How I got started in food writing

I’ve been working at BBC Good Food since November 2015. Before my current role as Food & Reviews writer, I was Editorial Assistant and before that, Editorial Intern.

As I am the main point of contact for work experience requests at BBC Good Food, I’m often asked about how I got started in my career, so I thought it might be useful to write it all down for anyone who is interested.

Obviously, I can’t say how it works for everyone as there are so many different paths, but this is what happened for me…

I’ve always been into food in a big way. I have fond memories of cooking with my dad at a young age and always loved watching cooking programmes after school. In fact, I would come home every day and make some kind of epic snack (loaded nachos with homemade salsa was a particular favourite) to eat in front of Ready Steady Cook…before having my actual dinner two hours later.

When it came to choosing a work experience placement for school at the age of 15, I managed to get myself into the kitchen at one of my favourite Brighton restaurants, Terre a Terre. I won’t go into detail, but this experience was what made me realise that, despite loving food, I did NOT want to work in a professional kitchen.

It wasn’t until university that I realised food writing was a career that would make sense for me. It was only around that time that I realised just how fanatical I was about food. I mean, I knew that I liked to cook and eat, but it wasn’t until other people started to remark on how passionate, knowledgeable, opinionated – and to be honest, obsessive –  I was about food, cooking and restaurants that I realised I wanted to build a career on it. As a student of French & linguistics, I was also interested in language, words and writing and was a bit of a grammar geek, so it seemed logical to combine the two.

So, I started a blog reviewing restaurants in my local area. I also began writing for the food & drink section of my student paper and looking for any other opportunities I could find to share my recipes, as well as articles about restaurants, food trends and ingredients. I then used my summer holidays to get as much work experience as I could at magazines, especially food titles. The summer that I graduated, I spent a week doing work experience at a local Brighton magazine, The Latest, a week at Sainsburys magazine, and two weeks at olive magazine.

Although all of the work experience I gained was useful, my time at olive magazine was the best. Two weeks was a good amount of time to be able to get involved in lots of different tasks and properly meet the team, who were all really friendly and accommodating. In fact, it was partly down to the fact that I got on so well with the olive team that I ended up with my job…

A few months after my work experience at olive, I was working in a deli in my hometown in Brighton when I got an email from Gillian Carter, the (then) editor of BBC Good Food magazine. She said that Good Food was looking for an intern and she wondered if I wanted to apply. Obviously, I freaked and my manager had to calm me down. It turns out, Gillian had asked at olive magazine (which shares an office with Good Food) whether they’d had any particularly good work experiencers in lately and they had recommended me.

I had a very nerve-wracking interview in London with (the very lovely) Gillian, in which I thought I’d done really badly, but LO AND BEHOLD, I got it – three months as editorial intern at BBC Good Food. (They don’t usually have interns – this role was only available because their previous Editorial Assistant + Staff Writer had left, and they needed time to think about how best to fill the position so wanted to hire an intern while they decided).

The three-month paid internship involved doing all the tasks that the previous editorial assistant would have done – general office admin, researching and writing a few small pieces of news/trends and shopping related content for the magazine, dealing with reader enquiries, compiling the magazine’s feedback page, commissioning contributors, etc.

After the three months, they decided to take me on permanently and I became editorial assistant. I stayed in that position for around four years (which was way too long) doing as much writing as possible, as well as plenty of other things, before I was promoted to food & reviews writer.

My role involves writing a lot of the non-recipe content for Good Food (both the magazine and online), especially covering food & drink product reviews, taste tests, gift guides and shopping pages, equipment reviews, cook book reviews, articles about food trends and food news stories and some travel content.

My advice for anyone wanting a career at a food magazine

N.B This is mainly aimed at those who want to work in editorial.

Passion is key

Yes, I have a good degree in a (semi) relevant subject and a blog to demonstrate my writing skills and those might have helped me get the job, but when I asked for feedback on my interview, those weren’t the things that Gillian picked out. What she told me was that she liked my passion for food, and my honesty (there was something on the job description which I didn’t understand, and she liked the fact I admitted that and asked her about it).

When I look through work experience applications, I’m not interested in people’s qualifications, I’m interested in whether they are clearly passionate about food. You’d be surprised how many people apply for work experience at Good Food and don’t even mention the word food in their application.

Also, to be totally frank, this isn’t a well-paid industry (from my experience anyway), so if passion isn’t driving you and money is, then you might want to re-think…

Practice what you preach

If you want to be a writer, write.

If you want to be a social media manager, have a strong social media presence.

If you want to be a cookery assistant, cook.

If you want to be a recipe writer, write recipes.

This sounds obvious but there are a lot of people who say they are interested in a certain area but have nothing to prove that this is the case.

 

Get relevant work experience (if possible)

Yes, this one is unfair because it relies on you having enough money to work for free for a week or two and, in the case of a lot of food magazines, to live in, or close to London. Needless to say, it’s one of the main reasons why the industry has problems with diversity, because it means that people who tick the aforementioned boxes are at an advantage.

HOWEVER, although doing work experience helped me, it doesn’t mean it’s the only route in. If you can’t get work experience, you just need SOMETHING to show your talents/passions/skills, whether that’s your own personal blog, a foodie Instagram account, an article in a student or local paper, some examples of recipes or articles you’ve written (even if they aren’t published anywhere) etc.

 

Be personable

Again, it sounds obvious, but be nice!

We get a lot of students in for work experience and the ones that make the biggest impression aren’t necessarily the best recipe testers or the best writers but the ones with the friendliest personalities. They’re the people who get stuck into any task big or small, who are polite, who smile(!) and who seem genuinely interested and excited to be there.

I didn’t do enough writing at olive magazine for them to know if I was a good writer or not – I’m pretty sure the reason they recommended me for the job at Good Food was because I got on well with the team and showed genuine enthusiasm.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s