Foodies are taking over the world. Whether you go for gourmet creations by the finest chefs, or the latest crazy gastronomic mashup, eating is your passion and you take it seriously. And as you wrap up another wonderful meal, you find yourself remarking, "I wish I could get paid to do this."
You can, and many people do. Food critics aren't the only people who get paid to eat, although that is a classic foodie career. Many jobs for people who love to eat and appreciate food are out there, some you've probably never even thought about. These 10 should jump to the front of the line in your culinary career consideration. First course?
Food and restaurant critics are exactly what they sound like. They try different restaurants and eateries and give their critiques of the food, the atmosphere, the service and other aspects of dining out. You need more than simply a refined palate for this job. You also need a flair for writing, an attention to detail, a knowledge of your subject. Your reviews could appear in blogs, newspapers or restaurant and travel guides. Some food critics work freelance, and some work on the staff of specific publications. The more respected a critic you are, the more valuable your reviews are — and the more money you could make. And the cost of dining should be covered by the publication for which you're working.
Food critics visit different restaurants and sample their menu, usually with a companion and usually multiple times, never revealing their identity or why they're visiting. Anonymity ensures that the chef and staff don't give them preferred service. A critic's reviews should be detailed and describe the food experience in depth, and place the subject of review into a larger cultural context. Sometimes a critic's review can make or break a new restaurant. So if you're thinking of entering this line of work, make sure your reviews are fair, descriptive and informative.
Not all food critics need to be fancy, however. One of the Internet's most famous food critics is Marilyn Hagerty, who writes for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota. Her earnest reviews of places like Olive Garden, McDonald's and Applebee's have won her legions of fans. She's been reviewing restaurants like these for 30 years and, as of 2015, shows no signs of slowing down [source: Ledbetter].
Professional food tasters are, as you might imagine, paid to taste food all day. Tasters typically work for a specific company helping develop new products by testing variations of ingredients, textures and flavors. Many professional tasters have degrees in nutrition. Taste is just a small part of creating a food product; ingredients obviously matter as well.
A typical day in the life of a food taster might include sampling alternate versions of the same product and giving an assessment of each. You'd judge things on taste (of course), mouthfeel, appearance and ratio of ingredients (for example, are there enough raisins in each spoonful of this cereal?). Wondering how to make it through a food tasting career without gaining 100 pounds (45 kilograms)? According to Kirsten Hoskissen, a professional food taster, that can be tricky. Sometimes she can spit out the food, but also notes that we do have some taste buds in the back of the throat, so that's not always an option [source: Insley]. So if you do take this delicious job, be ready to exercise during your lunch hour.
Stand in the middle of your supermarket and take a look around. Just about every edible item is the work of a food scientist. Most foods, processed and unprocessed, need food scientists to make sure they arrive on your table safe and unspoiled. Food scientists do everything from developing flavors and textures to calculating the nutritional value of foods to adding vitamins to existing products. And yes, this can involve tasting the results of your work.
Food scientists work with engineers to develop ways to mass-produce foods and ensure quality control methods. There's a reason every cookie in the box looks and tastes exactly the same, one never cooked more or less than the other, and why they all fit so perfectly in the box. They figure out ways to take existing foods and enrich them with vitamins and minerals to make them better. Low fat, cholesterol fighters, extra beta-carotene, gluten-free, dairy free, meat substitutes — all of these foods or food additives are developed by food scientists.
Rebecca Skolmutch has a job that mixes food science and fun. She works at Disney to ensure all Disney-branded food products meet certain health and nutrition standards. Recently, her team came up with the idea of flavored apple slices to make fruit appeal more to children [source: Gill].
If you consider yourself a foodie (and we guess you probably are, since you're reading this), you can thank a chef. Chefs prepare food, but the job is much more than that. They work with different kinds of food, flavors, seasoning and herbs — finding combinations that work together to elevate a meal from good to great. Of course, you can't become an excellent chef without an excellent palate or sense of taste. This means tasting your food as you cook, fine-tuning recipes as you go along, and using your palate to figure out which flavors work best together. Successful chefs also need to be able to lead a staff, manage inventory, deal with suppliers and understand the finances of their workplace (be it a restaurant, hotel, dive bar or personal pop-up dinner).
Chefs need to be innovative, creative and tireless. The hours can be grueling. But if you turn into a well-respected chef, you can find yourself attending food festivals and events, or maybe even judging food competitions. If you want a job that revolves around food, this is a top one.
And don't stress out if you don't go directly to culinary school. Celebrity chef Mario Batali got his start as a line cook in a pizza/stromboli joint called Stuff Yer Face as an undergrad in New Jersey. He credits that experience with teaching him the importance of having a recognizable brand, and it wasn't until later that he went on to study at London's Le Cordon Bleu Institute [source: Meoli].
Competitive eating probably isn't a job for everyone. But if you love to eat — and we mean really love to eat — you won't find another pursuit where you'll get so much free food. The only problem is, of course, that you have to eat it all at once. As fast as you possibly can. Sounding less appealing? What if we told you there could be up to $40,000 at stake just for one contest [source: Wood]? Perhaps that makes things easier to swallow.
There are all different kinds of eating competitions. If a food exists, there's probably a contest to eat it — pizza, wings, pulled pork, sausage, cake or candy. By far, though, the most famous competitive eating challenge is the annual hot-dog-eating contest at Coney Island, New York, held every July 4. Competitive eater Joey Chestnut can often eat about seven hot dogs in one minute, which is why he's the current reigning men's champion [source: Wood]. Surprisingly, the top competitive eaters appear trim and in good health — competitive eating isn't an everyday job, of course.
When you follow a cookbook and the dish comes out perfectly, give yourself a pat on the back. But there's someone else you should thank as well: the recipe tester. A recipe tester works for a magazine, cookbook publisher or the like, and tests a chef's recipe to see if what's written works for home cooks in their own kitchens. The tester gets a recipe from a chef, then works through the chef's notes to translate them into a recipe format with which people are familiar. Then, the tester prepares the dish and irons out any wrinkles (oven temperature or measurement issues, for instance) until it's easy enough for the average reader to prepare.
Ian Knauer, a recipe tester, tells a story of receiving a recipe from a pastry chef for a tart. Knauer was concerned about the amount of butter in the crust, but followed the recipe anyway. As the tart baked, the excess butter in the crust ended up catching the oven on fire. After a call to the chef, Knauer found out she had accidentally specified an incorrect amount of butter for her recipe [source: Goode]. Recipe testers look for problems like that, and more.
When food is your passion, and you want to share your knowledge with the world, food blogging is a great platform with which to do it. You can blog about anything: your own creations, recipes, favorite restaurants, favorite chefs, best places in the world to eat, local fare or specific types of food. The endless possibilities explain why there are hundreds of food bloggers out there. So how do you make your food blog stand out from the rest?
The most successful food bloggers find a niche and stick with it. You could specialize in writing only about cupcakes, for instance, or the best taco places in Florida, or how to pair the perfect wine with a meal. If you're an amateur chef, you can post your own recipes. Successful food writer David Lebovitz also stresses the importance of good photography skills. "Use photos to tell the story," he writes. "A nice picture is one thing, but your photos should augment the text, or vice-versa. Show the process, not just the end result" [source: Lebovitz]. Soon enough, you may find yourself with a devoted following.
Get enough attention as a food blogger and you might actually effect change. Vani Hari, also known as the controversial blogger The Food Babe, has launched several successful petitions against companies that she believes have dangerous ingredients in their food. Her public support convinced Subway to change their bread recipe and Kraft to remove certain dyes from its macaroni and cheese [source: Hamblin].
Cheesemongers manage the cheese department in specialty or artisan food shops. Their job duties include extensive tasting, relationships with farmers and cheesemakers, selecting which cheeses to purchase, knowing how all the cheeses are made and storing the cheese correctly. Cheesemongers can get specialized training in the field or also go through several years of hands-on experience.
A cheesemonger's main job is helping customers select the best cheese for their meal. You need an encyclopedic knowledge of what flavors go best with what foods and drinks, what cheeses are ripe and in season and an ability to get to know your customers and their tastes. You also need to be able to recommend a cheese when a customer asks for advice. A good cheesemonger should also offer small tastes of their cheeses to help their customers make buying decisions. How do you develop this knowledge? Eat lots and lots of cheeses, all the time.
There's even an International Best Cheesemonger Competition every year. Contestants are tested on practical knowledge, artistry, taste combinations, presentation and cutting, and they must present a tray of cheeses chosen to fit a particular theme [source: International Cheese Tours].
If sweets are your thing and you have a knack for making cakes, becoming a baker might be more up your alley. Bakers craft cakes, pies, cupcakes, pastries, bread, muffins, cookies, croissants ... basically an endless parade of sugary treats. Some bakers go to culinary or pastry school, and others are self-taught. Some work for bakeries, restaurants or bakery departments in grocery stores, while some open up their own shops or sell cakes out of their homes (if legal to do so). According to industry studies, in 2014 there were almost 9,000 commercial and retail bakeries in the United States alone, generating almost $40 billion in revenue [source: First Research].
Bakers can experiment with different flavors, frostings, dough and fillings. It's definitely a tasty job. If you do decide to go the baking route, however, be prepared for very early hours. Most restaurants and stores need their baked goods ready to go as soon as they open, so that means your workday might start hours before dawn. But you might have that sugar high to keep you going.
Every time you bite into your favorite chain-restaurant burrito or dig into a bag of your favorite chips, you can thank a research chef. Research chefs create new foods for food manufacturers, chain restaurants or shops. Using survey results, studying food and taste trends, or working hand in hand with food scientists, research chefs mix culinary expertise with science. They might travel the country or the world, tasting different cuisines for inspiration.
If customer surveys reveal people want a smokier barbecue sauce, a research chef works with different flavor combinations and ingredients to figure out how to do just that. Later, after a flavor is chosen, the chef's recipe goes to a food scientist, where it's fine-tuned for nutrition and preservatives. Most research chefs are trained in culinary arts, but might have another degree in chemistry or general science.
One research chef, under anonymity, spilled some secrets of the trade. She explained that your "100 percent orange juice" is actually orange juice plus oil from orange peels, combined in different concentrations to please different palates. She also revealed that research chefs could design frozen meals to rival a four-star restaurant's food, but consumers probably wouldn't pay for them. Another secret? Almost every prepared food has monosodium glutamate (MSG) in it. It's everywhere [source: Slaton].
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Author's Note: 10 Careers Where You Can Eat for a Living
Eating for a living sounds like the ultimate career for someone who loves food. However, I found out these jobs require a lot of hard work, odd hours and creativity — along with enduring criticism from customers and restaurants alike. If you have a thick skin and don't mind working alone, some of these jobs might just be a perfect fit. Just make sure you have the proper background (although a competitive eater only needs an iron-clad stomach), and soon enough you could make a name for yourself in food circles.
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- International Cheese Tours. 2015. (June 17, 2015) http://www.cheese-tours.com/concours-fromager.html
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- Ledbetter, Carly. "Marilyn Hagerty, 'Olive Garden Food Critic,' Reviews McDonald's And They're Lovin' It." The Huffington Post. Jan. 22, 2015. (June 17, 2015) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/22/marilyn-hagerty-reviews-mcdonalds_n_6523650.html
- Meoli, Daria. "Making Mario." New Jersey Monthly. Feb. 8, 2008. (June 17, 2015) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/22/marilyn-hagerty-reviews-mcdonalds_n_6523650.html
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- Wood, Donald. "Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest 2014: Start Time, Prize Money and Contestants." Bleacher Report. July 2, 2014. (Dec. 1, 2014) http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2115654-nathans-hot-dog-eating-contest-2014-start-time-prize-money-and-contestants