and started crying,” says Nicastro. “So did my mom.”

Later, as Nicastro uploaded the photos to her computer, she was struck by how beautiful the images were. “I felt there’s a higher being, that there’s a reason this happened,” she says, “and that if I can get through this as a photographer, I can get through anything.”

The next day she made plans to start her own business. She bought ad space on the wedding website The Knot. For $500 a month, her ad would regularly appear online and in the site’s quarterly print magazine. “I knew I had to get my name out there,” she says.

Today, Nicastro earns $60,000 to $65,000 a year as a photographer. During her busy season, April to November, she photographs 15 to 20 weddings and charges $2,750 to $5,000 for her packages. During the off-season, she shoots family portraits and engagement and birthday parties. As her experience has grown, she’s become more assertive. “Recently a maid of honor was dictating how she felt the bridal party should be posed,” says Nicastro. “I took a few shots to appease her, but I stuck with my own ideas. A few years ago, I would have felt intimidated, but now I’m confident I can handle these situations in a diplomatic way.”

The sadness she once felt is gone. Her outlook on life has become positive. “I’m not married, and I always had this feeling it might not ever be in the cards for me,” she says. “Being a wedding photographer has ­given me the hope that true love does exist. I have this sense of peace that if it happens, it’ll be wonderful, and if it doesn’t, I’ll be OK, because I’m so fulfilled with my career, my friends and family.”  

Jennifer Jeanne Patterson is the author of 52 Flights: A Newlywed's Confession.

Next: When the World Says No to Your Invention

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First Published Fri, 2013-02-01 13:04

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