I’ve been at my freelance job (recipe development/testing and food writing/editing) for 4 weeks now. I’ll have this position until January, with talk of it becoming permanent, which is exciting.
About 70% of the content I’m working on is ghost written, which basically means I’m writing FOR other chefs, on their behalf — they get the byline, while I do the writing and recipe development/testing. I’m also cleaning up recipes they’ve poorly written. These chefs have many more years of industry experience than I do and boast impressive resumes, yet they can’t write an understandable, easy-to-follow recipe, which puzzles me. Developing this skillset will make you more marketable in the industry, especially if you go on to be a sous chef, executive chef, or if you take my path into food writing, research and development. How could the culinary school community have skipped over such an important part of becoming a chef?
My school is no different. I learned how to write recipes on my own, by reading books and other recipes from reliable sources to develop my own style guide — it wasn’t something formally taught in my culinary school, except for the brief project we worked on in culinary management class.
Learning to write a proper recipe that can be easily understood, followed and successfully executed is like learning a brand new language with strange new rules, phrases and abbreviations. For example, the way you word measurements in your list of ingredients is important. One cup of chopped parsley is not the same thing as one cup of parsley, chopped. Think about where the word "chopped" is placed in the sentence:
One cup of chopped parsley means that you've CHOPPED the parsley before you measured it.
One cup of parsley, chopped, means that you've MEASURED the parsley before you chopped it.
The two descriptions will yield completely different amounts, so you have to be careful you're using the correct placement of your verbs and adjectives.
The style guide I follow at work is 50+ pages long, with descriptions just like the one above, along with other key phrases, like “bring to boiling” instead of “bring to a boil.” But, because I had learned about these methods ahead of time, it’s like second nature now, and my recipes are stronger and better for learning it.
I keep the following recipe writing and food books with me at all times — they’re what I used to initially learn the process, and are now my favorite reference guides:
The Recipe Writer’s Handbook, Revised and Updated
by Barbara Gibbs Ostmann and Jane Baker
I keep this book with me at all times, always finding a new writing tip every time I open it. The book goes into greater detail, dissecting recipes and descriptions.
Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Restaurant Reviews, Articles, Memoir, Fiction and More
by Dianne Jacob
Dianne describes the art of "showing rather than telling" perfectly in her book, and shares helpful food writing examples from newspapers, books and magazine articles.
Food Lover’s Companion
by Sharon Tyler Herbst
A favorite reference book of mine, it contains almost 6,000 listings on subjects related to food and drink — ingredients, techniques, spellings and pronounciations.