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    Wine and Dine Your Way to Writing Success

    As a food critic, I can think of no better way to spend the work day than dining on the best and most exotic dishes and then sharing that information with tens of thousands of readers through a daily newspaper or regional magazine. Online publications, both those using restaurant reviews to round out their content and those completely focusing on culinary arts, are also searching for qualified food critics.

    The field of food writing, and especially, food critiquing is growing. Every day new opportunities are opening up: weekly and alternative newspapers attract readers with news of dining establishments; gardening and leisure time magazines are seeking food-related stories to meet the needs of their customers. The Internet alone has opened a new world of wonder for food writers, and food critics in particular. E-zines, e- newsletters, websites on food and websites on cities or tourist destinations are advertising for writers knowledgeable about food.

    Sure, it's a job, but you can't take it too seriously, for after all, food should be fun. So what exactly does a food critic do? Eat too much and too often, and get paid to tell readers an educated opinion about the food, restaurant ambiance, wait staff and the value of the overall experience. It may sound like something you do anyway -- spreading the word about your favorite restaurants, but as a professional food critic, you choose your words carefully when you chide the chef on his gaffes and praise him on his triumphs. You tell your readers enough information so they can decide if a particular rowdy family restaurant is right for them, or if they might prefer to celebrate their anniversaries at that intimate French restaurant that overlooks the bay.

    As you grow with the job of food writer, life just gets better. You have the perfect excuse to travel -- on the publication's tab. Your readers need to know what's out there for a day trip or a trip around the world. Food critics are sent on assignment to France, Italy, Argentina, Australia, Viet Nam and Egypt. Closer to home, you might be sent to do a round up of the Mexican restaurants in Chicago, or San Francisco's restaurants on the wharf.

    Intrigued? Wondering how you can break into food criticism or do restaurant reviews as a freelancer? There is no one specific career path to becoming a food critic. Success comes to those with two primary passions, though, writing and food. Or food and writing, depending on who you're asking. Neither skill can be forced: a restaurant employee who lacks writing skills cannot carry off the role of food critic, nor can a writer who merely eats to live convey the passion for dining readers demand. But while neither skill can be coerced, both can be nurtured if a small seed of interest is present.

    The benefits of a career in food writing are many. As a food critic I have eaten at restaurants I could not have afforded on my own, as well as eaten food items I would never have chosen if my job did not require me to taste a wide range of dishes. It's also easy to make friends when you feed them on savory shepherd's pie one week and chocolate bread pudding the next. How many times do we, as amateur diners, return to the same restaurants and order our regular meal? That's a big no-no for food critics, and to be honest, once you start moving forward on your career, you'll be anxious to explore new cuisines and exotic dishes. When compared with salaries of journalists in general, the wages tend to be fair whether you are writing one article per week as a freelance writer, or working as food editor, including critiques, at a large paper or magazine.

    Another benefit - this is a job that you can expand on. There is always a larger paper, a bigger audience, a more prestigious magazine and another book to be conquered. Do you crave personal growth, never wishing to stagnate in a career? Then this is the one for you.

    Here's more good news: the food world is getting bigger even as you read this. Chefs are creating new culinary fusions by combining two or more ethnic cuisines and rediscovering traditional ways. Even if you don't have access to the world's restaurants or culinary arts institutes, you can use the Internet as an invaluable research tool. In addition, explore bookstores, study cookbooks and learn from local cooking teachers to grasp exciting new food preparation skills, understand trendy dishes and employ newly imported herbs and seasonings. As the food world grows, your skills will be more valuable. The average diner needs your expertise, knowledge and guidance on where to go, what to order and how to eat it.

    What qualifications are editors looking for? Writing skills - do you have professional writing experience? Previously published writing clips will show your abilities; food writing samples can push you to the front of the crowd. A passion for food is the second requirement, whether you've worked in restaurants, catered at parties, published cookbooks or studied culinary arts as an avocation.

    As a food critic, your job will be to tackle critical writing. In this context, critical does not mean negative; critical is a blend of analysis and opinion. When you wrote papers in your English literature class comparing Herman Melville's Billy Budd and Moby Dick, you were writing critically. You relied on your study of the novels, your understanding of the themes, and your own experience and opinion to write a satisfactory paper.

    As a food critic you will use your skills of observation: you will look at the building and its décor, you will note the plating, or presentation of the dishes you've ordered. You will listen to neighboring tables' discussions on how their dinner is progressing. When stumped at an ingredient or disappointed to have the promised portobello mushrooms replaced with white button mushrooms, you will ask the waiter for information. Prior to dining, you will have researched the restaurant whether using the newspaper library for owner and chef information or calling and asking about the dress, specials, menu personality.

    Unique to food criticism is the use of all the senses. You will look and hear, but also smell, taste and touch. Your previous culinary studies, whether in school or at home, will guide you when tasting the combination of herbs, preparation of the meats and texture of the vegetables. You will touch the food, whether you pick up the hard sourdough rolls and feel the crunch as you break them open, or you touch the cream sauce with your mouth.

    Critical writers must know their facts and use these facts to analyze the situation and present an educated opinion. You will be expected to provide evidence to back up your conclusion, whether that evidence is facts (traditional Caesar salad is made with romaine lettuce, fresh grated parmesan, anchovies and garlic vinaigrette), personal observation (grilled steak was added to the Caesar salad) and opinion (the variation on the traditional salad was worthy of Caesar Cardina.

    Copyright © 2003 Pamela White

    Pamela White is the author of "Become a Food Writer," available at FabJob. She is the editor of a new online newsletter - Food Writing - availabe through her website at http://www.food-writing.com. She is also the marketing and promotions director of FUTURES MYSTERIOUS ANTHOLOGY MAGAZINE and the Cooking and Cooking with Kids editor at http://www.busyparentsonline.com.

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ



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