Food & Wine Culinary Director Justin Chapple's best advice on breaking into food media.
A million guys or girls would kill to have his job. Justin Chapple, culinary director of Food & Wine and cookbook author, says he often hears from culinary students eager to ascend the magazine ranks to literary or TV stardom. Chapple's own climb up the food media ladder was equal parts hard work and kismet—he landed the magazine's Mad Genius Tips video series, which propelled him toward his first cook book, Mad Genius Tips, and now, his forthcoming Just Cook It! will be available in May 2018. But be warned: Chapple's success won't be easy to replicate; like a good Bouillabaisse, the secret sauce to becoming a food editor can require a slow simmer before it (proverbially) boils. With that in mind, here's how to do it.
1. Get a culinary education. You don't have to attend culinary school to become a food editor, says Chapple, who is a graduate of the International Culinary Center. But there is no denying that earning that degree gives you an edge, "because you get a lot of information and you get a lot of general skills that you can work to perfect," Chapple explains. "It's those basic skills that are the building blocks of being a great cook." Those are skills you can learn in a restaurant—but it could take more time.
2. Work in restaurants. After Chapple graduated, he went to work in restaurants, a crucial step he implores wannabe food editors to also take. "One of the things a lot of culinary students say to me is they want to go right from school to food media, and I always recommend they work in a restaurant before jumping into food media," says Chapple. What's more, you should aim to work in as many positions (or in as many restaurants) as possible before you submit an application to a magazine or network.
"I think moving around stations at a restaurant is important because you're learning different techniques and different skills and how different people eat and their preferences," says Chapple. "In food media, you're cooking for the masses, and that's never one specific kind of food. In this industry, you don't cook one kind of food and you don't cook one kind of dish—you really cook from all over the globe, and so having even just basic knowledge of many different cuisines is really important."
If you can't job hop, you can still learn to cook a variety of foods. "Read cookbooks, and cook from cookbooks," advises Chapple. "Go out to eat and try new restaurants, and talk to people who cook different types of food. It's important to understand how people cook today. People are more adventurous than they ever have been."
3. Network. While he was still working in a restaurant, Chapple met someone who had connections to Food & Wine. So when she heard the magazine was searching for a marketing intern, she passed the tip on to Chapple—who she knew was interested in food media—and he applied, snagging the job. (He later would ask for a shot on the editorial side, working his way up over eight years from assistant recipe tester to his current position as culinary director for the publication.) "You don't need to know someone who knows someone," he says, "but you need to meet someone." In other words, you have to network, which can take the form of setting up meetings with editors you admire to volunteering at food and beverage events or relying on your culinary school's career center to make appropriate introductions, he advises. "Food media is a very small world," Chapple says, "and everyone knows everyone. And chances are that if you meet the right people and you stay in contact and you make a very good impression, they will be willing to connect you and help you."
4. Find the right publication. The world of food media is vast; there are dozens of publications and networks out there, each looking for someone to fill a role. But that doesn't mean you should send your application to each and every one, Chapple says. "Using myself as an example: I could apply at every food magazine or food show out there, but that doesn't mean every magazine or show is the right fit for me." In order to stand out from the competition, "you have to understand what you're looking for and what you want to do and how your skills will fit into that world," Chapple says.
5. Keep learning. A large part of Chapple's job is in the kitchen, tweaking recipes so that they are ready for home cooks. But another chunk of his job is identifying food trends before they become well-known—and finding a way to bring those trends to readers. "We're writing about [trends] way before they are happening, and it's part of our jobs to see the changes coming in the industry and ask, what are people going to be cooking next?" To be successful in that aspect of his job, Chapple says, he has to constantly learn new things. "The world is constantly evolving and foods change, and styles of cooking change," Chapple says. "You have to have a love for learning new things and continuing education, because you have stay ahead of those trends."
To continue your education, you don't have to sign up for classes. Start with reading every piece of food media you can, from magazines to blogs and newspapers, Chapple recommends. "You need to know what it going on in the world," he says.