What It's Like: Stories From Hospitality
Career Makeover: The Journey From TV Makeup Artist to Pastry Chef
April 11, 2023
Bradford Knight established himself as an in-demand TV makeup artist until the pandemic inspired him to run toward an industry many others were fleeing.
When Bradford Knight was in culinary school, he fit more into a typical day than most people do into a week. Every morning he was up by 4:30 a.m., going about his routine the same way he does everything in his life: with an easy, confident precision and a smile.
From his apartment in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, Bradford would head downtown to the studios of the NFL Network, where he worked his day job as the lead makeup artist for Good Morning Football, the network’s morning show. When that job wrapped around 11 a.m., he went across the street to class at the Institute of Culinary Education, where he would completely switch gears — from showbiz to cuisine, from the studio to the kitchen. For the next few hours, Bradford would throw himself into the craft, humbly approaching it as a student, until it was time to go home around 7 p.m.
“Get home at eight, rinse, and repeat,” he laughs today.
It is that attitude — positive, grateful, disciplined — that Bradford is counting on as he makes the career leap from the top of the TV production world into the culinary grind. He knows it will be a challenge. He understands the learning curve ahead of him. But he’s ready to take on the demands of chef life, even as he sees many people who only ever knew that life running in the other direction.
A connection to family
Before Bradford Knight knew anything about makeup, he knew about cooking. “I come from a big extended family,” he told BentoBox. “Every birthday and holiday and celebration, we feast. Everyone was always in the kitchen.” But growing up, food never interested him as a career. Fashion did.
“Every birthday and holiday and celebration, we feast.”
A job at MAC Cosmetics after college was his introduction to the world of makeup. He rose through the company’s ranks for eleven years before making the leap to television. “I didn’t know where I was going,” he recalls. “It was always a series of yeses that got me here.”
By 2017, Bradford was very close to the top of the beauty profession. He’d been working in TV for nearly a decade and regularly did makeup for celebrities, fashion shows, and countless red carpets.
After a contract with Estée Lauder had him leading makeup workshops around the world, he realized he’d come as far as he could.
“I remember getting off the plane and thinking, ‘Where else in the world can I go with this? I don't know if there’s another aspect of the beauty world that would make my career any better.’” That day, he posed himself a question that would take a few years to answer: What else makes me as happy as makeup?
The answer came five years later, during COVID, when he finally had time to pause and reflect. Right as a huge number of people in food were doing the same thing.
Stepping into the fire
It’s common for people from outside hospitality to enter the business by joining an investor group or trying their hand at management. Far less common is for a professional at the top of a competitive industry like beauty to switch careers and enter the kitchen.
If anything, the demands and deprivations of culinary life typically send people the other way. “I wouldn't think about leaving your position,” one commenter wrote on a Reddit thread called Career Change Into Culinary. “Less pay, worse hours and extremely toxic work environments.”
One effect of the pandemic was to force restaurants to finally confront those toxic environments, given that for years after opening, almost no amount of pay was able to lure workers back. “Looking back, COVID got a lot of us off the hamster wheel,” chef Sasha Grumman told BentoBox about her decision to leave restaurant life. “I was at my breaking point.”
At the prospect of entering a world this demanding, Bradford Knight remains undaunted. “Since I’ve decided to make this leap, people have told me, ‘You’re going into this highly stressful environment.’ And my answer to them is that I don’t fear a fast pace. I don’t have a fear of failure or criticism or learning.”
What it takes
Bradford’s current schedule suggests that he is, in fact, made of the rare stuff that thrives in the face of challenge. Just weeks away from culinary school graduation, Bradford is still stacking two full workdays on top of one another: first at the NFL Network, then in the kitchen of Times Square’s Hunt & Fish Club, where he’s been following his passion for pastry under the tutelage of Executive Pastry Chef Vicki Wells. The two lines of work are not entirely different.
Working under Executive Pastry Chef Vicki Wells
“Both pastry and makeup are methodical. That’s what I like about baking: You have to read the recipe. You have to precisely adhere to the right order of operations.
“It’s similar to how I would develop a makeup look. When someone sits in my chair, I love looking at their face, listening to what they're telling me they want to look and feel like, and using my skill to get that result. It's the same way with pastry. I'm a person who likes to know how things function and work, and I think that's what I really love about both beauty and food.”
But a proclivity for precision alone isn’t enough to keep Bradford on the path to success. In this life transition, he’s bringing with him a few key traits he’s carried with him his entire career.
For one, Bradford is accustomed to high-pressure situations. Doing makeup for celebrities and on-air personalities is no joyride. It is a highly collaborative, technical kind of work.
“As a makeup artist, you’re responsible for how your talent feels when they broadcast themselves to millions of people. You're trying to balance the aesthetics you want to project with the talent’s idea of what they should look like — and then please a bigger production as well. So it's a lot of pressure every day. You're working at a fast pace. It feels almost like a kitchen. And we deal with all the things that come with high stress, whether it's raised voices, emotional breakdowns, egos. You can feel a little beat up.”
But Bradford isn’t intimidated by environments like that. One of the benefits of transitioning into the kitchen after working for years as a professional is that he knows how to work, and how he wants to be worked with.
It’s a self-respect many kitchen employees could take inspiration from.
“I don't fear taking criticism, but I also don't have a fear of telling someone how they're going to treat me. I understand human beings are fallible, that they’ll sometimes lose patience. But I feel confident enough as a professional to say, ‘Listen, I will take any feedback that you want to give me. I welcome it. You will treat me like an adult. This is how we can communicate in a better way.’”
Completing the transition
So far, Bradford Knight’s culinary career has developed in nurturing settings. He enjoyed his tenure and the people he met at ICE, and he glows with praise for his present mentor, Executive Pastry Chef Vicki Wells.
“Vicki is a collaborative person. I’m very fortunate to be learning under her. When she’s working on new desserts she asks for my input similar to the way I ask the talent questions each morning: How do you feel today? What are you wearing? What do you want to project? There’s a lot of collaboration that happens. The food and beauty industries really aren’t so far apart.”
But restaurant kitchens are not always nurturing, as a generation of self-exiled chefs could tell you. Not every job that awaits Bradford will be as supportive. But he is fearless. At the end of the day, there’s one thing Bradford Knight knows how to do: His job, with skill and a smile.
“I think the chefs I've worked with understand, Hey, this person is a professional,” Bradford says of the prospect of earning respect in the kitchen. “He's going to be here on time, at his station. We don't have to worry about him.
“I tell everyone: I've been a professional already. I’m new to food, but I'm not new to work.”
Which is, of course, an understatement. While Bradford continues his transition away from makeup and towards food, he might be one of the only people in the industry whose schedule will actually lighten up when he fully steps into the kitchen.
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