As we’ve discussed here many times before, we are in the midst (some might say on the downward slope) of a pop-culture bubble, wherein an exorbitant amount of everyone’s time and money is spent consuming food, thinking and reading about food, stockpiling food, seeking out new food by hopping from restaurant to restaurant, and generally being obsessed by food in a way that certain classes might have been able to in eras before us, but probably never on this sort of scale.
The growth of food as a preeminent pastime has spawned jobs. Like all glamour jobs, the pay is sometimes minuscule. Sure, some of these jobs existed before, but many–such as food blogger and mixologist–are entirely new. Will these occupations still exist, say, 20 years from now? Many will not. How can I get one of these jobs? Begin by attending every food event and shaking hands with every insider in the food biz you can find. You might even get some free meals out of it, even before you get your dream job. Note that the estimates of jobs in each category are entirely Fork in the Road’s own.
1. Celebrity Butcher: There are now probably a dozen local butchers who can claim this title, and maybe 100 in the whole country. To be a celebrity butcher, you probably don’t need to know how to actually cut meat, but it helps. Pat LaFrieda might be the king of celebrity butchers, with Tom Mylan his closest contender.
2. Mixologist: Yes, you can trace modern mixology to Jerry Thomas, who invented lots of cocktails in 19th century Gotham, but not until guys with beards started donning suspenders and ironic retro hats did it become a bona fide job category that employs at least 150 here in New York City alone.
3. Farmers’ Market Administrator: There are now 50 farmers markets administered by GrowNYC, and several of those operate on multiple days. Many markets are run by other organizations, meaning an army of administrators and staffers are needed to supervise the markets, creating a low-level foodie patronage system and a pipeline to other foodie occupations.
4. Celebrity Cheesemonger: This job probably began with the guy–chef Terrance Brennan–who “curated” the cheese plate at Picholine and went on to do so at Artisanal. Rob Kaufelt is probably king of celebrity cheesemongers, but Anne Saxelby might have already usurped his throne.
5. Food-Celebrity Assistant: Sure there have been chefs, food writers, and restaurateurs whose names have become household words prior to this time, but never have there been so many, and never have there been the need for so many assistants to run their affairs. And folks like Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali, and Jeffrey Steingarten have assistants who now qualify as micro celebrities in their own right.
6. Cookbook Co-Author: Long ago, chefs and food columnists did their own writing, but now these sorts of cookbook authors have become so busy, they need collaborators, and it’s no secret these collaborators do most of the work. When Rachael Ray denied using co-authors on her cookbooks, it generated mainly smirks. There might be two dozen authors in town who actually earn their living that way, and as many recipe testers.
7. Food Blogger: Who first figuratively set pen to paper to describe food for no money? It might have been me, when I initiated my foodzine Down the Hatch in 1989, as a rambling Xeroxed discourse on food I’d encountered in New York and elsewhere. Or it may have been someone else. But now armies of bloggers–still with no pay–cover every aspect of the food scene, penning restaurant reviews, interviewing chefs, visiting markets, and generally cooking their asses off. Their numbers? Perhaps 10,000 nationwide.
8. Food Journalist: This, I suppose, is what many bloggers aim for but few achieve. An actual paying gig, either as a restaurant critic, columnist, or feature writer at a newspaper, magazine, or website. Many of these jobs are part-time, and many pay abysmally. Probably 200 earn most of their living this way in New York City, maybe 2,500 nationwide.
9. Reality TV Show Cheftestant: The public long ago realized that cheftestants on reality TV shows were rarely capable chefs. Most have been selected for their ability to maintain a weird hairstyle, or get into scrapes with other cheftestants in an entertaining sort of way. But the fake chefs have sometimes been mistaken for real chefs, and many restaurateurs think the way to launch a new restaurant is to hire someone notable for their personality on a TV show. In most cases: Fail! Veteran contestants of these shows now number in the hundreds.
10. Restaurant Consultant: Yes, this job has probably existed for decades, but only during the modern era have maverick consultants developed into companies with dozens of employees, just waiting to tell restaurateurs what they need to put on the menu, the price breaks on the wine list and what it contains, the designer to hire and how to acquire personnel to run the place. Probably 500 to 1,000 employees work for these companies.
11. Restaurant Publicist: Publicists used to be jacks-of-all-trades, as comfortable flogging a movie, used car lot, or corner French restaurant. Now, they’ve specialized, and there are specialties within specialties. Their numbers are legion, as evidenced by the 100 or so e-mails I receive from them every day.
12. Barista: Pity the poor barista: early hours, fussy patrons, and a proneness to stress injuries due to jerking the espresso machine. They are some of the hardest workers in the restaurant industry and most poorly paid, and there must be at least 2,000 of them in the city today, most of them extensively tattooed.