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How do people become food critics?

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I'm interested in food writing and I was wondering how most food critics got their first start. What are the qualifications? Because i've never seen an actual job posting for it.

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  1. Most people I know who are food "critics" are first and foremost journalists.

    They start working at newspapers and work their way to cultural and social section of the papers and then they write food stuff and submit them to the editors.

    I think that nowadays, everyone can be a food writer and critic, the best one are usually the ones with the best writing style and with a more balanced , hmm, critiques of the restaurants they go to.

    If you already write a blog or something like that, you can try to "freelance" and sell your critiques to established newspapers or commercial blogs.


    1 Reply
    1. a friend of mine is a young food critic at my local weekly
      he had been working there for sometime before he started doing food critiquing

      16 Replies
      1. re: celfie

        Well I don't have a journalism background. My background includes culinary school, couple years working in the kitchen, working front of house restaurants, and a hotel management degree. I'm just interested in food writing on the side. Any suggetions?

        1. re: ELO86

          You should take some writing classes at a community college and just write for any publication or web site that will have you, for free. I can tell by your posts you write in a conversant style that will need a bit of polishing. Proper grammar and spelling is important if you want to become a writer.

          1. re: melo7

            I'm a food writer, and I write in quite a different style here on CH than I do in my columns. Who "polishes" their CH posts, for heaven's sake?

            1. re: pikawicca

              Someone who wants a job as a food writer?

              1. re: melo7

                I seriously doubt that editors are looking for likely hires on CH.

                1. re: pikawicca

                  Simon Majumdar started his career posting on these boards and he's done quite well for himself. Maybe he would have gone on to write a blog and publish his book even if he never started posting on food boards but food boards is where he started and IIRC all his post were pretty well written.

                  1. re: pikawicca

                    MC Slim JB is a poster on the Boston Chowhound board who was hired as a writer for a few local publications based on his posts on Chowhound, (I recall seeing him say this at some point.)

                    1. re: Chris VR

                      That's a true story: I was approached by two different editors of local weeklies to write restaurant reviews and food features for them because they liked what they saw me writing on Chowhound about the Boston restaurant scene. I have been a professional food/drinks feature writer and restaurant critic ever since, though I couldn't support myself on it; I still have a day job in a completely unrelated field.


                2. re: pikawicca

                  I do. I write for money and for free, and I try not to slack off anywhere. I'd like people to be able to understand what I write, and that means revising and proofreading until I'm reasonably confident that I've said what I want to say as clearly as I can. It doesn't take any more energy or time to write well, if you already have the skills. And I can't help noticing that there aren't any misspelled words or grammatical errors in your post, so I think you also care about this stuff.

                  1. re: small h

                    I too try to edit my writing before posting here and I am annoyed if I later go back and see errors after it is too late for editing. Writing and editing have always been a big part of my work.

                    As to the OP's question, I grew up across the street from Tom Sietsema the restaurant critic at the Washington Post. I know that Tom worked at several major dailies before getting his current job. I too would suggest to the OP to take writing courses and then the most important thing is too just start writing. You don't have to be published or even have a blog to start with, just start writing daily.

              2. re: ELO86

                Practice, practice, practice writing about food.

                Write about food here on chowhound.

                Write about food on yelp- you can get feedback on your reviews to know what others think of your writing.

                And, when your feet is wet, start a food blog.

                For example, the restaurant critic at my local X weekly paper is a terrible reviewer in a lot of aspects- he has questionable food tastes, he writes as if everything is the best thing ever so its unclear when the food is actually good or not, and its clear he doesn't have a culinary background beyond going to restaurants to eat.

                The guy wasn't a journalist or anything- he was just a office worker who got noticed by the paper because he was writing a food blog more than 6 or 7 years ago when there weren't a lot, if any other, food blogs in the area.

                So, I can't say it'll be easy today as it was back then. But, I still think if you write a quality blog today, people will find your work.

                1. re: ELO86

                  ELO86, from one of your previous posts:

                  "............. is the best value your (sic) going to get for a great meal"

                  "your" should be spelled "you're" since it is a contraction of you + are.

                  In this post, "Any suggetions? (sic)"

                  My suggestion would be to pay closer attention to your grammar and spelling while honing your writing skills. Your culinary education will be a plus in this field but you'll lose credibility when your spelling and grammar are faulty. Good luck in your continuing education.
                  Edit: Do not rely on the computer's spellcheck. Many food-related words are not included. You don't want to know what it does to "shiitake" mushroom! Spellcheck does not know the difference between they're and their, both spelled correctly but cannot be used interchangeably.

                  To answer your question, "How do people become food critics?" They write write write, as many people have pointed out in previous answers. Offer to write for free for newsletters or newspapers or community bulletins. Do you have a blog? Many bloggers have found jobs through their online writing. It is also helpful to know influential people in the food business in your area. Your profile does not list a location so I don't know where you are but I would hope there are local culinary organizations. Networking is a terrific tool for job creation (making one where it did not previously exist). Do you belong to a national culinary organization such as ACF or IACP? They should be helpful as well.

                  1. re: Sherri

                    I'm probably in the minority, but those common grammatical mistakes like your vs you're don't really bother me when I see them.

                    I look upon grammar as important insofar as it makes the meaning of a sentence or story clear. But, most of the time, the reader knows what the writer was trying to say from the context of the story.

                    As a reader, I'm more interested in reading somebody who has a distinctive voice or who has something new and interesting to say than a dullard who writes properly. I'd rather read the reviews of a grammatically challenged food critic, whose reviews I can trust, than my local food critic.

                    And, in the end, a copy editor will find and correct those grammar or spelling mistakes anyways.

                    1. re: hobbess

                      If you don't care enough about it to master the basics of writing, stick to a blog.

                      If you want to get paid, you have to write like a pro, which is to say, with a thorough command of standard written English. It's not an editor's primary job to fix basic mistakes of grammar, spelling and usage, and if you commonly make such errors, you're going to greatly reduce your chances of getting hired in an already small and shrinking market for paid food writers.

                      The ability to write clear, error-free prose is a cost of entry. It's a profession, and only professionals get paid.


                  2. re: ELO86

                    a culinary background alone doesn't actually make someone qualified to be a food writer! it's a mistake to think you're selling anything but your writing chops. you need to be able to write in an engaging manner and be grammatically correct, especially because newspapers and other print media are dumping editorial staff left and right-- there will be nobody to catch basic errors but yourself. i'd suggest college level writing classes (community college is fine) to work on basic structure, personal "voice," and polish. you will want to be able to convey a story--a picture, a journey, and/or an experience to your audience within a limited word count-- most papers would like to keep it short, sweet, and engaging for average readers.

                    part of the problem with the huge glut of food bloggers right now is that everyone thinks they are qualified to be a food critic, but true talent remains elusive. i have a fine arts degree in writing and have worked in editorial/publishing, and there are a lot of poorly written blogs around that would not be considered legit. if you have good writing chops, however, plus the bonus culinary experience-- you could really stand out from the crowd and get noticed.

                    1. re: soupkitten

                      Just wanted to suggest that if you do take writing classes, you carefully check out the professors/instructors to be sure you're getting good ones. If you have a university nearby, an excellent professor who will break you of your bad writing habits and help you form all the right ones is worth the pricey tuition. Composition classes are commonly taught by grad students. There is nothing worse than taking a college course from someone who's not that great IMO. I'm sure there are fabulous grad student instructors--you just want to make sure you get a good one. The only non-A I got in my English major was from an instructor teaching a course in the field I've worked in for 20+ years now. I can say with certainty that she knew nothing about her subject.

                2. My favourite newspaper restaurant critic is firstly a journalist, He did "foreign" reporting before moving into his present job.

                  I think you can spot the difference between the reviews of a professional writer and, say, an amateur blogger. The former is, erm, more professional.

                  1. Anyone who has ever dined at an Olive Garden becomes a food critic...

                    1 Reply
                    1. Having been a "critic" (I prefer "reviewer") in another field, I'll tell you how; it applies in pretty much any field: get somebody to publish your work. Convince an editor that you know what you're talking about and can express yourself in an interesting manner. That's pretty much it.

                      Now, how you're going to convince the editor? That's something else. I'd write a couple of sample reviews, and turn 'em in, if you can get anybody's attention. And the best way to get some editors' attention (well, publishers, but that's picking nits) is to work cheap. Most of us started out working for little or nothing; or, as the editors put it, "exposure." After you get some clips to prove yourself, with luck you can move on up the ladder.

                      It's changed a bit in the age of the Internet; you can just start a blog. Of course, anybody can start a blog, but that's another matter. Figure out some way to stand out from the competition.
                      Maybe a niche: French restaurants, food trucks, chain restaurants, whatever. A good hint is to find an area that nobody else is covering, but where there's an audience.

                      Note: it's strictly bush league to come up to a restaurant, announce yourself as a reviewer, and expect to get comped. People do it all the time (you may have read them, probably without knowing it), but word gets around the restaurants.

                      Good luck.

                      1. Well.. I know you have be careful where you start! Because apparently the school cafeteria is very sensitive and was not happy about my review that I wrote for my friends 'zine and I got called to the principles office! All I said was " tasting cafeteria food that claims to have its quality restrictricted by government should scare all of us enough to be vigilant to guard against communism for the rest of our lives. Flavor and Freshness are not are not a priority for the cafeteria and even a Survivor's day 28 bowl of rice stands up better against the nitrate filled "chicken" Pattie in flavor in texture which reminded me of trying to undo my knotted shoelace with my teeth.

                        12 Replies
                        1. re: girloftheworld

                          After the principal (not principle) was done with you, I hope s/he sent you to the English department for a little remedial work.

                          To the OP - seriously, the first thing a reviewer needs is a decent command of Standard Written English. You may be extremely insightful, but your insights are wasted if you can't effectively communicate them in writing. Somebody upthread made a snide comment about the OP's use of a fragment ("Any suggestions?"). There's nothing wrong with that. You don't have to obey all the rules all the time. But they need to be second nature before you consider breaking them.

                          The second thing a reviewer needs is familiarity with the subject matter. The OP has a background in the hospitality industry, which is a great start. But before you put yourself in front of the public, you need to research, research, research. A few months ago the New York Times published an article about banh mi that was riddled with factual errors; it was an embarrassment to its author and publisher. http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/20...

                          The third thing you need is a good editor. Not everybody uses one, but your posts contain enough errors that they need to be cleaned up. A typo won't damn you in the eyes of a publisher, but numerous grammatical and usage mistakes will hurt your credibility. Most of the best writers seek the input of others before publishing their work. Two heads really are better than one.

                          Once you've pulled all of this together, you're going to need an audience. I think blogging is a bad idea - when you're your own publisher, you don't have anybody to tell you when your work sucks. Maybe a good place to start would be to write the best review you can and offer it to your local arts and entertainment newspaper. For free. (Note the deliberate use of a fragment for emphasis.) If it's really, really good they may publish it. But meanwhile, don't quit your day job...

                          1. re: alanbarnes

                            Is that necessarily true for a food critic? Knowledge of the food?

                            Unless you are writing a background or historical piece on a particular food item or dish, what does it matter that the writer (for example) is new to banh mi sandwiches?

                            The NYTimes piece was obviously more in the vein of background than full critique about banh mi sandwiches.

                            A food critic -- aside from just being a able to write coherently and cogently -- simply needs to provide her own opinion of the food, be it well-informed or not from a historical perspective, as long as she discloses up front that she is an amateur to the particular dish she is reviewing. Because chances are there are going to be a good segment of readers who, like the newbie reviewer, will also be "new" to the dish being reviewed.

                            As long as there is full disclosure up front about what the critic knows or doesn't know about the particular cuisine or dish she is reviewing, then the reader can take the review for what it's worth, or not.

                            After all, there is some value to knowing whether a complete stranger likes or doesn't like a particular ethnic dish. Sometimes a restaurant will prepare ethnic dishes directed specifically at more "Americanized" audiences. For those restaurants, a scathing review by someone who has grown up eating banh mi sandwiches on the streets of Saigon, it will be nothing but negative press. But if the person is new to the sandwiches, it might offer a different perspective that is just as valuable.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              >>"As long as there is full disclosure up front about what the critic knows or doesn't know about the particular cuisine or dish she is reviewing, then the reader can take the review for what it's worth, or not."<<

                              I agree. Reviewers aren't academics, and reviews don't need to be suitable for publication in peer-reviewed journals. But whatever facts appear in the article should be correct. Using the example of the article I linked to above, the author claimed that all banh mi are made with aioli; this is simply wrong.

                              And a review must contain facts. Subjective impressions devoid of substantive information aren't useful at all. "I ate some food and liked it" is pretty meaningless. Let's start with the name of the restaurant. That's a fact. Get it right. Ditto with the dishes served.

                              Does that mean that only someone who's familiar with the differences between the cuisines of Chengdu and Chongquing can review a place that calls itself "Szechuan Garden"? Of course not. But using your example of Americanization, it might be useful for the reviewer to know that sweet-n-sour pork is not endemic to either city. If I'm going to drive across town for "banh mi," I will be sorely disappointed to be served bologna and mayo on Wonder bread.

                              There's nothing wrong with Americanized Chinese or bologna sandwiches. But they're not Sichuan food or banh mi. A Yelp review by somebody who doesn't know the difference might provide a data point. But a published article really should have enough information to let a typical reader make a decision about whether s/he's interested in trying the place.

                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                True enough.

                                Factually accurate is a must. Historically knowledgeable is optional.

                            2. re: alanbarnes

                              Thank you for your helpful insights and corrections. Considering I am ten I do not plan on quiting my " day job" anytime soon. However, please be assured I will continue to develop my voice and find my audience. Have a good one! (Note how I caught on to that nifty fragment use?)

                              1. re: girloftheworld

                                Wow, you're ten??? I had no idea. If that's the case you're an extraordinary writer. Your voice is great - especially the use of humor, simile, and hyperbole. You do need to work on spelling, capitalization, and sentence structure, but that will come with time, education, and practice. Meanwhile, you have a truly impressive talent.

                                Thanks for pointing out a problem with my post: I used your story as a springboard for comments directed at the original poster, but failed to indicate that the addressee had changed. Based on your comment, I have clarified that. (See what I mean about two heads being better than one?)

                                1. re: girloftheworld

                                  WOW, I am impressed! I hope to see more of your posts girloftheworld! You add great insight and voice, not to mention balance in what can often be too much of an old fogey, stodgy place here.

                                2. re: alanbarnes

                                  alanbarnes, I'm the somebody upthread. "Somebody upthread made a snide comment about the OP's use of a fragment ("Any suggestions?").

                                  I quoted the OP simply because he misspelled the word *suggestions* in his post, he wrote "suggetions". There was no intent to be snarky or snide. Please reread my post.

                                  1. re: Sherri

                                    Whoops. I thought you were commenting on the incomplete sentence (which I thought worked) and missed the typo (which obviously didn't) altogether. Sorry for misreading you.

                                    If you're looking for an editor, maybe I wouldn't be the best first choice... ;-)

                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                      Thanks for taking the time to re-read. The OP has only three posts; I read two of them quickly and the errors jumped out. My advice was honest and heartfelt as was yours - [using your words] "a decent command of Standard Written English" cannot be overstated.

                                      I was a teaching chef for many years. My students were among the most creative spellers in the universe! I made a point of stressing Standard Written English and the folly of relying on SpellCheck. I always recommended a copy of "Food Lover's Companion" and a good dictionary for their library. I also gave them my home phone number for a second read, but that's another story.

                                      I hope the OP takes all this good advice to heart. A lot of smart people have weighed in with virtually the same advice. Good luck to ELO86.

                                      1. re: Sherri

                                        Although bear in mind that spellings and word usage in "standard written English" may differ depending on what country you live in - always a relevent point when participating on internet discussion boards which are not "nation specific".

                                        I'd also recommend using a "style guide" if you can get hold of one. I use the one published by my favourite (or "favorite", if you prefer) daily newspaper which was used quite regularly when I was writing my book.

                                        1. re: Harters

                                          That's a good point. You want the AP Stylebook.

                              2. It helps to know a bit about food. It helps even more to be a decent writer.

                                After that, write as much as you can without sacrificing quality. Publish anywhere you can. Read other food writers. And self-promote relentlessly; network shamelessly. Good luck.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                  To those who insisted that the OP and girloftheworld first enroll in some writing classes to improve their grammar before they could become food critics, how do you explain the response by my local X weekly paper when its restaurant reviewer wrote the following as a blog post on its website:

                                  "Jamie Oliver scored a victory last week. McDonald's has announced that they will stop using ammonium hydroxide in their beef, a substance that the crusading chef once labeled as "pink slime".

                                  The chemical is added to beef scraps to kill off bacteria such as E. Coli and is approved by the USDA. But in the Food Revolution demo shown in the linked video below, the chef says, "We're taking a product that would be sold in its cheaper form for dogs and after this process, we can give it to humans."

                                  The company, though, isn't going to give Oliver the satisfaction of knowing that it was him who convinced them to change. They said that the decision "was not related to any particular event" and was just part of the "effort to align our global beef raw material standards."

                                  The widely seen documentary Food Inc. also raised the issue about the process and so did the New York Times."

                                  For four short paragraphs, the food critic made quite a few grammatical errors. And, in his official restaurant reviews that get published weekly in the X Weekly, other grammatical mistakes will slip by. Yet, he's still a food critic that gets paid for those published reviews.

                                  When one reader pointed out those grammar mistakes as well as how to avoid those mistakes in the future, the food editor of the X Weekly attacked that reader by writing, "Talk about someone with no life..."

                                  1. re: hobbess

                                    The answer is that editing a blog and editing a newspaper are not the same. Newspapers have slid so far down in both quality and profitability that it is likely that grammatical errors that were once not tolerated can slip through unnoticed or even without concern.

                                    1. re: John E.

                                      But, then, isn't writing something on chowhound not the same as writing a blog post that will appear on the paper's website?

                                      I'd expect there to be fewer grammatical errors with the latter, yet people were lecturing the OP that he couldn't get a job as a food critic if he didn't first attend a writing class to improve his grammar and spelling.

                                      If everybody, including the food editor, held that restaurant critic to those same standards, then the critic never should have been hired in the first place.

                                      1. re: hobbess

                                        Your local paper probably had to lay off its copy editor to save money. That doesn't mean that proofreading has become unnecessary; it means that writers need to do more of it themselves. And judging by the other snipes you've made here about this particular food critic, maybe you just don't like the guy and are looking for more reasons to complain about him.

                                        I agree that someone who can't write well should not have been hired as a writer in the first place. If I see lousy, mistake-strewn writing, I assume that's the best the author can do, not that he's slacking off because of the venue. It's like showing up for a job interview an hour late and then claiming that you'll be on time if you get hired. Who would believe you?

                                        1. re: small h

                                          I will admit that I do not like the local food critic, but I didn't post his blog post as another way to complain about him. I also said in an earlier post that those grammatical mistakes usually didn't bother me.

                                          My point in posting that blog post was to point out to any would-be food critics who had trouble with grammar to not get discouraged. My local critic gets paid to eat out, a job he never would have gotten if he had listened to all the naysayers here. I thought that all those posts focusing on the OP's grammar was only going to discourage the OP to drop it before he even got started. My message was that if that my local restaurant critic can become a critic and get paid for his reviews, then anybody on chowhound can become a critc and get paid for their work too.

                                          If anybody deserved criticism, I thought it was the food editor who came across as a real jerk for attacking a reader like that. I shouldn't have been suprised by the editor's lackadasical response to those grammar errors by the restaurant critic because the editor is always randomly dropping in random Spanish words and phrases into his columns. But, what kind of professional sneers at a reader, "Talk about somebody with no life..."?

                                          1. re: hobbess

                                            Hobbess, based on what you've written, I think there's some crucial advice to be given here (for the OP):

                                            Learn to take criticism: People noting the importance of grammar are not naysayers. They are noting a critical component of work in the world of journalism. No one is condemned to their grammar; this is an area that can be improved.

                                            More importantly, pointing out issues that need work are not 'attacks' and reading them as such is the surest way to close oneself off from the needed development of skills for a career.

                                            In addition to welcoming opportunities for potential improvement: Develop a thicker skin. The world of publishing and journalism is one filled with rejection and criticism. Learn to determine what is useful without losing one's own voice, or running off in a strop as those critics are dismissed as 'mean' 'jealous' or anything else.

                                            Finally, aim to be good. Aim for improvement. Just because some shnook lucked into a gig doesn't mean all shnooks do. And more importantly, don't we want to raise the bar for enjoyable reading? (Well, given the posts on teh interwbez, possibly not, but many of us appreciate a commitment to good prose.)

                                            1. re: Lizard

                                              When I was referring to 'attacks', I was not talking about posters who were pointing out issues that needed work. Instead, I wrote that it was the food editor who 'attacked' a reader after the reader pointed out the grammar mistakes by the restaurant reviewer and how to avoid those grammar mistakes in the future in the comments section. After the reader wrote his comment, the food editor then commented on that reader's comment by writing, "talk about somebody with no life..." in reference to that reader.

                                              And, I do agree about the importance of feedback. I disagree with another poster who advised the OP to not do a food blog, but to focus on only writing one review and sending it out to papers to see if anybody will publish it. My issue with that advice isn't so much that the rejection that the OP will face with that method, but that there will be no meaningful feedback when the paper sends the OP a standard form rejection letter. That's why I suggested to the OP that he practice writing reviews on yelp and on a food blog because its good practice and so he could get feeback on his writing.

                                        2. re: hobbess

                                          When I suggested the OP take a writing course about 9 months ago it was not in response to the quality of the two sentences and sentence fragment in their original post, it was a general suggestion because it has been my observation that many Americans seem to lack writing skills these days.

                                          I don't read a lot of newspaper blogs, but I have noticed that the writing used in them is more conversational and violates many writing and editing rules employed by newspapers for their printed pages. (I have a journalism degree). The writing style for blogs (which are not seen by a newspaper editor but just posted by the reporter themselves) and newspaper stories are not the same (unfortunately so, in my opinion).

                                          I understood the original question to be how to become a food critic at a newspaper and how did the food critics that are employed at newspapers get their first start. It is my understanding that many food critics were first newspaper reporters and when the food critic job opened up, they applied for the job because they had an interest in food. Writing came first, food came second.