12 Cool Jobs for Foodies

Chef, cookbook author, newspaper columnist... there are some really high-profile "foodie" jobs out there that look fun and exciting. But how about the rest of us regular folk who want to work in a food-related field? Are there opportunities? The good news? Yes, and in many of them, you can transition gradually and make money while you do so. Here are 12 cool foodie jobs that "regular people" can do.

1. Cake Decorator

The best special-occasion cake that I ever purchased was for my daughter's 18th birthday. Her high school art teacher made it. Not only were the cake and frosting delicious (and you know this can be a tricky point), but the decorating was stunning. Due to her art background and love of baking, her teacher was able to successfully move into a new career.

Another example. When my daughter was four, I ordered one of those cakes with the Barbie doll in the middle. I had to order it six months in advance because they were so popular. A local stay-at-home mom had made a niche business of doing nothing but kids' birthday cakes and they were in huge demand. She could barely keep up with the orders.

Looking for a side job that can move into a full-time gig? If you have artistic ability, and love to bake, this might be for you. No formal degree is required, but you might want to take classes at a culinary school. Growth is predicted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to be better than average, and specialty cake decorators make between $21,000 and $42,000 per year. My job search revealed that those employed in supermarkets can obtain "...Competitive pay plus benefit packages of health, dental, vision, and 401K." Smaller bakeries did not tend to offer benefits and pay was based on experience.

2. Niche Farmer

Do you have a green thumb, or are you really good with livestock? Niche farming may be just the ticket for this "foodie" job.

The beauty of it is that you can start niche farming while you still have your day job. Some of my "niche farmer" friends raise lamb, grow mangoes or coffee, keep bees, sell worms for gardens, and have free-range chickens. All are employed by full-time day jobs, but are working toward easing themselves into farming. Here is the amazing thing: It's working for all of them. They are able to farm, or garden, on the side and sell everything they grow/raise/make.

People love high-quality, organic products. Making the bridge from full-time worker into full-time farmer is a little anxiety-provoking, though. My friend Thomas, who raises sheep, tells me "I need to be hungrier" — meaning, he needs to be motivated to give it his all. Erick, who raises worms (vermicomposting), says he needs to work on his marketing and not rely on word of mouth. Scott, who grows coffee, found that re-branding and getting his product into a local grocery store made the difference.

Having niche farming as a sideline gives you the space to perfect your craft, until you are in a financial position to make the jump. There is a lot of information to pore over about the necessary education and the economic outlook for organic farming.

Interested in niche farming?

  • Do your research.
  • Hit the farmers markets.
  • Talk to meat and produce managers in grocery stores — Would they be able to buy your product? Do you need organic certification?
  • Become an expert in your product.
  • Check zoning laws.
  • Learn marketing, or hire someone who knows how and has a successful track record
  • Start small.

3. Caterer

Love to cook for others? Have access to a commercial kitchen? Catering may be the ticket for you.

Let's discuss two levels. First, as a professional caterer, it isn't a cheap career to get into. You will need access to a certified kitchen, a business license, and insurance. In most states you will need to pass a health inspection and food handler class, too. Check your state's requirements before you leap.

Caterers also need strong marketing skills (you need to get the word out) and some technological ability (for a website). Catering isn't just about cooking what you want to make, either. Although you should be able to offer standard items, you will need to be able to present other ideas to a client (along with prices per head) and test recipes ahead of time. Finding wholesale vendors is another must.

Lastly, you will need to hire help, so you'll need a short course on Business 101 (payroll, I-9's, workers' compensation, billing, etc.) As you can see, startup costs can run a minimum of $10,000. How much will you earn? The average looks to be between $27,000 and $35,000 per year. If you are strongly drawn toward catering, try it out. Go to work for a caterer or a restaurant that offers catering.

Now, a second option. If you are someone with a great home kitchen and you love to cook, you may still be able to pursue this on another level. You may be hired to make dinner for friends, a birthday cake, hors d'oeuvres for a party, etc. My friend Jane did this for years, while practicing psychotherapy as her day job. She'd suggest a menu; show up with the food and flowers; serve, and clean up. I would only suggest doing this on a small-scale level, for friends or well-known business contacts, and I wouldn't hold myself out as a professional — just as a friend who loves to cook. Jane enjoyed her day job, but just loved to cook so much, that she wanted to do more of it.

4. Food Blogger

I just Googled "food blog" and was returned 420,000,000 results. So yes, a lot of people are already doing it, but if you want to do your own, there is no reason that you shouldn't.

Every blog I follow (and I follow a lot of them) brings something different to the party. I am never at a loss for cooking ideas. What sorts of skills do you need? Some technological ability is a plus, although you can put together a blog in an afternoon using Weebly, GoDaddy, Blogger, WordPress, or another easy web-building package. Being able to write well is essential. Taking good photographs is also important. And bloggers who blog regularly will get more traffic.

If you want to set up your own site and earn money, I strongly recommend you read this post from Sally's Baking Addiction. You will also benefit from some networking (both on the Internet and in person). Surprisingly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't list "food blogger" as a separate occupation yet (they should Google it); they lump it in with bloggers. They do, however, offer a very informative article about how to blog.

You can also sell your blogging work on a freelance basis. Sign up for a number of sites that will send you alerts for work. It's best to set up a PayPal account, as many employers like to use this service for payment.

5. Candy Maker

As I write about this fun job, I am munching a piece of lemon bark recently sent to me. It's delicious! I have known this particular candy maker for close to 15 years, and am delighted to see she's still doing her thing.

Candy making is an art as well as a science. It's very challenging. I only know how to make one kind of candy, and it's exhausting every time I do it. My friends who use Etsy to sell candy claim it is easy to set up shop. (Here are their requirements for selling edibles.)

The aforementioned lemon bark is made in a culinary incubator facility — offering shared, part-time kitchen rental. You may also be able to rent space in a commercial kitchen during their off hours. Your best bet may be a church kitchen, which otherwise does not get a lot of use.

Other considerations: packaging, mailing, a website, marketing. How much can you expect to earn? Working for yourself, maybe initially $10 an hour. If you want to work on a candy production line in a candy factory, you will probably make more like $8.25 per hour, although some do offer benefits. It would probably be great experience, though, if you want to go into business for yourself eventually.

6. Restaurant Critic

I doubt I am alone in picking restaurant critic as a dream job. Eating delicious food, writing about it, and no dishes to wash! Nice work if you can get it, right?

The average annual salary is around $47,000, but can be a lot more if you're working for television or a prestigious food magazine. Some critics have backgrounds in journalism or communication, or are experienced writers. I was surprised to read that up to 30 or 40 dishes are tested after multiple visits. Food critics may join the Association of Food Journalists, which sets forth standards for objectivity and provides resources. Like other jobs, though, there are drawbacks:

"Nobody will think you deserve the gig you've got, including your friends." —Todd Kliman, Washingtonian wine and food and editor and critic.

Or this, from NYT Restaurant reviewer Pete Wells: "You can put down your tiny violins; it doesn't take much to see that the problems of an overfed restaurant critic don't amount to a hill of fava beans in this crazy world."

"You will gain 20 to 30 pounds. Even if you exercise four days a week. More if you don't." Jonathan Kauffman, editor of Tasting Table SF and former dining reviewer for SF Weekly and Seattle Weekly.

Interested in becoming a food critic?

  • Learn to write well.
  • Develop your palate and become very well-educated about food and food preparation.
  • Gain some restaurant experience.
  • Read cookbooks, study various cooking methods, and try them yourself.
  • Blog, volunteer to write reviews for small-circulation papers, and apply for food-related writing jobs.

7. Cookbook Author

Yes, you too can write a cookbook. Finding a publisher, alas, can be a more difficult project. However, don't give up! Thanks to the advent of self-publishing, you can write your own book, market it, and sell it yourself, or team up with a bigger outfit, like Kindle. You can buy cookbook-writing software. There are how-to books on how to write cookbooks. There are many resources available, as this field is huge.

Can you make money at it? Yes, but the trick seems to be to find a popular subject (i.e., gluten-free cooking, or vegan recipes, for example). You need to find a good niche, which means doing a ton of research. I have purchased cookbook e-books; they are usually less expensive and some have great recipes. However, unless you can hit the trifecta (writing, editing, and photography), you should probably consider hiring recipe testers and a cookbook editor, described below.

8. Recipe Tester

These jobs are hard to find, but I promise, they are out there (and I have done it). Aspiring cookbook authors (above) need to test recipes. A recipe tester does just that — makes the recipe to the author's exact instructions.

You need to take copious notes and probably complete questionnaires electronically. Pay varies, which can be a challenge, because you will need to purchase many ingredients to test. If you can take a decent photograph to send to the cookbook writer, so much the better. An important aspect of being a recipe tester is confidentiality, and in my experience, you'll be asked to sign an agreement to ensure it.

A good place to find recipe-testing jobs is to look on popular food blogs wherein the blogger has published cookbooks. A second recipe tester industry exists with large companies, but those jobs are harder to come by.

What sort of a background do you need to get hired?

  • Experience in cooking
  • Excellent written communications skills
  • Decent photography skills
  • Diplomacy — to communicate needed changes without offending the cookbook author
  • The ability to move quickly — you may be testing 10 recipes per week, and feedback must be given on a weekly basis

9. Cookbook Editor

Continuing in the vein of cookbook author and recipe tester, a third party needs to come into play: the editor. Recipes need to be appealing, clearly written, and list items in a logical sequence. It is vitally important to keep the author's "voice" intact (after all, it's their book, not yours).

This is another very ticklish job, because like a recipe tester, you do not want to offend the author. Pay varies. Some editors work for famous publishing houses; some work freelance. If you work freelance, you will often be asked to bid on a job. If you think you'd like to take a crack at freelance editing, check out Upwork, Freelancer, Craigslist, or LinkedIn, where you can find job notices. Some go beyond editing — check out this gal's fun job.

What makes you a good editor candidate?

  • Excellent command of English
  • Experience with proofreading
  • Diplomacy skills
  • Above-average knowledge of food
  • Above-average cooking skills

10. Cooperative Extension Educator

Cooperative extensions are often found in places where agriculture is a big part of the community. I knew two ladies employed by cooperative extensions, Carol and Evelyn, and they both loved their careers. Their daily duties were largely made up of teaching cooking, teaching food safety, presentations, and leading 4-H groups.

I took many a class at my California cooperative extension; I learned a lot about food safety. I can still hear Carol's mantra: "Keep hot foods hot, and cold foods cold." They had large classroom-style kitchen facilities with state-of-the-art equipment. Another co-op extension acquaintance was Gary, who was a livestock specialist. He would perform home visits and offer advice about keeping livestock.

You can still take classes at some cooperative extensions — the one closest to me just taught "Mastering Food Preservation." In perusing available jobs, they appear to be mostly benefited, with pay based on experience, and a master's degree required. These were also family-friendly jobs; all three of the people mentioned above had families. You also need above-average communication skills (written and oral), and to be able to effectively work with kids and the public.

11. Food Product Demonstrator

I think there are two camps of demonstrators — the ones who have it sort of rough at Costco, trying to describe the product before it is snatched off of their trays, and the ones in upscale markets who actually get to visit a little and tell you about the food. I still remember trying my first bite of Dubliner cheese from "Irene" in an upscale market. And yes, I bought the cheese.

Entry-level average pay for a food product demonstrator is $11 per hour; more experienced demonstrators can command $20 and up. Average growth is predicted in the field. If you are looking for seasonal, part-time, or temporary work in the "food field," it might be perfect for you. Demonstrators should be personable, engaging, patient, and well-groomed. Training is on-the-job.

12. Food Stylist

Ever make something really delicious, and want to post it on Facebook , only to find that the picture looks terrible? Why does food look so great in the magazines or on TV? The answer: Food stylists.

Food stylists make food look amazing in pictures (or on television). It's tricky stuff, keeping food looking great under hot camera lights and/or for long periods of time. Some food stylists are also photographers, or at least have a strong knowledge base about photography. They also need to know a lot about food and cooking. Some work for television shows or magazines, some are freelance. The BLS does not give a specific economic outlook, but I was surprised to find seventeen job listings in a quick search.

Interested in this field? Consider what you need.

  • A degree in Culinary Arts (helpful)
  • Above-average knowledge about photography
  • Creative background; really good at art
  • Good "people" skills to enable you to work with chefs, photographers, clients, etc.

Tell us about your current — or planned — foodie career!

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