How to become a food critic: Steps to establishing your career
If you love food, have a discerning palette—and the education and writing skills to match, a food critic career might just be your dream job.
If you asked someone if they'd like to dine out for a living, you'd probably get a resounding "Yes!" from most people. It may sound too good to be true, but that's exactly what food critics do. Establishing a career as a food critic isn't quite so simple, however, since it requires cultivating many different skills to be truly successful.
What is a food critic?
Food critics dine out at restaurants and then write about their experiences. Their commentary may be published in magazines, newspapers, blogs or any other type of relevant publication. Food critics primarily write about the food itself, but they often also analyze and review the overall dining experience, including the service they receive and a restaurant's atmosphere.
Food critics may also be called restaurant critics or food writers more generally. In addition to restaurant reviews, they may write about any number of topics related to food, such as food production, sustainability, food history and so much more. Over time, food writers may choose to specialize in what they choose to write about or for what medium. For example, someone may gravitate towards certain types of cuisines and/or they might write for a personal blog exclusively—no two people are going to have the exact same career as a food critic.
Develop a strong foundation in food and writing
Perhaps the two most essential ingredients to becoming a successful food critic are having both strong writing skills and food knowledge. A good writer who knows very little about cuisine or a seasoned foodie who can't write may only get so far. Take our culinary quiz and see where your knowledge lies.
There are many ways you can develop both of these skills. For starters, getting a relevant degree can lay an excellent foundation and elevate your credibility in a way that appeals to future employers and editors. A degree in culinary arts, nutrition, English or journalism are all great options for future food critics.
Taylor Goebel, a food writer and former food and drink reporter for The Daily Herald in Everett, Washington, said that exposing yourself to others' food writing is a major part of learning the trade. "I think the same applies to becoming any kind of writer—you have to read. Read cookbooks, read stories from your favorite food writers or chefs. I'll read something and I'll think, 'That's it, right there.' And it's hard to explain it, but you have to know when something is good and learn how to replicate that but in your own voice."
On top of a formal education, consider some of these other ways you can expand your culinary knowledge and improve your writing skills:
- Take cooking classes or culinary courses: You don't have to be a chef to be a successful food writer, but understanding food from a cook's perspective can only improve your food knowledge and make you a better writer. You can find cooking classes offered by restaurants, grocery stores, cooking schools and more. There are even a lot of online cooking classes to hone your cooking skills from the comfort of your home.
- Read food blogs and cookbooks: Read as much food writing as you can to learn what you enjoy and how your writing can be inspired by authors that you admire. It's a good idea to read from lots of different sources to see how the writing varies in different contexts, such as on blogs, in newspapers or in cookbooks.
- Practice writing about food: Write about food even if you have no intention of publishing it one day—practice makes perfect! You could practice writing full-length articles or you could simply jot down notes after a meal, write a journal entry or even write poetry to play around with imagery and metaphor in food writing.
- Attend food festivals and events: Food festivals and similar events are a great way to try lots of different types of foods, talk to chefs and meet other foodies all in one place. It can be excellent fodder for writing practice or simply a way to try new cuisines and learn more about what types of foods you like. Goebel said she has found lots of great stories by attending farmers markets.
- Network with other food writers and critics: If you want to learn more about how to increase your chances of success as a food critic, just ask one! It's usually pretty easy to find contact information (or social media profiles) for people who regularly write for a newspaper, magazine or other publication. Don't be afraid to reach out and see if your favorite food writer has some advice.
Gain experience in food critique
Some argue that the toughest part of breaking into a writing career is in the beginning, so how can you gain the experience you need to get your career off the ground?
Getting a degree is a great first step, not only to hone your skills but also for the connections and career assistance that often accompany a degree program. If your school publishes a student newspaper, for example, join the staff. This can provide valuable journalism experience and an opportunity to start building your fledgling portfolio. Degree programs can also often connect students with coveted internship opportunities, which in turn may foster industry connections that could come in handy after graduation.
Degree programs can also often connect students with coveted internship opportunities, which in turn may foster industry connections that could come in handy after graduation.
Goebel got her undergraduate and graduate degrees in journalism, after which she got a job as a general assignment reporter for a newspaper in Delaware. As such, she had to write about a lot of topics she wasn't as interested in, from local crime to municipal meetings, but she always pitched to write food-related stories when she could. "I didn't get to do it as much as I wanted to, but I still started building up those clips."
One of her earlier pieces that she credits for helping establish herself as a food writer was an article she wrote shortly after Anthony Bourdain's death, in which she interviewed numerous chefs to discuss how the restaurant industry has changed since the release of Bourdain's esteemed book, "Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly" (2000).
Like Goebel, many food writers don't start out writing about food exclusively. Getting your foot in the door of the field of journalism usually requires writing about many different topics at first before you can zero in on what you're most passionate about.
That said, there lots of ways you can begin to establish your niche in food, including:
- Start a personal side project dedicated to food such as blog or podcast
- Write freelance food reviews and sell your articles to newspapers, magazines and other publications
- Apply for entry-level food writing jobs such as a copywriter or content writer for food-based organizations such as nonprofits, food manufacturing companies, grocery chains and more
- With enough experience, you may be able to eventually find a job as a restaurant reviewer or food reporter for a local publication
"Try different things, go to different restaurants. Also find your niche—do you want to just focus on Southeast Asian food, which has niches within that? Do you want to focus on sustainability? Do you want to focus on cooking as a new mom? There's so much stuff that you can do, just find what you're interested in." Goebel said she's always been interested in where our food comes from. Following her curiosity, she was able to write a series on the origins of local foods while working at The Daily Herald. Her journey took her to various farms and food producers across the state, all of which she could bring back to her writing.
Building your food critic portfolio
As important as your resume is, your portfolio as a food writer is the star of the show when it comes to applying for writing jobs. The portfolio shows employers real examples of writing you've done so they can get a feel for your skills as well as the other types of publications your writing appears in. You can expect most food writing jobs to ask you for a portfolio of your work at some point in the application process.
Physical portfolios—such as a binder of clippings or print-outs of your articles—are no longer the norm. While a physical portfolio may come in handy for some people, writers today should have an electronic portfolio that contain copies or links to your published work. Most people use either a personal website (there are lots of sites designed specifically for writers, such as Clippings.me or Journo Portfolio) or a PDF file.
A strong portfolio should showcase your best writing samples most visibly, such as the top of your website. As a food writer, you should put your best articles about food front and center, though you may wish to include articles about other topics if a particular piece demonstrates something about you as a writer that you feel is important to share. Your portfolio should be a reflection of you and your skills—how you choose to arrange your work may not be the exact same as others.
Getting a piece of writing published for the first time can be a complicated process. Writers from different backgrounds and experiences break into the industry from many different angles. Even experienced writers have difficulty getting published sometimes—unfortunately, there's no secret ingredient guaranteed to land you a writing gig.
"It takes a while," Goebel said. "But I would say don't give up, and if you are struggling to get into the industry, just do the things that bring you joy about the writing even if you're just setting up a Medium account or blogging on your own website. Just do it!"
If you can get an internship or entry-level writing job, this is a great place to start. These kinds roles know that you're a beginner but usually provide structured opportunities to get your writing published. Interns at a magazine, for example, may be tasked with writing marketing copy, short-form articles or online blog articles. These are all great things to start adding to your portfolio.
Freelancing is another option. Many writers freelance exclusively or they freelance in their extra time outside of another job. In a nutshell, freelancing consists of pitching article ideas to different publications in the hopes that they agree to let you write the article (and of course pay you for your efforts). It's common for publications to have pitching guidelines listed on their website—be sure to check and see if a publication has these so that you follow them to the letter. Don't be afraid to start small with local free publications or neighborhood blogs. Becoming a successful freelancer takes time and practice, but it is possible to have a steady flow of stories on your calendar with enough effort.
Although you'll most likely write for a wide variety of publications and websites throughout your career, consider some of these food publications that you might try to write for. There are many more out there, but these are just a sample of some of the most popular ones:
- Food & Wine – A globally recognized publication which issues annual awards and hosts exclusive events like the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen
- Bon Appètit – Packed full of recipes, cooking advice and restaurant recommendations
- Food Network – A magazine and website from the popular television network
- Good Housekeeping – Since its first print issue in 1885, this magazine publishes articles on food and recipes, health, beauty and style, home and more
- Cook's Illustrated – Full of recipes, reviews, buying guides, food science and more
- Gastronomica – A peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary and international journal publishing critical, translational studies on food
- Imbibe – All about "liquid culture," both alcoholic and nonalcoholic alike
- Cherry Bombe – Created by and for women in the food industry
- Delish – Publishes a quarterly magazine, special editions and several cookbooks
- The Kitchn – A food website made by a nationally distributed staff of home cooks
- EatingWell – Devoted to journalism about food, nutrition and sustainability
Getting to know people in the writing and restaurant industries can also help advance your career as a food writer. For example, you should try to build lasting relationships with editors and publishers that you work with. Once an editor is familiar with your writing and knows you can deliver on your promises, they may be open to featuring your work again in the future. It's common for freelancers to work with a few publications frequently once that relationship is established.
"Just reach out to people—if there's a local chef you really love, don't hesitate to reach out to them," Goebel said.
Another great way to network is to attend writing conferences and workshops in your area. These allow you to meet other writers, learn from their experiences and get constructive feedback on your own work. Nowadays, many events like these are also held online.
Establish yourself as a food critic
As your portfolio grows organically, you'll get better not only at writing but also identifying writing opportunities that you're a good fit for and how to successfully pitch stories to editors.
Take as many food writing jobs as you can to consistently keep writing about food. In time, you should start to develop your own unique voice as a writer.
Becoming a food critic can be challenging—after all, there's really no "right" path needed to break into any writing career. However, anyone with a penchant for food and words could have the makings of a great food writer. Whether you come from more of a culinary or literary background really doesn't matter so long as you develop both skillsets. Getting a relevant degree in culinary arts, nutrition, journalism or something similar is a great starting point. Beyond a formal education, hopeful food writers must develop a strong portfolio of writing samples that will continue to grow as you land more and more writing opportunities. With enough experience and dedication, you may be able to get a full-time job as a food critic for a publication.
If you think you have what it takes, being a food critic can be a rewarding way to share your love of food with others and make your mark on the culinary world.
"There's just something so wonderful about uplifting small businesses," Goebel said. "It's just so cool to give them a microphone that they might not have had before."
Published: September 26, 2023
Written and reported by:
With professional insight from:
Writer, editor and visual journalist
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