Meet the Culinary Scientist Who Stars in Our Recipe Videos

Say hello to the star of our recipe videos as she shares how she uses her culinary science background to create mouth-watering treats.

In the summer of 2011, Sammy Mila reached out to the Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen at Meredith Corporation's headquarters in Des Moines seeking internship opportunities while studying culinary science at Iowa State University. The Test Kitchen brought her on board and Mila wound up spending the summer helping with a new web-based recipe content management system. That summer turned into two summers and little did Mila know—she was there to stay. Fast forward 10 years, Mila is now a culinary specialist, food stylist, and the star of BH&G's recipe videos.

BHG Culinary Specialist and Food Stylist Sammy Mila on designed background
Photo Illustration: Kailey Whitman

On Finding a Career in Food

"All these things that have been happening to me have been on accident," Mila says. "I just kind of fell into things and just rolled with it." You see, Mila didn't always know becoming a food stylist was in her future. When starting her college adventure, a major in biochemistry with the goal of researching cancer and special disease was the plan. One semester in, Mila recalls quickly discovering studying chemistry (and working in a lab for the rest of her life) was more of an interest than a passion. She asked herself, "How do I keep this chemistry background that I love, but make it more applicable to every day?" The answer turned out to be culinary science. "It's more of the 'why we cook,' which vibed with me really well," she says. Soon Mila learned the fascinating distinctions of food such as why certain cheeses melt or the difference between searing foods in butter vs. oil.

Sammy Mila

"Food is every day, and everybody can relate. No matter where you are in the world or what language you speak, food brings people to the table. And I was like, 'that's it.' That's the one thing I want every day is that 'something' that brings people together—and that's food."

—Sammy Mila

On Her Favorite Foods to Eat

When asked to name her favorite food, Mila immediately responds with noodles being 10/10 her top pick. "Whether it's pasta noodles, soup noodles, Asian noodles, fried noodles. I don't care—if it's a noodle, I'm going to eat it." Reminiscing on her childhood favorite dish, she gives a mouthwatering description of sakou, a delicate Thai steamed tapioca-based dumpling with sweet pork filling her aunt always makes. "Imagine like a giant boba, but savory and filled with pork," Mila says. "Sakou is my one dish that if I had to choose one thing to eat for the rest of my life, this is it."

On the Joy of Baking

If you've ever watched any of Mila's dessert videos (just check out this ombre cheesecake and sparkler cupcakes) on BH&G, you'll know she adores sprinkles. And when she forgets the sprinkles (like when making this fried ice cream), it's a funny tragedy. So it's no surprise Mila claims she is most fond of baking. Though she loves baking all the things—cakes, cupcakes, cookies, you name it—she points out she "doesn't always love eating it" and just likes to "make it for the chemistry of it." There's something about using a set amount of ingredients and having the bake turn out exactly the same every time that particularly resonates with her. (If you're anything like me who spent more time therapy baking in the kitchen this past year, I especially relate to this but with the struggle of avoiding eating all the sweet treats rather than for the science factor.)

Expanding on the love for baking, you might be surprised to find out Mila considers herself "a vanilla person" when it comes to flavor profiles. But her use of basic flavors is far from ordinary. "My favorite thing to do is usually to take a common flavor profile whether it's birthday cake, s'mores, or just your basic chocolate chip cookie and make it better," Mila says. For someone to know what the dish is, but experience it in a way like never before is "one of the best feelings" for her.

BHG Culinary Specialist and Food Stylist Sammy Mila behind the scenes on designed background
Photo Illustration: Kailey Whitman. Photos courtesy of Sammy Mila.

On Creating One-of-a-Kind Recipes and Beautiful Plating Skills

Mila's come a long way since that first summer hanging out in the BH&G Test Kitchen. Once she joined the staff as a full-time culinary specialist, Test Kitchen director Lynn Blanchard reminisces Mila testing recipes before "her work quickly expanded to the photo studio where she was a champion at creating food videos for multiple brands." (In addition to BH&G, you've probably seen Mila as the hands in many how-to videos as well as food styling for our sister publications such as Food & Wine, Allrecipes, and EatingWell.) As for plating pretty dishes, Mila didn't even know being a "food stylist" was a thing until Blanchard had her assist some food stylists in the studio. Again, another happy accident. And while you might not think food styling involves science, her culinary science degree comes in quite handy at times. Examples of this include knowing how to keep shrimp looking plump or getting your salad to actually look nice and green for an image.

Lynn Blanchard, Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen director

Sammy has always been a bright spot in our department. She is a joy to be around and challenges those she works with to be the best they can be.

—Lynn Blanchard, Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen director

You've learned how to do simple tasks in the kitchen and create delicious meals from Mila on video, but she's also an innovative recipe developer. One recipe creation that sticks with her the most: crab rangoon mozzarella sticks. The food mash-up instantly became a hit among readers. If you haven't made it yet, add it to your food bucket list while you discover more delicious eats from this talented culinary specialist.

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