Food Writing Tips from Mary MacRae Warren

Friday, June 11, 2010
Just thinking about food writing is making me hungry! The delicious descriptions, the decadent prose, and the delectable subject matter allow writers to "play with their food," so to speak. Who wouldn't want to break into food writing? Food is what brings us together across the globe and across the table; and food writing--whether a food news story, a food memoir, or recipe writing--seems to be increasing in popularity, with new markets opening up all the time.

So to find out more about food writing, we've invited WOW! instructor Mary MacRae Warren to answer a few questions on the subject and some questions on her upcoming e-course Food Writing: the Basics, and her newest e-course Recipe Writing Intensive: Invention, Inspiration and Collaboration. Both start Monday, June 14th. If you're interested in learning how to become a food writer from a pro who will personally guide you through the process, there's still time to sign up. Visit our Classroom Page for full curriculum details.

A former general assignment reporter, Mary MacRae Warren's area of expertise is nonfiction with an emphasis on memoir, travel and food writing in the blogosphere. Mary is Social Media Manager for and writes a monthly retail column as well as food and food-related articles for both the Chapel Hill News and the Durham News. She published the popular blog, Mrs. Cleavage's Diary, for NY MetroParents and later established the well-read blog, Eat. Drink. Memory., which has an international, well-educated and affluent readership. Her work has appeared in the Queens Courier, Brooklyn Parent, Big Apple Parent, The West Side Spirit, and NYC City Guide magazine. Mary is a former professor at City University of New York, where she taught non-fiction writing, and a former instructor at Gotham Writers' Workshop.

Welcome to The Muffin, Mary! We're thrilled to chat with you about your upcoming courses. What are the different types of food writing you cover in your course Food Writing: The Basics? How do they differ?

Mary: Food writing is like being presented with a dessert tray--so many delicious things to try!

You learn how to cover food news, how to write a recipe-driven article, how to use memoir writing to tell a food story, how to begin developing recipes, how to review or critique a restaurant or food product, and how to interview and profile a food personality. You also learn how to write a pitch letter for an article you'd like to submit for publication.

All of these styles of writing require the same attention to detail and the same journalistic skills of inquiry, research, drafting and revision, but each type of article requires a different approach or format.

A food news story requires the basic elements of a news story--who, what, where, when, why and how. A recipe-driven article could incorporate food history, local cuisine or memoir. Writing recipes requires basic understanding of recipe structure as well as a certain cooking skill. We're all familiar with restaurant reviews and profiles. You learn how to apply the techniques of criticism in the culinary world and how to create questions that will get a personality to open up and talk about themselves.

Those are all very useful skills to learn and certainly can be applied across various genres! Over the past few years, food writing has really become popular through memoirs like Julie & Julia--do you think this has opened up a new genre for those of us who don't already have professional experience as a food writer or chef? How much specialized knowledge does one need to become a food writer?

Mary: Be a writer first. Know your craft and always strive to improve on your craft. Your subject matter, like taste, is acquired.

If you are passionate about food and writing about food, you will find your niche in this genre. You don't need to be a chef to write about food. You do need to have knowledge of food and the food industry, just as you would need to be knowledgeable in other genres. There are so many resources for a foodie that it isn't difficult to learn and keep yourself informed about the food scene.

That's good to know. So what are some key elements to consider when crafting a food story?

Mary: That really varies with the type of article one is crafting.

A review, for instance, needs to contain certain types of information--the business name and location, hours of operation and preferred methods of payment, accessibility, average check, suitability for children--which are basic to helping a potential customer make an informed decision.

Added to that are the finer points: what sort of food is served; what dishes are noteworthy or not worth mentioning; how is the service; how is the decor and the ambiance; who is the chef and what should the reader know about him or her; does the business have a history or is it a new opening.

Your newest course, Recipe Writing Intensive, has me intrigued! Who should take this course and what can they expect to learn?

Mary: I'm really excited about this course.

This course is for someone interested in the mechanics of writing a recipe. A chef who wants to author his own cookbook has the technical mastery in the kitchen but might want to refine his recipe by making it accessible for the home cook with tips and procedure or stories about the creation or tradition behind the recipe. A writer interested in food writing might want to better understand the mechanics of a recipe to enhance their skills and marketability.

You'll learn how to write a basic recipe--the proper format--but also how to expand on your recipe. Recipes really consist of ratios and understanding basic ratios gives one access to thousands of recipes. Understanding how to combine flavors and textures adds to that portfolio.

It sounds like a fun course! Thank you, Mary, for sharing your tips with us today!


Readers, if you're interested in learning about food writing or recipe writing, remember, Mary's classes start next Monday, June 14th. Visit the Classroom Page to view what you'll be learning week by week. Enroll today to reserve your spot. Happy writing!


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