Q&A with Colman Andrews: He’d Never Recommend Food Writing As a Career

Eight-time Beard award winner Colman Andrews, now at the Daily Meal.

When a PR query from The Daily Meal appeared in my inbox, I jumped at the opportunity to interview the website’s accomplished editor about today’s food writing scene.

I was not disappointed. Below, you’ll see that Andrews is honest about how hard it is to be a freelance food writer, and why he feels fine about not paying for content.

I’ve been a fan of Colman Andrews since interviewing him for the first edition of Will Write for Food in 2004. Saveur magazine, which he cofounded in 1994, remains my favorite national food magazine. Andrews was its editor-in-chief from 2001 to 2006.

Now Editorial Director of The Daily Meal, Andrews has had a long career as an editor, author and writer. He’s an eight-time James Beard Award winner, most recently winning Cookbook of the Year in 2010. Here’s what he says about today’s food writing scene:

Q. You’ve done a lot of restaurant reviewing in the last few years. Is there enough work for freelance restaurant reviewers today?

A. It’s become crowd sourced. The power of Yelp reviews. There was just a study in the American Economic Journal about how a difference of half a star in a Yelp rating can make or break for a restaurant.

The issue there is whether there’s a place for a professional restaurant critic anymore. Would people rather [Read more…]

The Worst Food Writing Words

The most overused word in the food writer's lexicon.

While chatting with Brooke Burton of Food Woolf, she mentioned that L.A. Weekly gave her a list of words freelancing food writers are not to use. She reeled off a few from memory:

  • farm fresh
  • sustainable
  • local
  • yummy.

If I wanted to see a good list, she suggested, I could read these blog posts: Top Ten Foodie Words We Hate: Starting with Foodie, and a follow-up generated by the response to the first article, Part 2. Written by Amy Scattergood, L.A. Weekly’s food blog editor, the list of 20 words mixes fad terms like “iconic” and “mixologist” with bland, boring terms like “offering.”

Brilliant! Somehow I missed this list. I like it because it branches out  from the usual vague adjectives I’m always going on about: delicious. wonderful, and tasty. I’ll add a few more:

  • authentic: a hotly contested word, because no matter where you travel, there is never just one version of Spaghetti Bolognese or Pad Thai.
  • orbs: When tired of saying “grapes,” do not substitute “orbs.” No one talks that way.
  • toothsome: Not sure what this means. Chewy? If so, use a word we all understand.

Now it’s your turn. Which words make you cringe or see red? Do you disagree with Scattergood’s or my choices?

Should Freelancers Not Mention Their Blogs?

That's me, barely visible on the left, talking in the demonstration kitchen of Kendall College in Chicago. My book, Will Write for Food, came out in July and I'm still in promotion mode.

At a recent talk at a culinary school in Chicago, I told the audience of food writers about an outrageous request a company made of a food blogger, showing that food bloggers aren’t taken seriously when it comes to pay. A woman raised her hand and asked whether to omit that she is a food blogger when pitching a publication for a story.

“That depends,” I responded. “Are you already established in print?”

She said she was. And then I thought: This woman in the audience is brilliant. Because she will be taken more seriously and offered more money than if she says she is a blogger.

Signing books after the talk. That's Scott Warner on my right, program chair of the Culinary Historians of Chicago, host of my talk.

How do I know this? Print publications sometimes ask bloggers to work for free. And while many print food writers have started food blogs to stay current, saying so might [Read more…]

Help! My Gourmet is Now Bon Appetit

march_10_cover_vThe postcard inside the plastic-wrapped package advised “…we will be sending you Bon Appetit for the duration of your remaining Gourmet subscription term.”

And there it was, my non-Gourmet. First I got sad about Gourmet’s passing all over again. I like the way Elissa Altman summed up its demise: “Gourmet folded because it had a direct competitor under the same roof in the same genre geared to more practical and commercial endeavors, it made more money, and one of them had to go…End of discussion.”

Once I got over the fact that it was not Gourmet, I was curious to see how Bon Appetit was different. Content, for one thing. Bon Appetit is all about entertaining. Tone, for another. It’s all about ease: world-class dining made simple.

Yet most of the recipes didn’t look that easy. In fact, I got the biggest laugh from [Read more…]

What's the Right Length for a Recipe?

measurementJust read 5 Second Rule’s excellent post about whether recipes are boring, and it generated some thoughts about recipe length. (Isn’t it fantastic when an blog post idea arrives on a platter? Thank you, Cheryl.)

Now, some writers like to go long. They like to hold the reader’s hand and explain. Sometimes I’m surprised about how much handholding, though.

I edited a recipe recently that said: “If necessary, [Read more…]

Is Lower Pay for Web Writing Defensible?

silhouetteMaybe the magazine editor was just talking off the top of her head, but when I read it, steam came out of my ears.

In a story in the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ newsletter, by Stephanie Stiavetti, the editorial director of a national food magazine spoke of writing opportunities on her magazine’s website:

“There’s a lot of fear and concern…the move to user-generated content will impact those who made their living writing for print, but it has also opened up new opportunities for bloggers.”

Oh yes, we know all about that, how links are the new currency, and dwindling opportunities for freelancers. The article continues:

“How much quality can you expect from an uncompensated writer who may not be willing to put a lot of effort into an unpaid gig? ‘A lot,’ says the editor, who plans to use guest bloggers in the future: ‘We’ll be [Read more…]