HIGHLIGHTING SAMANTHA "SAMMI" BURDO
Many of us have a calling, and we don't even realize it. Then one day everything we know is stripped away and we are faced to stare into a mirror that softly tells us our next chapter is already within us. This is the story of Samantha "Sammi" Burdo, a young, self-trained home cook with Italian/Sicilian blood that runs thicker than water setting the foundation for her knowledge, technique, and soulful passion for cooking. After being laid off from her full-time job handling resort sales for Walt Disney World, she realized her love for cooking might finally make its debut as something more than just a passion.
Sammi started a food blog, Cucina Amateur, following her furlough as a way to share her connection with food, and began to build a community platform, centric to staying true to your roots and finding yourself inside a kitchen. Turning to her art history knowledge and background, her blog naturally began to take shape as a portfolio for her work. This platform has now helped her land a few guest cooking opportunities and is the perfect home for selling her product line, Mia Cucina, where one can purchase a variety of handmade fresh pasta, and other Italian favorites.
Read on to learn more about how Sammi transitioned from her full-time position to now bringing her culinary dreams to life following an unexpected lay-off.
H&F: Please describe your career prior to this venture.
Sammi: I grew up in South Florida and went to school for art and graduated with a BA in Art History. Growing up in South Florida, I knew Disney would always be the career path for me as I‘ve been visiting Walt Disney World since I was just a few months old. I also knew I wanted to explore different career paths within The Walt Disney Company. After graduating college – I had a Professional Internship with Resort Sales for Disney, then moved on to work for Disney Signature Services within the Premium Services umbrella of Walt Disney World. The amount of knowledge and relationships built from that company are treasured and irreplaceable. I was furloughed in April 2020 and finally laid off from the company along with 20,000 other Cast Members in December 2020. I will take what I learned with me forever.
H&F: Tell us about how you have redefined yourself. Describe your project, business, brand and/or platform.
Sammi: I grew up cooking with my family and always loved to cook, but I especially enjoyed eating and trying new foods. I’ve been that way since I was a kid. As I got older my interest in cooking hit overdrive and I never stopped, especially cooking the foods of my heritage, which are Italian/Sicilian. During the pandemic and heavy quarantining, one of the only things that help me cope and push through even some darker times was cooking. I finessed my skills and tightened my work. I also started my food blog, which I created to act as an art portfolio to hold my recipes and food adventures – still, an art kid at heart, remember? The pasta making kicked into high gear as well, and by the end of the year, I developed my new baby, a small business called Mia Cucina. This is the true story of a home cook pushing herself into the culinary world she’s always been fascinated by. I’m taking a chance and a risk, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
H&F: When/how did you get that light bulb moment to start this brand?
Sammi: First and foremost, when I finally got laid off. Then, the tighter and cleaner my skills and flavors got I knew I had something I wanted to share. Even though I’ve been cooking for a while, the decision sort of happened like a lightning strike (and after a few loving pushes from friends, of course).
H&F: Tell us something unique about your brand.
Sammi: I am the sole proprietor of my business and brand. Everything is made and done by me. I do like to pull in local cooks/chefs and that community is something I will always be an advocate for. The culinary community and its sub-families are everything. There is nothing quite comparable.
"I also enjoy cooking when I’m hungry – that literal motivation to complete a dish combined with my enjoyment to eat and cook are when I often feel very creative." - Sammi
H&F: We recently learned that you collaborated with SubRosa Dining Experience. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Sammi: Love those ladies! Yes, I did. I had the great opportunity to work with SubRosa for their Chent’annos – Sardinia pop-up. I learned about this experience through an extremely gifted friend, Chef Alex with The Rabbit Hole Chef Services. Please check him out! He and his team have worked with SubRosa before. He knew the style and needs of the Chent’annos event and believed I could get the job done and do it well. I had a blast. About 14 hours of combined sleep during those few days of the event and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. I was out of my comfort zone the entire time and kept questioning myself a lot of the time. But that made me push myself more. Remember, I cooked for my family and friends solely as of a few months ago... but as more guests ate my food each evening, my confidence grew back, and I knew I could get the job done. And I did. The guests’ feedback was everything. I had a hell of a team working with me each evening, including from The Rabbit Hole. They were my strength. Keena and Andrea from SubRosa had nothing but love to give me from the start and the feelings were mutual. It’s fun to develop a menu and work with them to create fun and magical evenings. They are very talented and naturals at this line of work. I look forward to working with them again in the future.
H&F: What is your favorite thing about being in the kitchen?
Sammi: Feeding off its energy. Whether it’s my own kitchen at home or a commercial one. I feel once you start cooking it’s up to you what direction you’re taking your dish(es) – even if you have a recipe in hand. I always preach on my blog that none of my recipes are exact each time and my readers should do the same. Listen to your palette and let it work with what you have available to in your fridge and pantry. Put some music on and have at it. I also enjoy cooking when I’m hungry – that literal motivation to complete a dish just so I can eat it. The combination of my enjoyment to eat and cook is when I often feel very creative.
H&F: What are your future plans to grow the business?
Sammi: While I’m still out of a steady job (after countless job apps at this point...) I want to give Mia Cucina all my love and grow the community out of it. Transparently, I am trying to pull some sort of income out of it (because well, I need to survive), so I will be doing a lot of research on bettering my small business and helping it evolve since it is just a baby.
H&F: What encouraging advice would you offer someone unsure about starting their own venture?
Sammi: The greatest opportunities are often started through a sad or difficult ending. Take a chance. It’s not a cliché, it’s a common truth. Build your new path and do it with all your heart.
H&F: Anything else you want to share? Sammi: I’m 24 years old. You’re never too young, you’re never too old.
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