Where Did I Learn to Write About Food?
I was asked the following question in a comment on a post from earlier in the week:
Did cook[ing] school teach you how to write about food as well, it seems unlikely so what did you do to develop that?
I have more writing chops than I do culinary chops, in some ways. In 7th grade, I declared that I wanted to be a journalist when I grew up. I wrote extensively for the school paper in high school, and my senior year I managed to scam an editorial assistant/obit desk position at the Greensboro News and Record. I wrote all kinds of things through these jobs–arts reviews, filler briefs, straight news, profiles of other students, everything but sports coverage really.
When I got to college I became less interested in journalism–I was really only interested in features and columnist type work. Traditionally, one pays dues working a beat for years before moving into the type of writing I wanted to do. Also, I didn’t want to labor under permanent short-term deadline like traditional journalism requires. I figured I’d major in what interested me and see what I could find on my own terms after college.
I did do a fair amount of work as a writing professional after I graduated and moved to the DC metro area. I wrote proposals for a consulting firm. Then I worked as a tech writer for a federal contractor for a year, including several months on-site at FBI HQ. I parlayed that into a stint as assistant editor for a small trade association, where I edited and wrote most of a bimonthly newsletter, edited books we sold, helped edit and contributed to our bimonthly four-color magazine, and occasionally designed promotional and training materials for our members and our products. I stayed with the trade association for about three years.
I realized while at the association that while I had a decent job with great benefits and a not-too-heavy workload, I was bored. I thought my boss’s job would make me miserable; I didn’t really want to do any of the things she was tasked with for that association or any other. And her type of job was supposed to be in the natural progression of things for somebody in my position at the time. So I started considering a career change. I considered law, but ended up deciding it wasn’t for me.
Then I settled on pursuing a career as a food writer and culinary educator–parlaying my existing writing skills into writing about stuff I actually cared about. I quit my job and enrolled in culinary school to give me the physical skills, background knowledge and credentials to enhance my writing.
I still earn only a small percentage of my income from writing, but I love to write about food and expect I will continue to do so professionally as long as I can find people interested in consuming my words on the subject.
Culinary school definitely did not prepare me for a career as a writer. We had to produce papers (which were very, very easy for me to knock out), and we had a lecture from a professional food writer one afternoon, but that’s most of the writing instruction we received. Culinary school did prepare me for a culinary career, though, which was what I expected it to do. If I had not already known how to write, how to meet a deadline, how to research, I would not have picked up those skills in c-school. Anybody who thinks they can is probably deluding themselves. You’re much better off taking some college classes in writing, journalism, grammar and whatnot–and then getting out there and cooking to build those skills if necessary.
I am fortunate in that I have plenty of food ideas to write about, and I have some platforms for disseminating that information. I mostly decide what I’d like to learn more about, go learn something, and then write up a column or a blog post on the subject. I’m very hungry for culinary knowledge–I read voraciously on the subject, I try to keep my feet wet in professional kitchens, and of course I experiment extensively at home. Hopefully that comes across in my stories here, in the Frederick News-Post and in the Journal.
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- November 14, 2008 / 10:12 pm