I know many people who love food, but who don’t love the idea of the well-trodden foodie career path: attending culinary school, then working in the steamy kitchen of a restaurant, joining a bustling bakery, or creating dishes at catering gigs.
But the truth is, there are plenty of other food-related careers out there—some of which you may not have even realized existed!
Here are just a few of the ways you can turn your love of food into a culinary career. These four gigs don’t require any formal education, and they’re great for career changers, as they have enough flexibility that you can test them out as a side endeavor. Plus, they all sound pretty darn fun.
1. Personal Chef
If you love to cook for others but don't want to deal with the stress of a hectic restaurant environment, a career as a personal chef could be ideal for you. Personal chefs create custom menus for their clients, either by going to their homes to cook for them or by delivering pre-prepared meals. You may be cooking fresh meals daily, you might prepare a week's worth of food that busy families can freeze and re-heat when they're on the go, or you could even cater small dinner parties and gatherings. If you specialize in a certain type of cooking—like gluten-free or vegan—you can also choose a niche that’ll set you apart from other personal chefs.
One advantage of this is job is that you can dip your toe in the water by starting your business out as side gig. Look for friends or family members who could use a helping hand, and offer them your services.
Skills Needed: In addition to a passion for cooking, you'll need an ability to work with clients, tailoring your cooking to their specifications. Since many of the meals you'll be making may require re-heating, it's important to have a knowledge of food safety procedures. And if you're working with multiple clients, strong time-management skills are essential for balancing cooking and delivering for many people.
2. Food-Themed Tour Guide
Do your friends turn to you for advice on the best restaurants in town? Are you always on top of the latest restaurant openings and in the know about where to find the best of any type of food in your city? Consider giving food-themed tours of the hottest restaurants or hidden gems that your home has to offer.
After all, when people visit a new city, they love having an experienced local show them around. You can get started by checking out local tour companies to see if they're hiring guides, or sign up with Vayable—a website that connects travelers seeking unique experiences with savvy locals offering customized tours. If you have expertise in a non-food related subject, like history or art, you can pepper your food tour with an additional theme, à la Underground Art and Food. Feeling a bit more entrepreneurial? Consider starting your own tour company.
A delicious bonus? You get to choose when you offer tours, making this the perfect part-time gig.
Skills Needed: An outgoing personality is a must since you'll be the center of attention—and a sense of humor is a huge plus! Leading a tour is a lot like hosting a dinner party, so you'll need the ability to create a rapport with your group and make everyone feel comfortable and cared for. A knack for details and scheduling and route logistics is also essential.
The name may sound comical, but if you have a deep love of dairy, this could be a serious career path for you. Stores of all sizes—from specialty shops to chain grocery stores—need people with expertise to determine which cheeses to buy and when. Cheesemongers make purchasing decisions for the stores, making sure they’re always stocked with the best variety of cheesy goodness, and work directly with suppliers, such as small dairy farms or large international distributors. They also handle receiving, storage, and ripening, manage the cheese display, and field customer questions about the wares that they’re selling.
To land this gig, an extensive knowledge of cheese is (obviously) required. Formal training programs exist, such as the certification through The Cheese Society of America, but they're not necessary to land a job in this field.
Skills Needed: Along with a knowledge of cheese, you also need physical stamina. This job can be surprisingly demanding, as it often involves standing, bending, pulling, and pushing wheels of cheese—which can weigh as much as 80 pounds!
4. Recipe Tester
Have you ever wondered how the recipes in your favorite cookbooks and magazines come to life? Well, since cooking is ultimately a science, getting a recipe from idea to printing involves a lot of experimenting. Cookbook publishers, magazines, and food companies all rely on detail-oriented foodies testing recipes behind the scenes—making sure the cooking temperature chosen is the best, ensuring that the recipe is understandable as written, and double-checking all ingredient measures to make sure the dish doesn’t end up too salty or bland.
Many recipe testers have culinary or science degrees, but the only real requirements are precision, curiosity, and a refined palate. If you’re interested in getting started, try contacting cookbook publishers and magazines to see if they’re hiring freelancers. A word on setting fees: You’ll need to buy the ingredients for the recipes you’ll be testing, so take that into account when negotiating your pay.
Skills Needed: Accuracy, precision, and an inquisitive mind. You should also make sure you have a well-equipped kitchen with all the tools necessary for testing whatever recipe comes at you.