David Leite of Leite’s Culinaria asked several food editors what kind of writing they were looking for. With his permission, I’ll quote the answers he received.
John Willoughby of the New York Times (and formerly of Gourmet magazine) said, “What we’re all looking for is unusual new ideas. You can only find those by having a lot of food experiences, from cooking at home to traveling to Asia, and by reading —though not necessarily in the food field. I found my first food idea, about the diet of the Pima Indians, in an AIDS journal. So read everything.”
Pamela Kaufman of Food & Wine responded, “If you don’t have a lot of clips or food experience, start small. Write restaurant reviews for your local paper, write for a web site or start your own. Also, be an attentive reader — and eater.”
Margot True of Saveur suggested,”It’s very acceptable to send a spec piece, which is another avenue to take if a writer doesn’t have clips. If you’re interested in our front-of-the-book section, “Saveur Fare,” it’s easier if you write the piece and send it in. It gives our editors an idea of how well you understand that section.”
Victoria von Biel of Bon Appetit said, “We have a distinct split between editorial and recipe development. I don’t necessarily look for formal culinary training. But while you don’t need to be a trained chef, you do need to have a passion for this. Read the magazines, read the cookbooks and immerse yourself in the subject matter. It will show in your writing. I’m also a big believer in continuing education. Take cooking classes — and writing classes.”
As you see, these editors are looking for writers, who know what they are talking about.
You can’t fake it. But, in my opinion, this doesn’t mean you have a spend a fortune getting a degree in journalism and then occupy the next three years immersed in a professional culinary school.
The late R.W. “Johnny” Apple was a New York Times foreign correspondent who loved eating and drinking and became a prolific food writer. Like many successful writers he traveled extensively and had plenty to say.
You don’t have to follow any one else’s example, you can stay at home and, like Andy Rooney, simply comment on the passing scene. His ability to do this is unrivaled because he has nailed the profile of the CBS 60 Minutes viewer.
On a personal note, there are times when even the best of us total miss the mark in knowing our audience. Even moi! For several years, I was the keynote speaker at the annual IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) Conferences. My talks were given at the end of lunch when the members were, (not to put too fine a point on it), — fairly sloshed, having suffered the lengthy and totally boring business session during which vast quantities of wine had been consumed. I delighted in poking fun at the food establishment in general and Martha the Magnificent in particular. It was a wonderfully receptive, though undeniably, tipsy audience.
One year I decided instead to talk about world hunger… Julia Child was seated at the head table. When I had finished, she said, “Irena dear, That was the boringest speech I’ve ever heard.” She was right of course. Wrong topic. Wrong time. Wrong audience.
More about honing your own unique voice and the right audience for your words next Wednesday.
Correction to Post Above:
I was remiss in not pointing out the article to which I refer was published in Writer’s Digest in 2004. This was an excellent review, and I believe the information to be as current and useful today as it was then. I should also add that Cara De Silva emailed to say “Margo True has been at Sunset Magazine for a long time now.”