When ICE President Rick Smilow and Anne E. McBride wrote Culinary Careers: How to Get Your Dream Job in Food they discovered a plethora of food jobs they had never heard of before. Since the book’s release, they have been discovering even more interesting culinary career paths. DICED shares some of them with you in a reoccurring feature: “Unique Culinary Careers.”
If you live in New York, you may recognize Lauren Shockey as part of the team behind the food section of the Village Voice where she works as a food critic. Her job has her travelling to all corners of the city to taste and sample menus (all while trying to stay incognitio), but Shockey also travelled around the world learning to cook in four very different kitchens in New York City, Hanoi, Tel Aviv and Paris. She chronicled her experience in the food memoir, Four Kitchens: My Life Behind the Burner in New York, Hanoi, Ten Aviv, and Paris. We sat down and asked her about her experience and her life in the food industry.
How would you describe your job?
I am a staff writer at the Village Voice, the alt-weekly newspaper, where I write a weekly restaurant review and I blog daily about food and restaurant for the paper’s blog, Fork in the Road. I am also the author of Four Kitchens, a just-released culinary memoir of learning to cook in restaurants in New York, Hanoi, Tel Aviv, and Paris.
What has your career path been like?
Surprisingly, I saw the Village Voice job advertised on Craigslist, applied, interviewed and was selected. At the time I had been freelance writing, which was great, but I was looking for steadier pay. Before that, I spent a year traveling the world, working in kitchens and writing Four Kitchens. Prior to that, I attended culinary school and also got a masters degree in food studies at New York University.
What is a typical day like?
It’s very busy! Each day I blog three stories for Fork in the Road, so I scan the web for what’s new in the food world that day. My feature restaurant reviews for the paper are due on Wednesdays so I usually draft those in the office on Monday and Tuesdays. Then on Thursdays and Fridays, I’m usually out and about, scouting new ideas for blogs or researching for stories. And, of course, I’m eating out at restaurants most evenings for work, since I generally visit a restaurant three times before I review it.
What is the most satisfying thing about your job?
It’s been great getting to experience restaurants and dishes I might not normally eat on my own (or on my own dollar), and it’s been rewarding discovering great restaurants or food producers that might not be noticed without my review/blog post.
What has been the most challenging thing?
Not gaining weight! I also love cooking, so I sometimes wish I got to cook at home more.
What is your advice for anyone looking for a similar career?
Don’t underestimate the power of networking. Most jobs I hear about in the industry come from friends or colleagues and aren’t posted online. I’d also recommending pitching stories to publications as much as possible — and don’t get discouraged if no one replies or rejects your idea. If you don’t have any clips, offer to write an article for free so you can then have a clip — I had to do that when I first started out (just don’t do too much for free).
What were the challenges of travelling across the world?
Honestly, there weren’t that many challenges. I suppose not speaking Hebrew or Vietnamese was slightly challenging. And having to arrange logistics (finding an apartment and setting up a stage (externship)) halfway across the world was tricky. I didn’t have anything set up for Paris until two weeks before I arrived there, so I was definitely nervous about that.
The benefits were vast, but meeting new people and making amazing friendships, learning all sorts of cuisines firsthand, and exploring new places around the globe were amazing experiences. And while I’m a pretty independent person to begin with, it really helps build character when you travel the globe alone for a whole year.
Any favorite memories?
Eating new foods was probably the most fun. Although I didn’t find it delicious, eating dog meat in Vietnam was quite an experience. And I encountered many new Vietnamese dishes I’d never heard of before, like cha ca and banh bot loc. And some of my favorite memories didn’t happen in the kitchen, but were the meals I shared with my new friends — my late nights drinking with the wd~50 staff; my goodbye lunch with the staff at La Verticale; making Rosh Hashana dinner for my friends in Tel Aviv; and celebrating New Year’s at a dorm for international students in Paris. These were the experiences that reinforced my love of home cooking and sharing meals together.
Do you have a favorite new, exotic ingredient?
I fell in love with banana flowers in Vietnam. They are the reddish flower of the banana tree and most commonly used in a vibrant salad served all over Vietnam. I ate it almost daily for lunch in the workers’ canteen. They are hard to locate here in New York, but you can find them at the corner of Chrystie and Grand Street at the vegetable seller there. In Israel, I also fell in love with pomegranate molasses and silan, which is date syrup — both are sweet-tart and have so many uses: salad dressings, ice cream toppings, marinades, and more.