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?