Unique Culinary Careers: Emily McKenna

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 career paths in the food world. DICED shares some of them with you in a reoccurring feature, “Unique Culinary Careers.”

After graduating from culinary school, Emily McKenna worked briefly in restaurants, but found that it wasn’t for her. So she took her previous experience in magazine publishing, combined it with her culinary arts training and forged a new career in the world of food magazines. She is now the Associate Food Editor at Real Simple, where she tests and develops recipes as well as writing for the magazine. We wanted to know more about what it’s like working in a magazine test kitchen so we asked her about her career and why she loves it.

How would you describe your job?

I am the Associate Food Editor at Real Simple magazine. I am primarily responsible for testing recipes and producing our monthly Road Test column, in which we test and recommend products ranging from frozen fruit pops to jarred salsa and grilling gadgets, to readers. I develop recipes too, including those in our Start With column.

How did you get this job? What has your career path been like?

My career path has been the opposite of linear. After college, I worked as an Assistant Editor at a tiny corporate governance magazine. I then started working weekends at an Italian restaurant near my house, which led to my decision to go to culinary school full-time. I then landed what I thought was my dream job at a popular, fancy Italian restaurant, but turned out not to be the best thing that ever happened to me. I then worked as a private chef in New York City and Montana before landing a job as a research editor at Food & Wine. I freelanced while at Food & Wine, including working on testing recipes for Amanda Hesser while she was finishing up The Essential New York Times Cookbook. I continued working for Amanda at food52 and as a freelance editor and recipe tester, which helped me land my current job.

What is a typical day like?

My days vary greatly from one to the next. Some days I am testing or developing recipes in our test kitchen downtown. Other days I am in the office calling in products or organizing tastings of products. Sometimes I come home and think how lucky I am for having spent the day tasting donuts overnighted from Stan's Doughnuts in Los Angeles, then editing recipes and writing copy for my next Road Test column.

What has been the most challenging thing?

It might not sound so difficult, but some of our tastings, say of 100 or more sodas or 150 salsas at a time, can be a trial for the stomach. But, at the end of the day, it really is not so bad and I feel quite lucky for the opportunity to work with such fantastic people and think about food all day long.

What is the most satisfying thing about your job?

I don't spend every day cooped up in the office. Most weeks, I split my time between the test kitchen and the office, so I not only get to think about food and cooking, I get to do a lot of it.

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