I’ve received some emails asking me how I got into translating cookbooks and what sort of skills you need. As with other types of translation, food writing is a specialized field and just enjoying eating is not enough of a qualification.
But let’s say you do genuinely love food and would like to work with cookbooks and other texts. What kinds of things could you do to try to break into food translation?
--Learn as much as you can about food. Cook and bake a lot. Read food magazine and borrow cookbooks from the library and study their style (and try out their recipes). Take a course, if you can afford it. Even if you don’t take a class, make sure you learn about different cuts of meat, techniques, ingredients, and tools, as they vary tremendously.
--Write restaurant reviews. Yes, you can start with blog posts, especially if you do so on a blog that isn’t your own (i.e. if you have an editor). You should also try to get an article or two in local publications, and then work your way up to national ones, if possible.
--Do other sorts of food writing. For example, interview chefs. Write travel articles that mention restaurants. Publish your own recipes.
--You can also do food editing. If you work as a proof-reader, try to find jobs that allow you to edit cookbooks and other texts about food, such as guides to cities or countries or cultures.
--Start small in regard to food translation. If you’re at a restaurant with a badly translated menu, offer to edit it. If you’re at a restaurant without a translated menu, offer to translate it. If you do one or two of these for free, you have something to put on your CV, and you have gained experience and potential customers. Grateful restaurant-owners may even pay you, or at least offer you a free dish or glass of something tasty.
--Do other sorts of food translation. For example, translate restaurant reviews or restaurant websites. As with food writing, try to do as many types of food translation as you can. This helps you learn about different styles, and it will help you make contacts.
--Sign up with agencies and/or with translation organizations and list food as one of your specialties.
--Contact publishing companies and magazine editors and offer your services. Do likewise with restaurants.
--Don’t set your heart on only doing food translation. Most translators do a variety of texts, so be aware of that, and try to work in a few different fields.
Basically, you need to show that you have a lot of knowledge about food and about language. So the more you can do to prove this, the better.
Food translation is a lot of fun and it can be a challenge (not to mention a danger to your waistline). But to succeed, you need to take food as seriously as you would medicine, or finance, or literature, or anything else.