Many people say to me that I have the dream job. I think I do – this is what I really love to do, and I walked away from a successful, well-paid career to write about food full time. It really is a wonderful job, but it is hard work, and not always what it seems.
There are lots of people who call themselves professional food writers, but have a full time day job doing something completely different, and dip in and out in their evenings. With respect, it is something else entirely to do it as your full time job, which is what I have done for the last six years.
First of all, food writing as a job is HARD work. Of course, many jobs are. Anyone who tells you otherwise either has lots of help or has been extremely fortunate in landing on their feet. I work much longer hours now than I ever did in my past career, and that was a busy job, too.
There are many glamorous and fun elements to the job, such as being asked to visit new restaurants, hotels and bars, and plenty of fun parties for book launches, leisurely lunches and so on. But a lot of the work involved requires hard graft for days, weeks and months on end.
To get work, one has to pitch it, and that can be very troublesome. Despite all your work coming up with a tailored idea, and considerately pitching it, you might not even get a response – in fact you may not more times than you do. That can be demoralizing and it can really eat time just getting work in the first place.
Then, you have to do the work. Writing a book is a process that varies enormously. I have just finished my fifth book in my own name, but I have ghostwritten and contributed to other books on numerous occasions.
Writing a book is a hard task, but one I absolutely love. Every book I’ve written has been different in terms of deadlines set and some have been much easier to write and test than not. I am very good at working to a tight deadline, but I find it hard testing recipes that involve a long process to test. I find I start with boundless enthusiasm, but then the key is to keep up momentum as you plod through the book. It is a long old process; even if you think you know the recipes your book will feature and have them largely ready to go.
Days are long. I tend to set test days, as I travel so much, it has to be a day I’m home all day, and I’ll spend the whole day working through my recipes.
I carefully research what I want to do before hand and sometimes the test works, sometimes it doesn’t. I tend to plan the day before and shop – living in the country means it is so much harder to pop out for forgotten or depleted ingredients – whilst not impossible, it’s just a hassle having to get into the car, drive to town, pay to park and trundle around the supermarket and back, so I want to be organised. On a test day, I will prepare my notes and work through anything from 5-20 recipes in a day, depending on what they are. I take meticulous notes, and carefully analyze every element of the dish before deciding if it is passes the test or requires further tweaks, or even scrapping from the recipe list.
The worst part of the testing by far is all the washing up. It builds so quickly and I cannot work in an untidy kitchen. I need to have all the equipment I need turned around so it’s ready to go from recipe to recipe, so I do have help with this all day. It is a full day’s work in itself, loading and unloading the dishwasher and washing by hand, and its importance should not be overlooked. Louise helps me a lot on test days, and is simply the most brilliant kitchen companion, working meticulously and efficiently, and we have a good laugh as we go. It is so important. She has helped me on every book I have worked on (and more!) and we’ve shed blood, sweat and tears for each book (I should add, the tears are usually mine!).
Once the testing is done, we usually sit down to a late-ish supper – lunch is usually a short working lunch – and eat an often unorthodox pairing of dishes which we have tested through the day and require eating. You see, the sheer amount of food involved is enormous, not to mention the thousands of pounds that are spent on it for each book (mostly out of my own pocket). Waste is not an option.
After supper, we will clear down the kitchen and ensure it’s spic and span, wash the dozens of tea towels and aprons on a hot wash, and I will sit down at my desk to write up the successful recipes. This is something that becomes easier over time, and one finds one’s own way of doing it, but it still requires focus and serious attention to detail. This is where the notes come in. Recipes are typed up, sometimes into the wee hours and then the process starts again.
The hardest part is pulling together the manuscript in the final stages, especially with a deadline looming or even passed, and the best bits are shooting the book and seeing it come to life. I think everyone who has ever written a book will tell you though how hard it is to proof read your own work.
And then, it’s time to get paid for your work. It can take over a year to receive money for work owed and expenses reimbursed. How do you live whist you wait for this to come through? You have to find a way and keep plodding on with the next project.
As with any job, food writing has its ups and downs. And I love it. Life as a food writer is hugely fun, rewarding, exciting and fulfilling, but hard, hard work and can really affect other elements of your life, too. It’s not all parties and pretty pictures on Instagram.