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Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Degree in Food Criticism

I couldn't be more excited about my next radio program this upcoming weekend!  I have the one and only, feared yet respected, John Kessler of the AJC coming on air and we are going to get up close and personal.  I had the absolute pleasure of having lunch with John last week in Dunwoody at the E. 48th Street Market (go read his blog), which was quaint and lovely.  To my surprise, he whipped out his camera phone and was taking pictures left and right from start to finish.  - I loved it, because it was so under the radar and yet he was quick and effortless about it.  Never missing a beat of our conversation.  I'm not sure what I exactly expected John Kessler to be like in a one-on-one personal situation ... I will say on a sidebar that I have met several uppity food critics who act as if they built the restaurant industry with their own two hands ... but I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by John with a huge friendly smile, a casual air, and a humble non-aggressive personality that just made the whole dining experience so comfortable and enjoyable.  (- is that enough adjectives for ya in one sentence??)  Because he is so interesting and so easy to talk to.... I am looking forward to our radio interview this weekend all the more.

Furthermore, meeting John Kessler motivated me to learn more about what it takes to rise to the top as a professional food critic.  - So I did some homework!   (and no, ladies and gentleman -- I am not a food critic.  I'm a host who interviews those who are.)  So!  After some research,  I decided to share with you the information I learned.  What DOES it take to become a food critic??  -- Other than having a large appetite and a big mouth.

1.)  DEVELOP STELLAR WRITING SKILLS AS A REPORTER.  - You may have the most acute and trained palate in the world,  but if you cannot communicate your skills effectively and properly .... then you could easily be discriminated against as a poor source for judgement - even if your food knowledge outweighs that of a well known food critic.  Taking journalism classes is a strong recommendation, or even English courses to strengthen writing skills.
2.)  MUST BECOME FAMILIAR WITH THE RESTAURANT BUSINESS.  - It is very practical for a food critic to have previous restaurant experience, especially behind the scenes.  At the very least,  you should know how the industry operates from the front of the house to the back of the kitchen.  It's not just about the food ... it's about the industry as a whole.  Educate yourself.  Surround yourself in the restaurant operating business. 
3.)  TEST THE LIMITS OF YOUR PALATE.   - To be a legitimate food critic, you must have an eager and adventurous palate.  Be prepared and willing to taste every kind of food and drink in every culture cuisine.  This may require you stepping out of your comfort zone and being brave.  But that is where the adventursome palate comes in to play.  No matter how strange or how foreign, go ahead and try anything that you come across and then record your opinions as descriptively as you can.  Think of it as training your tastebuds, as you would train for a sport.  You must "exercise" the limits of your palate. 
4.)  BECOME A FOOD EXPERT.   - Your goal should be to know the most, to taste the most, to experience the most, to appreciate the most, and to continually learn the most.  A few tips on how to accomplish this is actually quite simple.  a) Study cookbooks.  b) Travel  c) Learn how to cook yourself with a variety of cuisines and levels  d) Build your culinary vocabulary!  e) Know wine.  Take classes  f) Find your niche and immerse yourself in your chosen foodie field.  Such as: desserts, pastas, italian vs. french, etc...  g) Take every opportunity to go to food festivals, wine festivals, cooking demonstrations, foodie events, etc...
5.)  RESEARCH OTHER FOOD CRITICS AND CHEFS.   - This is a given.  Every career should know their competitors and allies.  Period.  Compare other writing skills, techniques and subject matter.
6.)  WRITE REVIEWS.   - Practice writing a review.  Or volunteer to do it for a local paper or even websites.  When writing reviews, it's good advice to take friends with you and collect different impressions.  Pay close attention to the ambience and service.  Make a mental checklist of everything you would want to read about in someone else's review or what is important to you.  Try not to bring attention to yourself.  Failing to maintain anonymity will impact and interfere with the overall genuine experience. 
7.)  CREATE A PORTFOLIO OF YOUR ARTICLES.   -- Food critics must have an active collection of your work.  Schedule writing at least one article/review per week to start off with.  Consider writing a Blog.  Editors will expect to see mulitple examples of your work across an entire platform of food, wine, restaurants, chefs, festivals, food trends, etc...
8.)  APPLY TO NEWSPAPERS AND MAGAZINES REGARDING FOOD COLUMNS.   - A large part of any food critic's life is writing for newspapers.  Be prepared to start at the very bottom and work your way up.  Take any job/story that they assign you.  The freedom to write whatever you want will come later, higher up the ladder.  Landing a writing job will require your own hardwork and efforts in the steps already listed above.

So to all my favorite foodies ... whether you want to become a feared, respected, and powerful food critic as John Kessler is known to be,  or simply want to expand your personal culinary and industry knowledge ...  then here's a quick list of some ideas to get you moving in the right direction.   (thank you to WIKIHOW for providing this list. - which I slightly improvised)    Great starting point!

Unfortuantely for me .... I'm the world's pickiest eater.  I officially disqualify myself due to Step #3.

1 comment:

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