All the Other Jobs We Do

Jun 232010
 

Food writing doesn’t pay the bills. I hope this isn’t news to you. Sure, a few people are employed full time to write about food. Did you notice the key word? Few.

To make ends meet, the rest of us self-employed types take other jobs: cooking classes, private cheffing and catering, consulting for corporations, more lucrative forms of writing, and editing. And a lot of people have real jobs during the day and write about food on the side.

The thing is, we’re still obsessed with food. So how can we get  jobs working on what we love?

Enter two books. The first, self published in 2008 by the wickedly funny Irena Chalmers, teacher of food writing at the Culinary Institute of America, is Food Jobs:150 Great Jobs for Culinary Students, Career Changers and Food Lovers. Now, I can’t be objective about this book because I have adored Irena since I heard her speak at an International Association of Culinary Professionals annual conference years ago. She was hilarious and wise, and I vowed to get to know her.

I have, and now we are friends. I was a guest speaker at her class last year, and she published an excerpt from my book, Will Write for Food, in Food Jobs. So of course I think this book is good reading, practical, and jammed with good ideas and insights.

Coming from a culinary school perspective, Irena begins with jobs in restaurants in food service, then covers retail jobs, art and design. There’s a big chapter on media, where you’ll find out how people became culinary historians, recipe developers, recipe contest winners, food radio hosts and media trainers, culinary copywriters and television producers. The book moves on to jobs in promotion and publicity, history and culture, science and technology and farming. Throughout are sidebars of advice by luminaries such as Nach Waxman, proprietor of Kitchen Arts & Letters bookstore in New York, and author Betty Fussell. At the end, Irena advocates getting an education, and lists culinary schools, scholarships, and teaching.

The second book came out this year. It’s Culinary Careers: How to Get Your Dream Job in Food, by Rick Smilow, president and CEO of the Institute of Culinary Education; and Ann McBride, an adjunct professor of food studies at New York University. Right off, there’s an argument for going to culinary school –not surprising, considering the author’s job. The book’s trajectory continues the way it might if you were a culinary school graduate: internships, writing a resume and cover letter, and raising capital to open a restaurant. Strangely, interviews with writers such as Ruth Reichl and Michael Ruhlman are included here.

In Part II, the book veers off into jobs, career paths and profiles of those who found success. Predictably, the first few are related to graduating from culinary school, such as catering, becoming a food artisan, or becoming a pastry chef.

The authors include dozens of interviews, my favorite part. You’ll find out about a day in the life of a cheesemaker, restaurant wine director, rotisserie truck owner, public relations person and food stylist, among others. They ask for salary ranges and some interviewees provided them. Talk about living vicariously! Gail Simmons of Food & Wine said events directors at big magazines make between $75,000 – $150,000 per year. She runs the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Pamela Mitchell, the executive food editor of Every Day with Rachael Ray, said the range is  $90,000 to $120,000 for magazine executives. Sweet.

Both books are valuable resources if you want to find out what other kinds of jobs exist for food obsessed people like us, who probably do more than one thing. For me, in addition to my books and blogging, it’s editing for publishers, coaching and teaching.

What other food-related jobs do you do besides food writing, and do they pay the bills?

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  30 Responses to “All the Other Jobs We Do”

  1. I teach middle school and high school English and Social Studies concurrently with cookbook writing and consulting on children and food. I hope to make cooking more full-time in the next year, and teaching less so.

  2. Thank you for this post and these reviews! I think they will help many people understand the ins-and-outs of various food jobs and also what we do to pay the bills. I can’t say I do just one thing myself, I have to chase that paycheck sometimes! Oh, and to answer your question, sometimes I pick up a little camera and snap some shots to make a living. Sometimes.

  3. This is very helpful for folks like us who want to move away from the 9-to-5 and into the food world. We have our own goals, but it’s nice to see how other people make it work.

  4. I do recipe development. In general it pays a lot better than food writing. Food blogging helped me transition into to it slowly but surely. But even though creating recipes is fun, it’s not easy! Every project has challenges and you can lose money if you’re not careful, efficient and have some talent for creating solid recipes. You also need time to build up a client list.

  5. I have never made a dime writing about food..but then, I am a blogger. I don’t know very many writers making a fortune off of food writing either. Like, none. There are some, but I don’t know them.

    Amazon thanked me for ordering her (Irene’s) book and asked me to review it. I never got it! I don’t recall ordering it either..I thought about it though.

    I need to get yours too! Great and helpful post.

  6. Great post! My food writing money covers beer, wine, and some ingredients. Occasionally more, as when I sell a significant-ish magazine piece, or get an advance on a book. As Amy says, recipe development pays a little better, and the client often gives you a generous food/ingredients allowance.

    As you say, most of us do it because we can’t help it.

    Glad Stuart pointed me to your site!

    • Hi Eric, thanks. I discovered your Vook and told people about it at the IACP conference — that they need to understand the role of video in food writing if they want to move into the next phase. Also read your pieces in the Chronicle and enjoy them.

      Whoever this Stuart person is, thank him for me.

  7. It’s the million-dollar question (and one I’ve been working furiously to answer over the past year)! I’m doing everything I can to keep all my freelance jobs centered around food, because it’s the only thing that really makes me want to get out of bed in the morning.

    This means working in retail for cookware purveyors both large and small, teaching cooking classes as often as I can to as many people as I can, and sloooowly working with a friend and partner to develop a made-to-order food delivery business. I write for love and to build my portfolio in an accessible, multimedia-friendly location – and if I get a magazine assignment every now and again, that’s just icing on the cake!

  8. I wish I had other food-related jobs, but I don’t. I’m one of those with a regular job – more of a career, really – that pays the bills. I’m a physician, and food writing and photography is what keeps me sane when work gets crazy. It keeps me grounded and brings me back down to reality after a tough day on the job.

  9. I teach French as a Second Language at an independent boys’ school to Grades 3-6 (ages 7-11). That pays the bills. I am also undertaking my PhD in Second Language Education as well as the Food and the Media Certificate at George Brown College here in Toronto. Both most definitely ADD to the bills. And I blog. I have a couple of paid writing gigs (Food Network, the Mushroom Channel) but they are definitely stipends as opposed to bill-paying gigs.

    My dream job? Teaching “le français par la cuisine” and writing full time….

  10. I started as a writer and fell into food writing (because one can write about just about anything and link it to food). So I write reviews, profiles, etc. Lately, however, I do want it to be all food all the time! I’m ambivalent about culinary school, however, in part because I’ve spent years and years and years of my life in school (I have a Ph.D.) and in part because I don’t think of myself as a chef, just a writer who cooks. I’ll still look at these books, however. A girl can use all the help she can get!

  11. I am the manager and events coordinator of a fine foods catering company. It’s a job I adore and happily do each day. Fortunately, it also pays the bills. In addition, I blog and have a few paid writing gigs which really just support my cookbook-buying habit. I would love to write more (paid or unpaid) but am happy with the balance right now.

  12. I’m not really sure what a dream job is anymore. But, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have to do with making a lot of money. For me, the dream is constantly evolving. I worked at a cooking school for 20 years, catered, artisan baked and for the last six years, I’ve written cookbooks and free lanced. I started writing so that I could have more opportunities to teach and found that I liked the writing more than teaching.

    My big goal was to write a cookbook and after 6, I’m not so sure that books are a viable way to pay the bills. The advance is nice, but you can bore through it in the testing process. And if you think that the royalties will be rolling in, you need to think again. By the time a book earns out, there is usually not much in the way of royalties, plus the royalties on the sales of discounted books is small. Recipe development for food corporations is lucrative ($500 per recipe), but hard to come by. Recipe development for magazines pays well (around $200 plus they pay for the cost of food), but once again, not happening every month.

    Sorry to be a downer, but I think it is imperative for us food lovers to do all the jobs we do in order to get experience and in the process, to hope that one of those experiences will end up being our dream job. I’m still seaching, but I don’t know any cookbook authors who don’t teach, or free lance, or have a blog, or do recipe development when they can find it. As long as we are chasing the idea of the dream and following our passion, maybe that is enough to keep most of us looking ahead to that next big opportunity.

    • Hey Carla, thanks for providing figures. It’s not a downer, just reality.

      I am already doing my dream job. Now I just have to figure out how to be paid better for it. Based on what you said, I guess that’s the part I’m chasing.

  13. Diane,
    What a good friend you are. Thank you for reviewing my Food Jobs book. I too have found it essential to have several “jobs” so it works best to be a writer, teacher and mentor. As I writer I earn very little, as a teacher, I earn a little more than a little. As a mentor, I earn nothing at all, but am happy to respond to anyone who asks my help in their search for a food job. I can be reached through my web site at http://www.foodjobsbook.com

  14. I teach cooking classes for a living. It gives me great opportunity to interact with people and see what they need, what they know and – of course – what they want to know….My classes give me ideas for my writing and my writing to my classes.

  15. Great post! I do foodie stuff more for fun, but would love to make it as a part-time career and do my regular career (genetic counseling) part-time. But, as a blogger with limited time, that’s not the easiest to do! I do get some posts used by the Chicago Sun-Times, but it’s more for recognition and not pay, and I do have a “business” on the side, but I’m not promoting it heavily for fear I won’t have the time to fulfill the requests :). One day… one day!

  16. Hrmm, I’d seen Irena’s book, but not the second one. I’d be curious to see how practical their advice is in an economic climate such as this. When even janitors are having a tough time finding work, how lucrative can can it be to jump into being a culinary historian?

    • These are not books about creating a lucrative career — they’re about doing what you love. You know that trope about how money will follow? Uh, no. It should be revised to say “SOME money will follow. Not enough.”

  17. I’ve had LOTS of jobs in the food industry, and each one has been tremendously valuable to honing my skills and making me a better food writer. I am now published regularly in magazines around the country, but that’s far from the only work that I do. I am also a private chef and consultant to food manufacturers.

    I’m not the type who would enjoy working on a computer every day, so private chef work allows me to strike a balance between writing/computer work and kitchen work. It also gives me an additional creative outlet that I don’t get from food writing. My magazine editors now want all recipes to be easy to prepare and to use few ingredients. While I enjoy producing those recipes, I also love making more elaborate dishes for my clients; dishes that definitely don’t fit into the “quick and easy” category.

    As for the consulting, that’s also a wonderful job. I get to use my 14 years of professional cooking experience to analyze food products and give the manufacturers advice on how to improve them.

    I agree with Diane: food writing does not pay the bills. The assignments I get do pay well, but there simply are not enough of them to create full-time work. And I enjoy the creative diversity of having multiple jobs in the food industry.

  18. GREAT article. Wow.. so glad to know I’m not the only one that struggles with these questions! Right now I work full time in a job that does help pay the bills, and then on the side I teach cooking classes, create recipes, bake, have a few part-time paying writing gigs, etc… I would LOVE to switch this and cook/bake/teach/write for a living… crossing my fingers for one day soon!

  19. Thank you for reviewing these books! I’ve been thinking of transitioning into a different food related career, and these seem perfect for me, as I have no desire to work at a restaurant.

    I work a full time job (and food blog on the side), that tangentially deals with food (Sr. Designer at a small branding shop that specializes in restaurant and retail design). It sounded like a good fit when I joined, but it’s a poorly managed shop (are there ANY well managed boutique design shops out there?) and the clients are all big name chain restaurants – not exactly the clients I would ACTUALLY like to be working with – but they are the clients with the cash.

    *sigh* It’s a struggle, but the blogging and writing and photographing and recipe developing on the side actually calms me from the stress of work. One of these days, I’ll make the transition… at least that’s the dream….

  20. Thanks so much, Dianne, for bringing these books to my attention. I have had many “careers”, only a couple of them food related (fabulous!). I have been food blogging for two years and am just starting to reach out and look for food writing jobs with the dream of being truly a professional food writer. I began by writing as a contributing blogger (unpaid) but for the experience and the job on my resume. And I only agree to write for free if the exposure is really excellent (a respected blog/website/paper) and where my writing has the chance to be seen by respected pros who could possibly offer me that next writing job, that next step up.

  21. Great post Dianne! You and I have talked about this on the phone and the situation in Canada certainly seems similar to the situation in the US, despite the fact that the “market” should be so much bigger in the US. In Canada, top pay for freelance articles in news magazines is $1 / word; national newspapers are $0.50 / word. Yet, you are lucky to sell an article over 700 words these days. So, yes, writing doesn’t exactly pay many bills but if you are compelled to write, then you will likely write whether it pays or not.

    On the note of keeping your day job, this may have unexpected benefits. It’s always a challenge to write about food in a way that hasn’t already been done. I always tell my food writing students to use their day job expertise to guide their food writing voice. Are you a scientist? Great, come at your food writing from a scientist’s point of view. Do you work in early education? Write about how kids approach food differently than an adult. Maybe that day job is a very valuable part of your food writing career whether we think of it that way or not.

    • That’s a really good point, Jennifer, to connect the expertise of the day job with writing about food.

      Thanks for the stats about payment. It might not be bad if you could write a piece that was 2500 words long, but those word counts seem to have evaporated.

  22. I’m a Registered Dietitian. I did mostly clinical work up until I decided to go to culinary school (CIA) several years ago. I blog simply because I love the art of crafting food stories and because I carry no advertizing on my site, I don’t make a dime on it. I think if you really want to make money as a food writer, it’s probably best to think of yourself as a diversified brand. That is, you need to do many different types of marketing activities that all support each other. I blog, teach culinary classes, do foodservice consulting to help institutional cooks cook better, speak whenever I can and network like crazy. Then I cross promote everything, my thinking is that this will get my name out there as a writer. As far as making (good) money, I’m convinced it won’t happen simply via staring and pecking away at the keyboard. I’m essentially just starting out, so we’ll see in 5-10 years if this approach gets me anywhere, I’m willing to wait :)

    • You are on the right track, Julie, to think of yourself as a brand, cross promote and network. In your example, all the jobs complement each other. That’s not easy.

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