With all the Right Elements, Samantha Gilliams ’18

Builds Worlds Around Food

Samantha Gilliams knows a thing or two about ingredients. She’s combined a background in anthropology and communications with culinary expertise and holistic business skills to “whip up” a unique career in the food industry.

Gilliams grew up in Los Angeles, where her father shaped her appreciation for food. A talented self-taught cook, he experimented with different cuisines and sourced quality ingredients. After high school, Gilliams was unsure of what she wanted to study–but she was certain that she wanted to explore the world. Attending AUP became a crucial part of making that happen.

While at AUP, Gillams enrolled in an introductory course in anthropology and became hooked. “It was all due to Christy,” she says of AUP Associate Professor of Global Communications Christy Shields. Gilliams studied communications but focused on anthropology–in particular, food. This path led her to collaborate with Shields and fellow students Lelya Halabi and Zoë Zissovici on a documentary, Whole Taste, that explores the sensorial experience and sustainable food systems involved in the production of France’s Comté cheese. The film was a finalist in the AgriCulture Film Festival in Rome in 2017 and New York City’s Food Film Fest in 2018.

After college and several internships in Paris, Gilliams returned to the U.S. and began working in wine. However, her passion for food drew her back to France for culinary school. She earned a diploma–and perfected her French–at the world-renowned École Ducasse, which provided her with the training and network to help her secure formative restaurant jobs at two Michelin restaurants.

While I had a love of food, my passion was behind the fact that I was working with nature and was able to connect with the elements.

Samantha Gilliams ’18

Throughout her career, Gilliams has treasured France's exceptional and rare ingredients, such as foraged mushrooms. “Quality is important because it’s what French cuisine is. Without quality ingredients, it’s not France.” Cooking in high-pressure kitchens, she realized that her interest was less in the restaurant environment, than in something more essential. “While I had a love of food, my passion was behind the fact that I was working with nature and was able to connect with the elements.”

Gilliams blended her expertise in ingredients and culinary arts with her anthropological background in her next position at Studio Carbon, an agency specializing in concept, design, and strategy in the restaurant industry. Here, she played a pivotal role in the successful launch of two new restaurants in Paris and in the reimagining of a third. In this fast-paced, autonomous position, she contributed to every aspect, from conceptualizing interior designs to crafting menus and refining branding strategies. Gilliams quickly took on and adapted to management responsibilities, broadening her skill set and gaining invaluable industry insights.

Studio Carbon served as an excellent stepping stone to her current position at Balbosté, a culinary production studio creating bespoke immersive experiences for luxury brands, such as Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Miu Miu, Chloé, and Dior, to name a few. As Project Manager, she is the key actor in myriad logistics and creative endeavors. “I’m in contact with almost every single person who takes part in our projects,” she says. In Balbosté’s elaborate productions, this means a host of artists and designers. And in terms of the kitchen, “I'm there for every single brief. I get to taste the menu and give my opinion.”

The results are whimsical, but masterful. Gilliams describes the agency as adventurous and playful. “We’re very playful. There’s a lot of graphics and color. We create a universe for the brand’s dining aspect.” Her team is also ambitious. “What we come up with, most people would say, is not possible, and then the next second, we’ve made it happen. The best feeling is when I’m at an event and realize that everyone has what they need to do their job. I know I did my work right, and everyone can work smoothly.”

When not building worlds around food, Gilliams practices yoga and cooks for herself and her friends. “On my way home there’s this little farmer’s market where I can buy direct from producers and get great ingredients,” she adds. She certainly knows what to do with them.