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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.

    M.

    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.

                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                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.

                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                  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.