Imagine being able to earn a living by cooking in your own kitchen? If you have a passion for food, an obsession for accuracy and a curiosity about the way things work, professional recipe testing might be a career for you.
Recipe testing is not always a fulltime job — unless you get hired by one of the major food companies or a related company — but if you are looking for part-time work and consider yourself a careful cook, it might be just the thing.
Why Test a Recipe?
A recipe is a scientific formula. There are science-based reasons why a cake may sink in the middle, why a popover fails to pop, or why the meat is tough or the fish dry.
It is important to understand why some recipes work and others fail. Perhaps the quantities of the ingredients are incorrect, the directions are not followed properly, or the timing is wrong.
The Right Credentials
Many recipe testers have a degree in food science, nutrition or journalism. Many have attended a professional culinary school. None of these formal qualifications is absolutely essential.
What is essential is to be reliable and trustworthy, with the ability to write clearly for a specific target audience. For example, the material produced for an inexperienced cook will be explained differently from a recipe produced for a food professional.
It is helpful to the client if you are familiar with all the new products in the supermarket. Many high-quality convenience foods simplify the recipe for the home cook and speed the process of getting dinner on the table. (Look how successful Rachael Ray has been with the use of packaged foods.)
The Economics of Testing
Before accepting an assignment as a recipe tester you must think carefully about the fee you are offered. Ask yourself if it is fair. Remember that you will have to shop for the ingredients, carry them home, test each recipe two or three, or more, times until you are absolutely, positively sure it works well every time. Think about the dishes you will have to wash. Factor in the amount of time it will take to write the recipe, submit it to the client, and often be asked to make changes.
Customarily you will be offered a flat fee, which includes the cost of the ingredients. Remember, too, that you will have to pay taxes on the amount of money you receive, so make a realistic estimate of your out-of-pocket expenses and the time involved before accepting a flat fee for a project.
How to Find Work
Some food magazines employ recipe testers. Unfortunately, a number do not, as they accomplish the task in-house. Some do a little of both and farm out recipes. Send inquiries to as many food and shelter (i.e., Good Housekeeping) magazines as you can.
Cookbook publishers occasionally hire testers to double check their authors’ work. Contact the cookbook editors at large and small publishing houses. They may also know of cookbook authors looking for testers. The publishers’ websites will provide valuable information.
Many large food processors such as Land 0’ Lakes, Kraft and Nestlé are potential fulltime or part-time employers. Explore companies such as Starbucks and Panera, too, that develop new recipes for their stores.
Look close to home, too. A small food company or shop may need recipes tested. A local orchard or farm stand may want some help, too. The pay may be low, but the experience will be great.
Every commodity such as apple, onion and strawberry grower and pork, beef and chicken producers employ recipe developers and testers. Search for the commodity boards online.
Television stations that post guest chef recipes online must make sure the recipes are written accurately and so it could be helpful to contact local stations.
Check online using the search for recipe tester jobs. You never know what might appear. Have your resume and samples of your work ready so that you can respond immediately.
Finally, Jane L. Baker and Barbara Gibbs Ostmann wrote a highly recommended, comprehensive manual titled The Recipe Writer’s Handbook. The book contains detailed information on the development and writing of recipes.
Irena Chalmers is the author of Food Jobs: 150 Great Jobs for Culinary Students, Career Changers and Food Lovers. www.foodjobsbook.com She wrote Get a Life: Find a Job You’ll Love for the FamilyTime site.