Food Job: Recipe Writer

Chefs, cooking teachers, journalists and others may find themselves having to write recipes for publication. Doing so takes attention to detail. To achieve success, a recipe must be written with impeccable accuracy and unambiguous clarity. If the recipe is flawed the publisher could be deluged with outraged letters from readers. Even one or two letters could convince an editor your recipes may not be trustworthy. If the quantities of ingredients are incorrect or the instructions are not understood, the home cook loses time and money.

Recipe writing is a serious business, but one that affords its practitioners plenty of opportunities to display their literary skills. Those who excel maintain a following of devoted admirers. Renowned cookbook writers don’t need to invent dazzling new dishes; they simply have to strike that exquisite balance between explaining what they have in mind and inspiring the anticipation of pleasure.

We should remember that neither Julia Child nor James Beard wrote original or innovative recipes. It was their unique style and dependable instructions that brought them respect and recognition.

The most skilled recipe writers lead the cook to an understanding of a culinary concept by adding little helpful hints along the way. For instance, you can offer an occasional reassurance such as, “Don’t worry, it will thicken when it cools.” You might also want to offer several variations that can be made on basic themes.

You’d think it would be a piece of cake to write a good recipe, but every publication has its own style for recipe writing; these stylistic differences distinguish one from another. It saves a heap of trouble to follow the preferred format of the specific newspaper or magazine. There are some rules that apply to all publications:

· List the number of servings.

· List the ingredients in the order in which they are used in the recipe.

· Use precise amounts or quantities (size, tablespoons, or cups). Do not list dry ingredients for baking by weight for the consumer market. Only professionals use scales to weigh ingredients.

· List substitutes for hard-to-find ingredients (or better yet, don’t suggest hard-to-find ingredients).

· Try to use a whole can or package of food. For example, if a standard sized can of beans is fourteen ounces, don’t specify 12 ounces if you can help it.

· Specify the size or capacity of pots and pans.

· Provide temperature, cooking time, and instructions about variable factors that indicate doneness.

· Indicate the steps in a recipe that can be prepared ahead of time.

· Indicate accompaniments and serving suggestions.

Recommended book: Barbara Gibbs Ostmann, and Jane Baker. The Recipe Writer’s Handbook.


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