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