As of recent, I've noticed that I've become that person at dinner parties who actually wants to talk about work. I don't look forward to the weekends like most of my office-bound friends: I hate the Friday and Saturday crowds at restaurants and bars and I'm usually not able to review venues during the hectic weekend rush. So, all bragging intended, I love my job(s). But a lot of people don't understand what I do. "Is it like writing Yelp reviews?" No. Firstly, I am a food writer. I'm not a restaurant critic. While I am a professional, I'm also only 22 years old, and I've only been working in this field for a couple of years. I personally don't think that I have the grandiose knowledge or experience that it takes to be a truly effective critic. Sure, I've been eating out for almost 22 years of life, but only recently have a taken a professional interest in the subject, and from that I have learned how to share my experiences via writing. Sure, one day I'd love to be a Pete Wells or Ruth Reichl, but I have a lot of learning to do first. And probably a few pants sizes to grow...
So though I'm not assigning star ratings to fine dining establishments, I've somehow been able to "make it" as a food writer. Note: making it in NYC/any creative profession means not being in extravagant debt and having a roof over your head.
Since graduating in May, I've taken a pretty untraditional path. I co-founded a website, and work as a freelancer for various New York City and food publications. For the NYC publications, I'm a food correspondent, and for the food publications, I often write about food in NYC. Funny how that works.
How does that work? One of two ways: either an editor will send me out on assignment, usually to a restaurant or event, or I'll eat somewhere or see something and pitch that story for the editor. After the piece is written and published, I'll receive a check of a two-figure value. No complaints though, I'm getting paid for eating.
Where does all this food come from? Again, there are a variety of ways. I'm not covered by the expense report of a major publication nor am I fiscally prepared to pay my way through secret reviews. Therefore, I rely on invitations or reach out to businesses that I want to visit, in order to research my pieces.
Is this totally ethical? Well, yes and no. When a restaurant knows a reporter is in its midst, you're going to be treated much better (think constant wine refills and edible gifts being personally delivered to your table by the chef) and definitely not have the pedestrian experience. I observe other diners and often speak with them about their meals to try and average the experience. Also, if the meal is truly excellent, I'll most likely return soon as a regular, paying customer and get a better gage on the food and dining experience.
And how do I get these invitations? I'm very popular, so really from everywhere! International governments have invited me to eateries that specialize in their cuisines, public relations representatives contact me with story ideas- food is a good exchange for press, and I'm often visiting local venues and introducing myself as a writer usually to warm hospitality and gracious thanks for featuring their business.
I love my ability (and power!) to profile local businesses that I believe in and want to promote, helping them out as much as they're helping me out by providing me with publishable material to help boost my career!