CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a food critic.
Is becoming a food critic right for me?
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Successful food critics need both a sophisticated palate and sophisticated communications skills. Their mandate is to capture the taste, texture, appearance, and smell of the dishes they review. Serious students of the occupation – seventy percent of them, in fact – earn a journalism or journalism-related Bachelor’s Degree after they graduate from high school or complete their General Education Diploma (GED). This formal education equips them to think critically and articulately communicate both favorable and unfavorable opinions. In addition, it helps them to compete and make connections in a demanding and sometimes cutthroat field.
Broaden your culinary palate
Food critics need to familiarize themselves with diverse cuisines and ingredients. At restaurants, order unfamiliar dishes. Analyze the components and characteristics of everything you eat. Ask yourself: do the flavors work together? Which techniques did the chef use to create a particular dish? Try everything and anything, because food critics do not make it in the industry by reviewing only ‘safe’ foods.
Apply for entry-level writing positions
Even if your first writing job is not in the food or restaurant arena, use it as a stepping stone to building a food critic career. While earning a degree, write at your university’s print or online publication. Ask your university publication if you can write a food column or local restaurant review column. Do not hesitate to write a few unpaid reviews to gain experience.
Familiarize yourself with accomplished food critics
Studying the techniques and styles of those who have already made it as critics is vital to ultimately finding your own voice and approach to the occupation. Read and listen to the work of critics who review diverse cuisines. Some contemporary food critics are Frank Bruni, Katie Lee, Andrew Zimmern, Anthony Bourdain, and Ruth Reichl.
Complete an internship
Seek out an internship with a food critic to gain relevant experience add to your portfolio. Interns typically conduct research and compose stories about restaurants, nutrition, or culinary news.
Begin writing your own sample articles
A successful food critic does more than critique food. Follow the lead of critics who address the wider restaurant experience, including food, atmosphere, and level of service. Write with honesty and confidence and avoid complicated culinary terms and jargon. Remember that your audience is diverse; not everyone is a foodie. Avoid mentioning yourself and using the first-person ‘I.’ Always focus on the restaurant.
Food critics prefer to keep a low profile so that restaurants do not recognize them and manipulate the usual food quality or service in their own favor. While it is not necessary to write under a pseudonym, announcing yourself as a food critic while dining out is both unprofessional and counterintuitive.
Pitch yourself as a critic to food publications
You will need to gain your ground as a food critic before landing a full-time job. Begin pitching yourself to various publications. Start with local publications before working your way up to more prestigious ones. Be sure to read publications’ pitch guidelines – generally available on their websites – before contacting them.
Look for paid positions with print, broadcast, or web media
After gaining some experience, begin applying for full-time critic positions. Continue doing freelance work to bolster your resume and visibility in the field. You may eventually receive enough pitch acceptances to become a fulltime freelance food critic, a role which offers greater flexibility.
Network in the field
Join professional organizations such as the Association of Food Journalists and the Society of Professional Journalists. These affiliations provide access to resources, networking opportunities, industry guides, and conferences.
Start a blog
Posting reviews on your personal blog or website will help you gain a stronger writing platform. Review local restaurants or ones that you visit abroad. To gain traction and notoriety, consider adding other food-related posts. These may include tips for aspiring food critics, elements of the perfect dish, and newly discovered recipes.
How to become a Food Critic
Enjoying food is only one prerequisite to become a food critic. Prospective food critics require two different skill sets. They must possess both professional knowledge of the food and dining industry and polished writing and editing talents. So, while no formal education or degree is required to enter the field, many food critics earn a Bachelor’s Degree in English, journalism, or communications. Some may choose to complete a Culinary Arts Bachelor’s Degree or take courses to educate themselves in the areas of food composition, chemistry, cooking techniques, styles, and vocabulary. Food critics may also seek out schools that offer curricula in food media or food reviewing. Not all food critics work in the print media. Those who deliver their reviews for broadcast media, such as radio, television, or live internet must, of course, hone their spoken communication skills.
While food critics enjoy their share of fine dining at white tablecloth establishments, they also may find themselves chowing down at mom-and-pop family diners, and even balancing their food while standing in front of a food truck. Picky eaters do not make great food critics. The best critics are willing to try anything that broadens their palate and adds to their repertoire of culinary knowledge. Developing a palate for different foods and flavors is at the heart of the food critic’s work of serving as the voice for the foodie community.