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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Career in Food Industry

Culinary craft


A decade ago, careers related to food may not have been a student’s first option. However, today, due to a combination of factors like an increasingly affluent middle class, a growing, young working population with evolved tastes, the pervasive trend of fine dining as a leisure activity, and a wealth of international exposure, the food and beverage (F&B) industry in India is cooking up a storm. The F&B retail industry in India is estimated to be worth $6 billion and has been growing at a rate of 35% per-annum for the last two years.
A career in this industry is not just confined to cooking. Offshoots like food critiquing and writing, food styling, catering, food tasting, and food photography are gaining in popularity.


Due to great demand for trained professionals in India’s food production, which is likely to double in the next decade, there are many exciting avenues for those seeking peripheral, offbeat careers, especially in areas of food writing and styling. Do you think you could make a bowl of soup or a basket of fruits come alive for the camera? Or capture a perfect, tempting food picture with carefully picked props? If you are passionate about food, but don’t have the appetite to spend innumerable hours in the kitchen, a host of opportunities await you.


Writing about food is a rewarding option for those with a combined passion for food, writing and learning. A food writer’s job involves more than just sharing a recipe or writing restaurant reviews. Food writing, like all other writing, aims to stimulate the senses of the reader, either evoking experiences, past or present, or more practically, motivating the reader to get out of his armchair, and into the kitchen or the nearest restaurant.

What does it take?

A food writer needs to constantly refine his skills and reeducate himself. Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, a Mumbaibased, gastronomy writer and food content consultant, says, “I study nearly everyday to keep up with trends and update myself on food facts. I absorb every bit of food writing I can get my hands on, and have about 500 books on food.”
It takes knowledge, hard work, consistent research, perseverance, an open mind, the ability to multitask, and an unwavering passion, in order to grow as a food writer. There is no formal training course to be a certified food writer. The career is ideal for those, who learn from observations and thrive on their ability to turn their passion for food into incisive commentary.

Money talk

Smita Iyengar, a food writer, who has travelled extensively, offers, “Food writing is a gratifying experience, but there is limited scope in terms of money unless you have a full-time job with a publication.” Ghildiyal offers a different view, insisting, “It might mean lean pickings at the outset, but it will certainly pay-off in the long run, provided you have good research abilities, creativity and a positive attitude.”
If you are an employee of a publication, as a full-time journalist, you stand to earn as much money as your peers. As a freelancer, your income is entirely dependent on how much work you can do, which may mean anything between Rs 1,000 for an assignment, to a five-figure salary per-month. Ghildiyal reveals, “Reputed publications will rarely have qualms about paying fairly. If you think your work is worth more, do not hesitate to demand your price.”


Food writing in India has a long way to go to achieve the cult status it enjoys in the West. At the same time, it also means that there are many opportunities for aspiring food writers. One could either join a publication as a full-time journalist and specialise in food features, or freelance for publications.
An aspirant can expect fantastic prospects in this field due to burgeoning food and drink production, consumption, meagre competition, and the different media open to them. As Ghildiyal reveals, “I, for one, discovered food writing while on a sabbatical from my job, when surfing the internet and experimenting with blogging.”


Have you ever looked at a picture of the most delectable, tempting dish, and found it so appealing, that you found yourself wishing you could eat it right there and then? Food photography involves bringing the magic of food alive, and is considered to be one of the most difficult specialities in the realm of professional photography. The reason? It isn’t easy to make wholesome food look appealing in a two-dimensional photograph, and photographers have very little time to shoot, because the food essentially looks good for just a few moments.

What does it take?

Still photographer, Sanjiv Valsan explains, “Food is a bit like a micro landscape; you need a strong sense of colour and composition and good photography skills.”
If you want be a food photographer, knowledge about food, a good aesthetic sense, and patience and perseverance are must haves. “You certainly cannot be dispassionate about it,” observes Bharat Bhirangi, a food photographer, adding, “You need to have excellent aesthetic sense, as food has to be shot with props like crockery, table linen and cutlery, among other things.”
Unfortunately, there are no courses that offer a specialisation in food photography in India. A course in general photography applies to food photography. After picking up the basics of photography and studio lighting, one can gain a better understanding of the subject by assisting established photographers in the genre. Also, personal initiative and practice will help in the long run.

Money talk

Food photographers are rarely hired as employees. The profession may demand a little investment on your part, as you need to own a professional camera and the right equipment. The field mostly has self-employed professionals with all the rewards and risks such an arrangement entails. Payment for a day’s shoot is usually Rs 5,000 upwards. Bhirangi explains, “It is hard to outline monetary parameters. One can expect around Rs 5,000 to Rs 8,000 a day, when you start, to about Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000 a day, if you are a much sought-after name. But, it really depends on the way you position yourself in the market.”


A photographer’s clients could comprise hotels, restaurants, magazines and advertising agencies. “Magazines are the least competitive entry point, while ad agencies can seem a little intimidating to newcomers. Competition isn’t very fierce, since most photographers may make a beeline for more glamorous fields. In fact, there is a shortage of good food photographers in Indian cities,” says Valsan. You can approach lifestyle magazines, hotels and ad agencies to showcase your work and earn assignments.
“The requirement for good quality visuals is definitely on the rise,” avers Bhirangi. As Valsan states, “There is a growing interest in exotic food. The future can only open up more possibilities.”


Though the word ‘food’ is very enticing in itself, eatables can cease to be at their photographic best within minutes. That’s where a food stylist scores. A food stylist works hand in glove with the food photographer, preparing, placing, arranging and garnishing the food. “Food styling is like make up for food, to make it look more appealing. There is a big difference between cooking food to eat and preparing food for a photo shoot,” asserts Arati Kamat, a food stylist with over 10 years of experience working as a chef and a food researcher/writer.

What does it take?

Without sound knowledge of international cuisines, the stylist would be at a loss. Stylists check for thumbprints, lint and stray elements. It is the job of the stylist to cook, pick or select just the right thing for a photograph and ensure the strawberry is turned the right way, the leafy vegetables look fresh and green, and that there is sufficient steam to create an image of piping hot food on film.
Saba Gajiyani, a food stylist and photographer, whose portfolio boasts of leading national and international clients, advises, “The ideal way to pursue a career in this field is to study hotel management, and use your knowledge about food and your aesthetic sense to make a mark in this niche area.” Though tweezers, hair dryers, spray bottles and cotton balls are common objects in a stylist’s kit, there is no specific method for food styling. A stylist is as good as his creative best.

Money talk

“The job may demand little investment in terms of having a collection of classy crockery, cutlery and background material,” claims Kamat. One can master the art by assisting an established food stylist and usually get paid a handsome amount per-day. Food stylists can expect a couple of thousand rupees for a day’s work. Once you establish your name in the industry, you can put your own price tag to your talent.


The media industry is booming, and lifestyle-related domains like food will obviously grow in proportion. With new restaurants opening their doors every day, and businesses pumping more money into advertising efforts, there is no dearth of work for skilled photographers and stylists. The demand continues to rise. As far as competition is concerned, it is rising, albeit at a slower pace.
A career in the food industry is not only gastronomically pleasing, but can also be an economically rewarding and personally satisfying option, whether you opt to pursue writing, teaching, styling or catering. No facet of food is dull for gourmands, with their voracious appetite for the best that food has to offer.

Sunil Sharma


Dil Se Desi Group


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