Features

How to become a food writer

Food writer and publisher Jed Doble dishes on credible food writing

Photo by Dennie Ramon
How did you get into the industry as a writer? Was it a profession you actively sought after or something you found yourself in by coincidence?

From the beginning, I knew I had a passion for food. I never really thought of myself as a writer even though I had contributed to a few magazines in Manila. I started working in media as a photographer and one of my favorite subjects was food. One day, the editor was looking for a food writer and asked me to do some food articles. “Who doesn’t want a free meal?” I thought. Since then, I started writing about food regularly. Then I was offered the food and drink editor position of the magazine. I knew then that there was no turning back.

Describe your magazine.

I am the publisher of FoodieS, a monthly food print magazine written in English, based in Jakarta. We also run a separate digital channel, in Indonesian, where we produce both articles and videos. FoodieS covers the whole spectrum of food, from fine dining to street food. In Indonesia, the normal greeting to someone you meet is “Sudah makan, belom?” which means, “Have you eaten?”

What does it take to be an effective food writer? Is it enough to be just a writer or a food lover? Or are both requirements?

I think it is important to know how to describe food effectively. A food storyteller, if you will. Calling a dish delicious does not describe it effectively; that just means that you had a positive experience with the dish. But if you describe the dish using your senses, describing flavor, texture, smell, as well as how it looks, then you can be an effective food writer.

It helps that you are a food lover too, of course, but the writing component is equally important. I think you need a good palate to describe food well, to decipher flavor and technique. Knowing how to cook helps, too. I think loving food is definitely a requirement but knowing how to cook isn’t.

What are the pros and cons of being a food writer?

Big pro is of course the good meals that you have, plus meeting famous chefs and restaurateurs. One setback is the risk of having to eat bad food. And perhaps the biggest one is eating too much!

What kind of training should food writers go through to be effective at their jobs?

I’ve taught a food writing class and I always stress to my students that they have to be good writers, period. They are good writers who write about food. One definitely has to be a foodie. And one has to eat everything, all kinds of food. You should not choose. Or try something at least once. Try as many cuisines and dishes as you can to build your palate. Reading about food from books, cookbooks, websites, and blogs is also important to be up-to-date with food trends and techniques.

How do you feel about writers who use their jobs to get free meals?

I think the free meals are part of the job, but should not be the sole motivation. There will always be people who will abuse their influence; I’m not a supporter of these. A few years ago, there was a big issue in Singapore. A food blogger was demanding for free meals in exchange for a review. Not sure where he is now.

Would you write critical reviews if a restaurant deserves it or would you rather keep your mouth shut if you have nothing nice to say?

I would like to believe that I am very honest in my reviews and comments. My policy though is that we will not print a negative review. It’s a waste of pages in the magazine and creates enmity. So if you don’t see your restaurant in our magazine, that’s our review. I will tell any chef my honest comments on their food, though, if they care to listen—positive or negative.

How does one build credibility?

Being a good writer, knowing techniques and flavors well, and being honest in your dealings will always help towards building your credibility. One should always continue to hone their craft, continue to learn, explore, and discover.

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