In preparation for a recent recipe writing panel for the International Food Blogger Conference, I decided I wanted to know more about career recipe developers and how they work.
So I spoke and emailed with professional recipe developers who work for retail food manufacturers, growers, commodity boards, and commissions such as the California Walnut Commission. My goal was to get more information about corporate recipe writing, and also to understand what kinds of opportunities exist for food writers.
Here’s the first thing I learned: The culinary experts who get these jobs are not necessarily food writers or cookbook authors. These professionals might have backgrounds in nutrition, or they’re dieticians, or they have a degree in home economics or food science. While they may not have been to culinary school, they are skilled cooks who can write recipes using a variety of techniques and styles. They also might be members of IACP’s Test Kitchen Professionals Special Section.
When coming up with ideas, these recipe developers study food trends and know what kind of ingredients are current and which have staying power. They know what level of sophistication clients want, depending on their target audience, and they consider variables such as pan size and substitutions.
Recipe developers might work with chefs to rewrite recipes that work in a home cook’s kitchen. Some have clients who want recipes that conform to dietary specifications or require nutritional analysis. Sometimes their clients ask for product concepts first, which means writing out ideas for recipes, such as five variations on a turkey sandwich. Oh, and don’t even bother with a pannini or a sandwich with pesto or cranberries — they already have those in their files, thanks.
Once clients select the recipes they like, the finished recipes could appear in several places, including:
- In a magazine ad
- On product packaging
- On a company’s website, or
- In a press release directed to newspaper and magazine editors who use free content.
Recipe developers charge between $300 and $600 per recipe, depending on experience or on complexity of the recipes. Reimbursement for groceries is always separate. Typically, the recipes will belong to the company, not to the writer. And one last thing – the client might have a test kitchen, so the recipe better work flawlessly, be well written, conform to food safety standards, and taste great.
I’m looking forward to learning more by talking with my fellow panelists at this weekend’s IFBC conference in Santa Monica. I’ll be on a recipe development panel with Amelia Saltsman, author and publisher of The Santa Monica Farmer’s Market Cookbook; and Martha Homberg, former editor of Fine Cooking magazine. Hope to see you there!
(A version of this post first appeared in my quarterly newsletter about food writing. My newsletter contains tips and links to helpful articles and resources. If you’d like to receive it, sign up here.)
(Photo courtesy Simon Howden, Free Digital Photos.)