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How to Become a Great Food Critic: Tips to Start a Career

24/01/2024

The smell of freshly baked bread wafted through the air. The sizzle of a steak hitting a hot grill. The first bite of a decadent chocolate cake. For those who are passionate about food, these sensations can feel almost magical. And if you also have a talent for bringing your dining experiences to life through the written word, a professional food critic career may be your calling.

As a food critic, your job is to provide insightful, honest reviews and critiques of restaurants, chefs and dishes. You get to taste different delicious cuisines, and then transform your opinion into stories that inform and entertain your readers. It’s a role that requires culinary curiosity, integrity, and excellent writing abilities.

If you think you have what it takes to become a great food critic, then this article is for you. We will walk you through the key steps to becoming a food critic. With passion, dedication, and skill, you can land a “job” getting paid to eat!

A food critic tasting food

What’s a Food Critic

A food critic is a professional writer who reviews and critiques food and dining experiences. Their knowledgeable, honest opinions inform readers about what to order, try, and avoid at restaurants.

Just like any other culinary profession, they have a specific set of responsibilities and qualities. Let’s take a look at them.

Responsibilities of a Food Critic

  • Visiting restaurants anonymously to sample food. As a food critic, you need to experience a restaurant just like any other guest. Your identity and purpose should always be kept a secret so that you won’t receive any special treatment.
  • Writing reviews and articles to publish. You will need to use vivid details and descriptions to recap your meals for the readers. You need to identify if a restaurant is worth visiting and highlight the must-try dishes from the menu. Besides that, there is a need to cover food trends, chef profiles, or culinary news.

Main Qualities of a Good Food Critic

The best food critics have these key qualities:

  • Curious palate — food critics have an adventurous, discerning appetite and want to try unique ingredients and different cuisines.
  • Integrity — food critics value honesty and will write fair reviews regardless of outside influence.
  • Expressive writing — food critics paint detailed imagery with words to make readers taste and smell the food through their articles.
  • Industry knowledge — food critics understand cooking techniques, ingredients, and food and restaurant trends.

Steps to Becoming a Food Critic

Becoming an authoritative food critic requires dedication, but the rewards of getting paid to dine out and share your opinions are worth the effort. If you have a passion for food and writing, follow these key steps to break into this dream career:

A food critic educating in a culinary school

Educate yourself

As you start your journey to becoming a food critic, one of the most important steps is educating yourself. Your hunger for new knowledge should be the same, as for new culinary experiences. Why? Because it’s your way to build your credibility and skills as a food critic.

Here are some great ideas to educate yourself:

  • Earn a degree in journalism. Your word is your weapon. If you don’t have a sense of language and can’t articulate your thoughts well, no one will read your writing. Going to college for a few years is certainly not 100% necessary to become a food critic, but it can definitely make your materials better. If college is not your option, than take a look at some writing classes or workshops.
  • Attend a culinary school even if don’t want to cook. The experience exposes you to global cuisines, kitchen language, cooking techniques and influential chef mentors. This food knowledge will be a foundation for writing amazing and professional reviews. So you have two options here:
    • Enroll in a short-term culinary course to quickly learn the necessary basics.
    • Get a culinary arts degree, if you want to have in-depth knowledge of culinary arts.
  • Take sommelier courses. Wines are a completely different world that shouldn’t be ignored by a great food critic. Understanding varietals, production methods and pairing principles lets you write authoritatively about the beverages complementing meals.
  • Food books. Easy and the less resourceful way to improve your skills. The most challenging thing is identifying what exactly you should read, as there are many great culinary books. If you are not sure where to start, then take a look at the FiveBooks list of best books on food writing. They have listed 5 amazing books:
    • Fergus Henderson, “Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking”.
    • Nigel Slater, “Real Cooking”.
    • Claudia Roden, “The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York: A Cookbook”.
    • Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, “The River Cottage Meat Book”.
    • Elizabeth David, “French Provincial Cooking”.

Develop your palate

There are so many great ways to train your palate outside of eating at restaurants.

We suggest starting by trying cuisines that are new to you — try African or Middle Eastern dishes, visit an Indian restaurant, and experience flavors outside your comfort zone. Attend restaurant weeks or food festivals that feature global offerings to really broaden your horizons.

Talk to shopkeepers to learn about their culture and cuisine. Visit farmers’ markets and buy products or spices you’ve never tried before.

A great thing you could try out is to recreate dishes you loved eating out at home. You’ll learn how ingredients come together by cooking them yourself. And don’t be afraid to get adventurous! Try new restaurant pop-ups, food trucks, and exotic grocery stores.

Food critic writes a review

Improve Writing Skills

A food critic is only as good as their ability to vividly describe meals through words. In addition to developing your palate, work diligently on your writing skills

Practice using imaginative, emotive language to transport readers to the table with you. Describe textures, aromas, flavours and plating in tantalizing detail. Read your drafts aloud — does it paint a rich sensory picture?

Learn how professional critics structure their reviews and articles and try to adapt to them. By doing this, you can find a path to your style. To take your style to the next level you will need a lot of experience, so gain it with the structure that already perfectly works. If you are a newbie in this field, then here is an easy-to-follow format that you can use in your writing:

  1. Open the article with a striking hook
  2. ​Highlight standout dishes
  3. End with a clear recommendation

Another great thing to learn is storytelling techniques, as they can help build compelling narratives around your dining experiences. Share interesting chef anecdotes, make personal connections, sprinkle in a bit of humor, as this can make your copy more engaging.

Keep in mind that great food critics have tireless commitment to quality writing. It takes a lot of daily practice to improve their writing skills. So read broadly, study others, critique your own work – and your skills will steadily improve.

Build your portfolio

A knockout portfolio is essential for demonstrating your talents when applying for food critic roles. Start compiling your work early to showcase your progression.

A food blog on Instagram/Facebook/TikTok or a personal website blog is a must if you want to build your portfolio. Once you decide the platform, on which you want to promote, work on consistently creating high-quality restaurant reviews, food trend articles, interview pieces and more. If you have decided to start a blog on social media then don’t ignore video formats, as today they are one of the easiest ways to reach a broad audience organically.

Quick tip from HRC: Social media is a very competitive niche. If you want to succeed, then analyze your competitors and think what make you different. People will follow you because of what sets you apart from the rest. You can be distinguished by your writing style, visual style, or the cuisines you review

Another effective way to show your expertise is to contribute free articles to newspapers and magazines. If you don’t have a lot of experience and a big name, then don’t spend your time to get a publication in a regional journal. Start with small local publications in your town or city. Once you gain the required authority and experience, you can start outreaching bigger fishes in the media market.

Don’t forget to always include eye-catching, high-res photos of dishes you review. Strong visuals make your work more memorable to editors and readers. We don’t recommend buying a professional camera at the beginning, as nowadays you can take nice photos even with the camera on your phone. So, practice and invest your resources in your photography skills rather than gear.

A compelling, well-rounded portfolio conveys your passion and skillset. It can open doors to your dream opportunities.

Network if you want to become a food critic

Network and establish credibility

Becoming an authority as a food critic requires strategic networking to build your reputation. Here are some tips that you can use to build it:

  • Attend industry events like book signings and restaurant openings to connect with fellow critics, editors, chefs and restaurateurs. Don’t forget to exchange business cards and follow up to improve your relationships.
  • Once you have some published work, introduce yourself via email to established critics and writers you admire. Offer to interview them for your blog.
  • Partner with local tourism boards and convention centers as their official critic. Having a respected organization endorse you helps build prestige.
  • Promote notable chefs and dishes on your platforms. If your praise leads to their success, they’ll think about giving you access and exclusives.
  • Consider contributing free reviews to reputable food and travel sites to increase your visibility. But keep your independent voice.

In this competitive industry, your network is your net worth.

Ready to Become a Food Critic?

By now you should have a solid understanding of how to prepare for an exciting career as a professional food critic.

It’s a role that allows you to combine a passion for food, an adventurous spirit, and strong writing skills. As your knowledge, palate, and portfolio grow with deliberate practice, you’ll be ready to pitch reviews and amaze readers.

Remember — educating yourself never stops if you want to become a great food critic. There are always new restaurants, chefs and trends to explore. Maintain your curiosity, integrity and desire to learn.

The world of food is ever-evolving. And as a critic, you have the wonderful opportunity to guide others on their culinary journeys through your unique lens.

Here at HRC Culinary Academy, we offer a range of culinary art programs that can help you in developing expertise in food tasting, cuisine styles and more. Our immersive training programs will equip you with the needed knowledge to succeed.

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