Becoming a Food Writer Tips

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How can I get into food writing?

Honing Your Creative Food Writing Skills

The culinary industry involves a great deal of artistry and business savvy. To be successful in the field, you have to be knowledgeable at both ends of the spectrum. It's no different if you're considering becoming a food critic. The best place to take a course in food writing is at a reputable culinary school, but only after you've, a) taken some cooking classes and, b) built up some culinary work experience.

Let's face it; it would be hard to be writer for National Geographic if you never left your house. The same thing holds true for food writers. Sure everybody eats, but unless you have a little insider knowledge about how restaurants work, their customer base, and hot food trends in the industry, you'll never really understand how to become a food critic.

So, let's assume you've got a culinary program under your apron, but your passion really lies in creative writing. Do you know how to approach an editor or get an editor's attention? Do you have any idea what type of writing job you'd like to have? Maybe you were thinking of working as a freelance food writer, or writing food articles for newspapers and/or specialty magazines.

If you've recently graduated from cooking school, you probably had the opportunity to choose business electives to supplement your learning. If that's the case, revisit the school and inquire about creative writing classes or lessons on how to become a food critic. Just one short 15 hour course could be all you need to start working as a freelance food writer.

   
How can I get the food industry to take me seriously as a food critic?

Developing Your Portfolio as a Food Critic

The key to becoming a food critic is having experience in the food industry. You'll need creative writing skills, a keen eye for quality foods, and the credentials to back up your recommendations. Those skills aren't developed overnight, but you have to start somewhere. If you're interested in learning how to become a food critic, you first have to draw on your educational and employment history. Are you a recent graduate of cooking school? If so, the more prestigious the school, the better your chances of securing work as a food critic. Like it or not, you need to have the power of prestigious names backing you up in order to be initially taken seriously.

Building a list of credentials and references is the perfect way to build your portfolio. In order to sell yourself as a food critic, those professional affiliations are going to speak volumes, positioning you as a valued, respected food critic. As your portfolio grows, so will your employment opportunities. Eventually, people will be using your name on their portfolio. Becoming a food critic, like anything else, takes a gradual climb to the top through experience and education.

   
How important is the job of a food writer or food critic?

The Responsibility of a Food Critic

Oh the life of a food critic! No office cubicles. No tired old desk job. Just constant nibbling, savoring, and critiquing some of the world's finest food. Sounds great, doesn't it? Anyone with a passion for fine dining will agree. Of course, not every morsel of food is made to perfection, and that's where the writing skills of the food critic come into play.

A professional food critic holds the power to make or break a restaurant. Writing positive comments on a restaurant's cooking recipes or food service is easy. Speaking the truth about a negative restaurant visit isn't. Scathing reviews exist, but aren't always written after just one visit. The professional food writer understands that things can happen, "off" days occur, and restaurants may require a second visit before a review can be accurately written. The job of a food critic is to give an accurate representation of the service, cleanliness, food taste, food quality and presentation. That might happen after one visit, or it may take a couple of visits to really get a feel for the restaurant.

Ultimately, the professional food critic needs to report the facts without embellishing a bad experience to epic proportions, or withholding positive and factual information that could directly benefit the restaurant. Whether it's a restaurant on a cruise ship or a street side café, food critics shoulder the responsibility of articulating a true representation of the dining experience. You know the old saying: Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. For the restaurant on the other end of the food critic's review, nothing could be further from the truth.

   
How do I get started as a food writer?

Food Writing 101

Not all writing courses can teach you how to become a food critic, but they can teach you how to find success as a food writer. The basic concepts of writing, editing, proofreading, and catching an editor's attention are the same no matter what you write. Knowing a few tips of the writing trade will help you in your quest for paid food writing jobs.

For example, why spend hours (maybe days) working on a food article that nobody has seen or requested yet? Instead, take the time to write a winning query letter that will spark an editor's interest. Open the letter with a bold statement or description of the topic you want to write about. Follow that up with the reasons why you're the person to write about it, and finish the letter with a short list of other places where you've been published. Haven't been published before? That's okay. Draw on your culinary expertise and experience to land that first writing job.

Once you get the go ahead, then you can work on the article itself. You may have to do some research, but chances are that you've got the knowledge to get the piece done without too much strain. Draw on your education, personal anecdotes, and maybe add quotes from other respected chefs. This combination will go a long way in securing food writing jobs. In fact, the skills you learn as a food writer may be the stepping stones to teach you how to become a food critic as well!

   
How hard could it be to land freelance food writing assignments?

Getting an Editor's Go-Ahead in the Food Writing Biz

It really doesn't matter how long you've worked as a chef, restaurant manager, or food service employee. If you don't know how to approach an editor to pitch a food story idea, you're not going to make it as a food writer. It's got nothing to do with how much you know about food, and everything about how to rise above the competition. As a chef or recent graduate from chef school, you “get” how fierce competition can be. That competition also translates into the writing industry. If you've got an idea for a great food story and want to publish it into a magazine or newspaper, you'll need to know how to approach and editor. More importantly, you'll learn how to grab an editor's attention so that your story idea turns into published reality.

When creating your pitch letter or “query” letter to an editor, keep in mind that he or she could have literally hundreds of pitches coming in everyday. What you thought was a unique story idea suddenly pales in comparison to all the other ones on the editor's desk. So how do you get that unique story assignment? The following tips are just a few things that a good writing course would teach you:

  • Type your pitch/letter and keep it to one page.
  • Start your pitch with an opening statement that will immediately intrigue the editor. For example, introduce a new trend in the food industry.
  • Customize your pitch to the publication.
  • Use descriptions that evoke a strong sense of taste, smell, texture, and appearance.
Of course, learning how to become a food critic or food writer involves a lot more than the tips above. However, a part-time course can go a long way in honing your writing skills if a job as a food writer is what you're ultimately after.

   
Food writing gigs seem to be falling into my lap, how do I turn that into a full time career?

Your Career as a Food Critic

Sometimes you can just see you're life or career headed in a certain direction. Maybe you've been working in the food industry for a while, creating food recipes for your own restaurant, making appearances or contributing to food TV, etc. One thing leads to another and you find yourself getting requests to write reviews of restaurants. It could even be a tourism representative seeking your opinion on best places to eat in town for a publication of theirs.

All of these things and more can unfold for the professional chef. As it does, pay attention. Do you like this new side to your career? You may want to consider becoming a food critic! Some people consciously work at becoming a food critic where others seem to have it fall into their laps by osmosis. If the latter is happening to you, take a step back and evaluate how you feel about it. Not everyone is a writer, and that's okay! Or it could be that you enjoy offering your feedback, but just aren't sure how to articulate the words into something exciting, flavorful, and enticing. That's easy to fix.

There are lots of creative writing classes available for people interested in punching up their prose. If you're really keen on learning how to become a food critic, you could always take a food writing course. Rather than the more general creative writing courses, a food writing course will focus on the specifics of the business. The power of words and your future is in your hands…literally!

   
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