When ICE President Rick Smilow and Anne E. McBride wrote Culinary Careers: How to Get Your Dream Job in Food they discovered a plethora of food jobs they had never heard of before. Since the book’s release, they have been discovering even more interesting career paths in the food world. DICED shares some of them with you in a reoccurring feature, “Unique Culinary Careers.”
Many of today’s most notable chefs are writing cookbooks, often with the help of a good food writer. In addition to his work for publications such as The New York Times, Men’s Vogue, Gourmet, Saveur, Bon Appétit and Food & Wine, JJ Goode works with some of these chefs turning their professional dishes into easy-to-read books. He co-authored Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking (DK, 2007) with renowned chef Masaharu Morimoto. The book was nominated for a James Beard Award and won two IACP Awards. He also co-authored Serious Barbecue (Hyperion, 2009) with Adam Perry Lang, which made The New York Times Best Seller List and was featured on Oprah. Now, he is working on more books with chefs such as April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig and The Breslin, Zak Pelaccio of Fatty Crab and Fatty Cue, and Aaron Sanchez of Food Network fame. His book with Roberto Santibanez of Fonda comes out this April. We talked to him about his job, his career path and how he ended up writing books with world-class chefs without ever having gone to culinary school.
What has your career path been like?
I graduated college in 2003, when the whole food thing really started blowing up. Food magazines and web sites were launching or expanding. Magazines that had never really covered food wanted to start. I got lucky. I decided I wanted to be involved in food during my senior year and begged a generous guy named Steven Shaw to let me intern for a website he founded called eGullet. He then helped me get an internship as a fact checker at Saveur. I worked briefly as a freelance writer selling articles here and there but I had to take a paralegal job to pay the bills. Then Steven Shaw emailed to say he’d heard about a job opening at Epicurious. I started there and got some great experience. I met more nice people—including a scarily good writer named David Leite and another big-hearted soul named Peter Meehan. The first two cookbooks I worked on were projects Peter sent my way. After a year or two, I had a yearlong cookbook project to work on and I was ready to start freelancing full-time. One cookbook led to the next, and here I am.
How would you describe your job?
I still do some writing about food for magazines and newspapers. But mainly, I help chefs write cookbooks. I work with them to refine their ideas, write the book proposal (which goes out to the publishers who might want to buy the book), figure out the content and shape of the book, and get their ideas on paper. It’s hard enough for me to write clearly about my ideas, and I’ve been practicing for years. So you can imagine how hard it is for them, because they’ve never had to do it before and at the same time they’re trying to run a kitchen (or two or three). I also work hard to channel the chef’s voice when I write. That’s one of the most important parts of a cookbook to me. If you buy a book by a particular chef, you want to feel like he’s with you in your kitchen, you want to get to know him. More…