How to be a recipe writer: Cassie Best

Bursting with recipe ideas and want to make a career out of it? Our senior food editor Cassie Best tells us what life is like as a recipe writer, and shares her top tips for standing out from the crowd...

Cassie Best: How to be a recipe writer

Cassie certainly knows her way around a kitchen, cooking up the beautiful creations that adorn BBC Good Food magazine and website. Here she shares her advice for getting started in the food publishing industry...

How did you get started as a recipe writer?

Banana and custard drip cake topped with sweets and white chocolate shards

For as long as I can remember, I've always been at my happiest in the kitchen but when I left school I didn't see cooking as a career option. The idea of being a chef terrified me and I didn't realise that there were so many other jobs within the food world that I could pursue. I wanted to travel, so instead, I became an air hostess, spending every day I had off work cooking dishes inspired by my travels. I was always a hoarder of cookbooks and food magazines and one day it dawned on me that that's what I wanted to do - become a food writer. I did a little research and discovered that Leiths Cookery School in London ran a 1-year cookery diploma, which offered the opportunity of an internship at BBC Good Food - my absolute dream! After begging my parents to lend me the money to attend Leiths I signed up to the course and hung up my wings. I gave it everything I had and was lucky enough to land the position of intern at Good Food. Thankfully, after my 6-month internship I was kept on as assistant food editor and have since worked my way up to senior food editor. 

What do you like most about your job?

Pile of chocolate profiteroles on a glass stand

Being totally engulfed in something I adore - food! From the moment I get to my desk in the morning it’s all food, food, food! I'll be chatting to the rest of the cookery team about what we had for dinner the night before, a great new restaurant we've been to or an exciting new ingredient that's landed on our desks. Writing recipes is the best part of my day, as I get to be creative and dream up delicious new creations, then bring them to life in the test kitchen, which is a stone's throw away from my desk. But there’s much more to it – as senior food editor I work with the rest of the cookery team to plan the food content for the magazine every month, making sure there’s a good balance of recipes to suit every reader. We also produce content for this website and do live demonstrations and videos for the brand.

Is there anything you dislike about your job?

Pan of bright green wild garlic and nettle soup

It made it very hard for me to stick to my wedding diet last year! The trickiest thing is always working 3-4 months in advance for the magazine; we strive to be ahead of the trends but with the food scene changing so quickly, especially in London, it's tough. It also makes it hard for us to work with seasonal ingredients, we might be writing a lovely wild garlic feature in January, with no hope of getting hold of any until April (we try to stash things like this in the freezer but it’s not always possible).

What is an average working day like?

Layered loaf cake topped with figs

I arrive at the office at about 9am, grab a cup of tea and check my emails – food stylists will need to be briefed or queries from other members of the team answered. If I’m writing recipes, I’ll jot down the bare bones of what I’m creating and a list of ingredients with rough quantities, then I’ll head to the test kitchen to flesh them out. Our kitchen is basic; we don’t use any fancy equipment or ingredients, it’s just what you’d find in a regular home kitchen. The testing process is rigorous; every recipe gets tested three times to ensure it works perfectly for people at home. When I’m happy with the result, I’ll write up the feature, adding helpful tips which I’ve picked up from testing. Lunch is usually something from the kitchen - if I’m not cooking, you can be sure one of the four other members of the cookery team will be. Often, we’ll have a meeting or two throughout the day, to plan or discuss content, photoshoots or the layout of a feature in the magazine.

What would be your advice to young people looking to get into recipe writing or food publishing?

Fruit pie topped with lattice design

Start a blog! Even if you don’t want anyone else to read it at first, it’s good practice to document your experiments in the kitchen and hone your writing style. Think about the people you’re writing for and try to be original; a Bakewell tart is a wonderful recipe to perfect but will it make you stand out from the crowd? Many food writers are also food stylists, so contact them and see if you can assist on photoshoots - you’ll make good industry contacts and learn from the best.

Are there any courses or qualifications that you would recommend?

Although it’s not essential, a solid catering qualification will stand you in good stead. As a recipe writer, you’ll want to be as flexible as possible in terms of the type of recipes you write. A cookery qualification will give you a broad understanding of classic recipes and methods, and the science behind food, all of which is important as a recipe writer. 

What inspires you?

Eggs shakshuka in tomato sauce with peppers, in a wide pan

Inspiration comes from so many different places: restaurants or cafes I’ve eaten in, social media, the seasons, markets, or nostalgia – things I’ve liked to eat since I was little. When I’m writing recipes I usually start by thinking about which ingredients are in season and what I’d like to eat at that time of year, then begin playing around with those things to create something new.

Do you read cookbooks or food magazines and if so, which ones do you like?

All the time – I’m such a cookbook hoarder, I have a stack of them on rotation next to my bed. I always go back to Nigel Slater, Diana Henry, Lindsay Bareham and Yotam Ottolenghi among others but at the moment my bedtime reading is The 5 O'Clock Apron by Claire Thomson and a couple of Jane Grigson books. I can’t set foot in a supermarket without picking up their magazine and I adore my iPad version of Donna Hay.

What is your favourite meal of the day?

Polenta pancakes topped with chorizo, salsa and fried egg, on a plate

From Monday to Friday I’d say lunch, because it usually comes from the Good Food test kitchen and is guaranteed to be good! But at the weekends, it has to be brunch. I love cooking something indulgent for brunch - it feels like such a treat and I always wake up ravenous! Pancakes with bacon and maple syrup or shakshuka are my favourites.

Testing recipes can’t always go smoothly… have you ever made any big mistakes in the test kitchen?

Things go wrong all the time - I’ve had many a burnt Yorkshire pudding or under-baked cake. I once did the classic and used salt in place of sugar in a batch of cookies! 

What is the biggest misconception that people have about your job?

Many people don’t realise that the cookery team write and test the majority of recipes in-house: that works out at about 50-70 recipes per month. We have a test kitchen in the office and triple test (or sometimes more) every recipe to make sure it works perfectly for people at home.

Feeling inspired? Try developing your own dishes with our how to write a recipe guide. Whatever your skillset, we've got plenty of insight into kick-starting a career in the food industry:​

How to be a food critic
How to be a professional chef
How to be a food stylist

Are you a recipe writer - professional or amateur? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below...

Comments, questions and tips

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Gareth Doolan's picture
Gareth Doolan
1st Mar, 2020
Really loved this article, having worked in various bakeries/restaurants and studying baking, management, and culinary arts. I've gravitated towards developing new recipes and playing around with them to make them better or different. As much as I've learnt from working Bakeries, its a tough job physically and socially. When others want to produce the same products for hours on their feet, I want to grab a cuppa and dissect a recipe and make it with a twist, that's really the dream job!
HalimaBobs's picture
27th Dec, 2018
Very inspirational and I love the fact that each recipe is tested so thoroughly in-house. My blog incorporates recipes and restaurant reviews, with a particular focus on food from Bangladesh, where my parents are from.
31st Mar, 2017
I would love to get your opinion on some of the dishes I have created which you can see on my Instagram page @deving1992
31st Mar, 2017
Food has been my passion ever since I was a child, I remember coming home from school and turning on the TV to watch my favorite chefs such as Jeaque Pepin and Wolfgang Puck. As I got older I began to develop my own cooking style and even got the opportunity to attend culinary school for a semester, I later went on to work as a cook in many different environments, at a high end food market, catering in NY for over 1500 people and working in a small restaurant bar in Texas, I soon realized that even though food and cooking is my passion I as well could not see myself working in chef passion for the rest of my life I felt as though my creative culinary mind needed to be expressed in a different environment, currently I work a 9-5 office job but I am so desperate to follow my dreams and allow my work to be something I am passionate about such as food, So in other words I just want to say thank you for this article it really has opened my eyes and gives me hope. Thank you
5th Jan, 2017
Hi there!! Great article with loads of useful information! I started my own food blog, just over year ago and absolute love it. Although its just a hobby at the moment I hope it will eventually grow into a career for me. Thanks for sharing - very inspirational :-)
Daisy x's picture
Daisy x
6th Jun, 2019
I'm 16 and starting a catering course next year at college, But the idea of a chef never appeled to me, I've always loved art and photography and well as food since I was young so instantly loved the idea of being a food stylist/writer x Is there any tips you could give me to to help point me in that direction?xX
goodfoodteam's picture
7th Jun, 2019
Thanks for your question. We'd say Cassie's tip of starting your own food blog to document your recipes and practice writing about food is a great way to start. It also gives you something you can show potential photographers and stylists you might like to assist or publications you're interesting in pitching to.
26th Jun, 2017
Dear Ms Cassie , Thanks for the article. Need some guidance or some experience under your team in entering the food industry. Is there any intership programs available. I have just shifted from India to Manchester. Regard Gayatri.
goodfoodteam's picture
5th Jul, 2017
Thank you for your question. We run an internship with students from Leiths School of Cookery but we can only offer a place to one student at a time.
Kirsty Gudgeon's picture
Kirsty Gudgeon
30th Sep, 2019
Having the recipes tested in house is great but have you ever considered getting your readers to test your recipes? Having recipes tested and tips suggested by at home cooks and working parents would be great as often I find that some of the things in the recipe such as the prep time don’t quite go as textbook at home as they might in the good food kitchen where they are prepared by professionals