Award-winning cook, food stylist and presenter Jo Pratt studied BA Home Economics at LJMU and is now the best-selling author of six cookbooks; she has recently collaborated on the launch of a contemporary restaurant serving global cuisine in London
My very first job was four weeks spent at Scientific Hospital Supplies (SHS) in Liverpool as the final work placement of my degree back in 1995! I put all my effort into the work placement, offering to help out in as many areas/departments as possible to obtain as much experience as I could.
When one of the Home Economists at the company went on maternity leave I had just graduated and was offered her position for six months. I was thrown in at the deep end but it was the best thing that could have happened; I gained a huge amount of experience and made lots of contacts, one of whom put me in touch with BBC Good Food Magazine where I then went on to do work experience, which opened up a whole new world of working in food within the media. My first main job was to assist Gary Rhodes at the BBC Good Food Show, NEC. I then worked with him on and off for the following ten years on his TV shows, books and live demonstrations.
“If it wasn’t for being at LJMU I wouldn’t have got my first job at SHS, which led to working with BBC Good Food Magazine; the modules I did within my course helped me hugely as I felt I had really varied knowledge that I could relate to different situations in which I found myself.”
As a result of working with Gary I gained the respect of other chefs and worked with most well-known TV chefs at the time (Gordon Ramsay, John Torode, Raymond Blanc, Keith Floyd, Ken Hom, Jamie Oliver, James Martin to name a few), which was brilliant as I got to see how differently everyone works, plus I was involved in numerous opportunities such as food styling for TV ads and shows, writing for magazines and books, ghost-writing recipes, preparing and assisting live demos, and going behind the scenes in top restaurants – the contacts from TV and publishing I gathered led to many job offers and my continuing work today, writing, presenting, styling and consulting for food brands.
For the last two years I’ve been one of three (female) consultant executive chefs for The Gorgeous Kitchen restaurant at Heathrow Terminal 2. We don’t work there on a daily basis but create recipes, plan/cost the menus and train our head chef how to prepare the dishes. It is a great situation to be in as I don’t have the anti-social working hours a restaurant can bring, especially since I have children, but get to see the restaurant produce my recipes and get involved in the marketing and PR.
Getting ahead in the industry
It is a hugely competitive industry – more so now than it was when I graduated. With regard to writing books, it is getting harder here as well. However if you are keen and passionate about food you just need to get working in the industry, as it is amazing who you can meet along the way. My best advice for students would be:
- Make the most of any work placement you have, offer yourself to help out or give as much of your time as you can. If you appear keen and willing you will be offered more opportunities
- Offer your time for free – become a runner by contacting TV production companies who produce food TV programmes
- It is good to start a blog to show how capable you are of writing – try and get your work noticed as much as possible
- Contact food magazines and send them your work. If you have a really unique book idea that is great but it is a bit like TV in that you really need to have some good contacts to start with, so it’s all about being keen again!
What students mustn’t expect is for a TV job to just fall on their lap: be keen, ambitious, work hard and treat people with respect.
Career highlights and plans
My career highlight so far was when I got my first book deal to write In the Mood for Food. I had been writing recipes for a few magazines but really wanted to have a whole book full of my favourite recipes. Getting that book deal gave me more opportunities and exposure, so off the back of it I worked as a brand ambassador and endorser for various food products on their PR campaigns etc. Plus my recipes were being published in even more publications than they had been before, which promoted me as a food writer more than I could have ever hoped for.
Inspiration comes from lots of places: eating out in the varied restaurants in the London area, reading magazines, cookbooks, reading blogs, TV shows, shopping in the supermarkets and seeing all the new products. I am thinking about food all the time!
Whether it is a big or small company I am working for I like a challenge. The size of the company doesn’t often make a massive difference. It is a brief that I am given, a little bit like a new project at university, and I have to work on getting it right. I might have to write recipes using a limited amount of products, or always include a specific ingredient, or make it family friendly.
Good luck to everyone studying food courses at LJMU! I hope you continue with great success. Keep in touch with as many of your classmates as possible – you never know where they will end up and what contacts they may have!
Find out more about Jo Pratt at her website jo-pratt.com, on Twitter @cookwithjopratt and Instagram @cookwithjopratt. For more information on food and nutrition courses visit the School of Sport Studies, Leisure and Nutrition.