May 25, 2016

Upon graduation from culinary academy, some young chefs know exactly where they want to wind up, be it working in a bakery or owning yourtheir own gastropub or coffee shop. Even still, others aren’t sure of their future place in the kitchen, and they might feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of options. One easy way to help set you on the right career path is to know where you’re going to live. Choosing a city based on its culinary features and heritage is a great way to develop your niche. Here are just a few considerations when choosing your future home:

“Smaller towns may be more hungry for exciting restaurants.”

Go big or stay small?
In May 2016, Eater spoke with a few different chefs who chose to open up restaurants in small towns. That is, cities with populations around 15,000 to 30,000. There are some huge benefits to operating in these tiny burgs, like less competition for one thing. And that also means that the residents are much hungrier (pun intended) for unique and interesting restaurant options. Because you may be one of only a few eateries in town, it’s easy to build up a loyal customer base.

There are some downsides to small town living. Mainly, it might be hard to secure supplies and ingredients if you’re far off the beaten path. It can also be hard to find the best help, and you may have to train people who are otherwise inexperienced. It’s important to weigh these pros and cons before packing your bags and hitting the road.

Charleston, South Carolina was rated the number one food city by Traveler Magazine.

Charleston, South Carolina is quickly becoming one of the U.S.’s top food cities.

Come for the culture
Almost every city in the U.S. has its very own food-centric culture. For instance:

  • Barbecue is seen as having a few central hubs: Houston, Texas, Kansas City, Kansas and Memphis, Tennessee.
  • Po’boys – a traditional sub sandwich – are a staple of New Orleans, Louisiana.
  • Maryland, especially the capital of Baltimore, has a noted love affair with crabs.
  • Georgia has its famous peaches, which feature in everything from pie to some chicken dishes.
  • Chicago, Illinois is perhaps most famous for deep dish pizza, Italian sausage and Italian beef sandwiches.

As a chef, it’s important to recognize a city’s favorite foods. If you’d like to be a part of the tradition, it can show you where to hang your hat. Or, maybe you’d like to bring some new dish or tradition to a city. By understanding a city’s food-based identity you can decide if it’s worth relocating.

Follow the guides
If you really need help to decide what city to move to, you may want to consider a review guide. In 2015, the iconic Zagat’s named Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as one of the best cities for cooking and foodies, citing a sense of innovation to the classic Italian sandwiches the town’s popularized. Traveler magazine, meanwhile, gave the top honor to Charleston, South Carolina, an older city that’s jam-packed with culinary options. If nothing else, these guides are a handy way to understand a city’s culinary culture and to find areas that may prefer more traditional cuisine or have a flair for innovation. And you might also want ask your fellow chefs, who may have keen insight into the belly of a city.