Here, Food & Wine’s Gail Simmons shares five tips on how to break into food media.
F&W's #FOODWINEWOMEN series spotlights top women in food and drink in collaboration with Toklas Society. Follow the hashtag on Twitter (@foodandwine).
The world of food media has grown exponentially since I first started working in it two decades ago. There are more creative ways to make your mark than ever. But it's also such a crowded space that at times it's difficult to know where to start when breaking in. I'm asked almost daily how I came to have the jobs I do, how to find meaningful work that incorporates all the things you love and how to land the next great food gig. I don't have all the answers, but I do know my unconventional career path was carved by adhering to a few key beliefs.
1. Differentiate yourself. In order to be authoritative about any subject, you need to put in the time required to learn it thoroughly and have an informed point of view. Knowing you like to eat and cook isn't always enough anymore. When I started out, I knew I loved food but realized quickly that I didn't really know that much about it, technically. So I enrolled in cooking school and then put in hours of my time as a young cook to gain the skills and knowledge I needed to speak and write about it fluently. I could then communicate articulately and easily on the subject, which helped me gain the respect and confidence of not only my peers but my seniors and potential employers.
2. Find like-minded women as role models and mentors. The chef and restaurant space is particularly male-dominated. When I started working I found it discouraging, as I didn't know many women who did what I wanted to do. Through reading books, watching TV, networking and hard work I eventually found extraordinary mentors and role models who inspired me to do my best. Some I may never meet in person, but their legacy still stands as aspirational. Others have become good friends, advisers and trusted guides in my work and life. I hope to pass their invaluable lessons on to more smart women who love to cook, eat and further our field.
3. Have goals, but be flexible and open to opportunity. I always knew I wanted to work in food media, but the term "media" is constantly evolving and can mean so many different things. I started with the goal of food writing for a print publication, never having the slightest idea that the majority of my time would one day be spent on television. I learned all I could to achieve my goals but took the time to explore and pursue all other, at times random, opportunities that presented themselves, even if they seemed to stray from my initial intentions. By allowing myself to walk through doors to the right and left of me, I created a career that has been so much more fulfilling and unexpected than if I had stuck closely to that more narrow, original path.
4. Do your research. The best advice I've been taught is that if you do your research (for an article, a proposal, a dish, an interview) and be as prepared as possible, the work basically does itself. Your results will always be stronger, better, more rewarding. It's true every time.
5. Cast the widest net possible and aim high. Talk to as many people as you can when figuring out what you want to do. Make a dream list of people to work for, write them, meet them, pick their brains, take them for a cocktail or a coffee. Don't be afraid to introduce yourself to everyone you admire; the higher up on the ladder, the better. People are usually happy to tell their story and help, as long as they feel their help is appreciated and valued. That said, I strongly believe in knowing when to respect people's space and time, as well as in sending handwritten thank-you notes afterward.