Book Review

Mouth-for-Hire 101

Will Write for Food (Marlowe & Company, 2005; softcover, $15.95) is the first-ever guide to the ins and outs of food writing from an expert. As someone who got into the business just a few years ago, I can tell you this book may be less lyrical than M.F.K. Fisher's ballyhooed volumes, but it's much more practical.

Dianne Jacob has the chops to pen this book; her food writing has appeared in Sunset, Writer's Digest, Gastronomica and the San Francisco Chronicle. In her straightforward prose, she's gathered a cornucopia of advice from award-winning food scribes, including Calvin Trillin, Molly O'Neill and Jeffrey Steingarten. She says cultivating a promising writer is as fulfilling to an editor as executing a perfect soufflé is to a chef.

This how-to is organized into easily digestible (sorry) chapters with titles such as "What, Exactly, Is Food Writing?" and "The Cookbook You've Always Wanted to Write." At the end of each chapter, she gives you designed-to-be-helpful exercises that encourage you to sharpen your skills. Me? When I read the book, I usually headed to the kitchen for a snack instead of doing the exercises (just like in high school).

Wonder what it takes to be a food critic? Jacob recommends "only taking people who understand you're working and who eat anything." Celebrity chef/author Anthony Bourdain says food writers are fearless. "It might require you match your hosts shot for shot with vodka laced with bear bile. Now is not the time to say, 'I'm a vegetarian' or 'I'm lactose-intolerant.'"

If you've ever dreamt of writing about food, for yourself or for publication, this manual gives you the tools to pursue it. Just remember this wry Jacobian caveat: "A day job and a rich husband helps."

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