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How to Become a Recipe Developer
Recipe developers are the artist-scientists behind all your favorite foods, from your prepackaged in-flight salad to the amazing lasagna in your cooking magazine. They work behind the scenes to come up with the exact ingredients and in the right quantities to produce all the foodstuffs lining our grocery store shelves and restaurant menus. Chances are you've already been developing recipes for yourself and your family for years. If you want to translate this passion into a professional opportunity, educate yourself, get hands-on training and learn from the masters in the industry.
Pursue an education in culinary arts, preferably one that offers abundant hands-on practice. With a culinary arts degree, you will be learning the science of inventing original and exciting new recipes for a number of different occasions. Find a program that supports students' creativity and intuition and that encourages experimentation. A degree on paper will assure your future employer that you have received the official instruction necessary to thrive in the food industry. You also may want to get certified in nutrition, which will educate you about the health properties of food.
Cooking is not one of those things you master through reading about it. While understanding the chemistry of food is necessary to thrive in the food industry, cooking is also an art that must be practiced and cultivated. A successful recipe developer is not just someone who understands why certain flavors go well together or can explain the chemical process behind the rising of bread. A true recipe developer is an artist who has spent long hours in a kitchen testing and retesting recipes with their own hands, nose and mouth until she has come up with a winner. Any chance you can get to practice your art -- even if it's in your dorm kitchen with a hot plate -- will support your goal of becoming a recipe developer.
Maybe you're the person your girlfriends always turn to when they need an original and inventive meal for a special occasion, or maybe you custom-designed cakes for your nieces' bat mitzvahs three years in a row. You will want verifiable experience from reputable businesses. Start with pursuing internships in the kitchens of your favorite local restaurants, or seek an apprenticeship opportunity under a master chef or caterer who you particularly admire. If you work hard and prove your mettle, you may be offered a full-time position. Explore job openings in the food industry that are related to recipe development: assistant caterer, sous chef, line cook or food magazine editor.
Specializing in a specific niche market of the food industry can make you a stronger candidate for a career as a recipe developer. Food companies, including restaurants, constantly search for new and exciting recipes for people following specific diets. These include those who are gluten-free, vegan, kosher or low-carb. Find which of these niche markets inspires and delights you and build a solid portfolio of recipes for that particular market. Learning how to develop recipes that accommodate particular diet restrictions will impress companies that serve broad consumer preferences.
In the food business it's not what you know but who you know that gets you ahead. Jobs as recipe developers are often not posted publicly but rather internally within companies and restaurants and whispered about at fancy cocktail parties. In addition to your impressive resume, network broadly with those in the food industry: chefs, editors, cooks, caterers, restaurant owners, and most importantly, other recipe developers. Stay abreast of important restaurant openings in your area, new food publications that may be seeking recipes and packaged food companies that want to launch new products and then sell yourself. Your professional connections will take you far in landing your dream job as a recipe developer.
Parker Janney is a web developer and writer based in Philadelphia. With a Master of Arts in international politics, she has been ghostwriting for several underground publications since the late 2000s, with works featured in "Virtuoso," the "Philadelphia Anthropology Journal" and "Clutter" magazine.