How to Become a Recipe Developer

A recipe developer career can be a great fit at all stages of a culinary career. Find out what experience and skills can help you become a recipe developer.

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August 4, 2023 10 min read

When you go out to eat, are you always thinking about how to recreate your restaurant meal at home? Do you know all the latest TikTok food trends (and their fails) or know the magic behind tweaking recipes to make them healthier AND tastier?

If your idea of a steamy beach read has more to do with dumplings than romance, then you might want to consider a career as a recipe developer. A career in recipe development is unique in that it can be a great choice for people at any stage: those just starting out, people looking to make a change, and someone looking to advance in their career.

This versatility stems from its myriad of career options—traditional chef, food blogger, someone who creates recipes for major food labels, co-author on a cookbook, and more. But how do you embark upon this cool career? What skills and education might you need, and what steps can you take to get there? Read on to learn more.

What Does a Recipe Developer Do?

A recipe developer is a key player in any space that makes or talks about food. They’re the experts who understand the details behind the scenes, know the chemistry of food and food prep techniques, and can make that information accessible to others. A recipe developer shows everyone else how to execute an idea. And ideas are where all successful innovations begin!

You might be tasked with creating a seasonal menu for a restaurant, tweaking existing favorites for customers with special dietary needs who need vegan dishes or gluten-free options, or jumping on board the latest trend to create content for social media.

Chef standing in a kitchen holding a crate of fresh vegetables

Restaurants often need someone to develop seasonal menus.

Then you research and experiment, taking meticulous notes along the way. You’ll investigate similar recipes, explore substitutions and potential new combinations, and think about preparation as well—baked or fried, diced or sliced, and any of a variety of ways a small tweak might change the outcome.

A recipe developer has to be willing to explore and to make mistakes. Although you can come from a home cook background, a formal culinary education can hone your skills and also help you reduce the number of blunders.

Escoffier Pastry Arts Chef Instructor Emily Maddy“I work with 15 other chefs; that’s so much knowledge in one building. The students will teach me stuff too. Apparently, if you put crab meat on a sheet tray and put them in the oven for a little bit, the shells turn pink, and then you can just pick them out, instead of fishing around for them. I also had a student mess up making yogurt, but in a good way, and ended up making feta cheese. Mistakes can turn into cool stuff and sometimes students bring knowledge from another chef in school. It’s very educational on both sides.”*
Chef Emily Maddy, Escoffier Culinary Arts Instructor

Seven Steps to Becoming a Recipe Developer

Despite the variety of careers available, the steps to becoming a recipe developer are similar. Here are the basics:

1. Develop the Fundamentals

It can be helpful to understand the basics before you advance to recipe development. This includes learning how to cook, understanding various techniques about food prep and handling, knowing your way around kitchen equipment, and becoming comfortable with flavor profiles and culinary language.

A solid foundation provides the building blocks to the expertise needed to develop recipes and gives you knowledge and tools to get creative.

2. Expand upon Your Food Knowledge

Have fun with this! You can broaden your culinary horizons by trying new restaurants and ordering different items than you’d normally choose. Consider taking courses in nutrition and food science to develop your expertise – this knowledge can help you develop flavorful and interesting recipes that stand out from others.

3. Earn a Related Degree

Formal education can shine on your resume, and a Culinary Arts degree can help you gain the knowledge you may need to thrive as a recipe developer. You can have a chance to develop culinary techniques and methodologies, plus dive into some foundational business skills.

You can also go through a Food Entrepreneurship program, like the one at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. There, you can explore digital and traditional marketing concepts, business planning methods, and core culinary principles and techniques.

4. Gain Experience in the Field

Practice, practice, practice. Find a job in a restaurant, at a hotel, with a catering company, or in any other type of food environment. This way, you can learn your way around a kitchen, try out new techniques and equipment, and explore different flavors. You can also gain insight into the needs and wants of chefs and consumers alike.

Culinary skills plus proven experience in the kitchen are a must in recipe development. At Escoffier, you can jumpstart your career as a recipe developer by doing both at the same time. You can work with Chef Instructors from a host of dynamic backgrounds, while you also gain kitchen experience and build your portfolio through a hands-on industry externship.

Chef Jason Goldman“You can go get a job in a kitchen now, and do our online program. It’s easier to fit into an industry schedule.”*
Chef Luke Shaffer, Escoffier Culinary Arts Instructor

5. Experiment with Your Own Recipes

Grab a notebook and create files on your computer devoted to your research and experiments. Try out new flavors and techniques, and see what happens when you substitute one ingredient for another or vary the cooking method. This is the time to get curious and messy…and to document it.

Once you have a general idea of the new recipe, it’s time to cook and taste. The measurements need to be exact, and the steps in the right order. Precision is key. If a recipe turns out great on the first try, can you replicate it? Can an outsider follow the instructions and get the same result?

Ask friends and family to taste your creations and to try out the recipes to learn whether your instructions were clear. Listen to their feedback for clues on how to improve the flavors, ease of use, and overall appeal. Along the way, hone your system so it’s super organized.

6. Build a Portfolio and Hone Your Presentation Skills

Keep your winning recipes in a place where you can show them off as needed. This can be a website, blog, social media account, physical portfolio—or some combination of all of the above. Consider taking some photography classes, or investing in a professional photo shoot to better showcase the end results as well as the process.

Professional photo of Bouillabaisse Seafood Soup and Grilled Bread

Beautiful food photos can complement the recipe.

Don’t underestimate the value of good writing skills, too. At the least, your instructions need to be clear and easy to follow. In many cases, they’ll also need to be engaging. You don’t need a life story at the start of every recipe, but a fun hook and good pacing can make a big difference in readability.

Tips for Food Styling

  • Make sure you have good lighting. Natural light is usually best. You want well-lit photos and accurate colors and textures. But don’t use a flash—you don’t want reflections or shadows.
  • Think about colors and textures. One tip: use a balance of colors from opposite sides of the color wheel. These complementary colors include reds and greens, blues and yellows, etc.
  • Remember your plating skills: clean lines and shapes, a focal point, and the right garnish.
  • Learn some basic editing skills. Nearly all photos need some adjustment. You can do a lot with introductory Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom skills. There are a variety of other photo editing tools on the market; Canva is another one that’s popular with amateurs and pros alike.

7. Get a Job as a Recipe Developer!

With experience, a strong portfolio, and education, you could have a range of opportunities to pursue. You might find employment with food companies, test kitchens, websites or magazines, restaurants, and more.

The job might be your first in the field or it could be a switch or advancement from where you are now. The field is always changing, so you’ll want to make sure to continuously update your skills and knowledge and stay abreast of trends while remaining mindful of time-tested classics.

What Kind of Recipe Developer Jobs and Careers Exist?

Naturally, a chef in a restaurant may likely develop recipes. But you could have a wide variety of other options too.

Work for Food Companies and Manufacturers

Any food item you find on a grocery store shelf needed someone to create its recipe. And other food companies seek recipe developers to help them showcase how to use their products in interesting ways (think of ingredients like spices, condiments, mixes, and more.)

Food Influencer

Today, there are many options to embark upon a career as a food influencer who shares original recipes and develops an online presence. That can include utilizing TikTok or Instagram, launching your own website, or starting a YouTube channel—or all of the above.

Steve Konopelski“I wanted to share some of my favorite recipes and techniques, and I wanted it to be fun.”*
Chef Steve Konopelski, Pastry Arts Chef Instructor and YouTube Host of “The Sweet Life of Steve”

Work with Nutritionists

Consider the range of careers that need expertise in recipe development, like those in the nutrition field. This could include a hospital or school setting, dietitians who help people with medical conditions (diabetes, allergies, etc), and cookbook writing.

Write for Food Media Outlets

If you possess culinary expertise and can write in an engaging way, you could have options for a career in food media. Think magazines, websites, news outlets, food blogs, scripts for TV…the list goes on.

Start Your Own Business

Want to be your own boss? You can outsource your skills on a contract basis, acting as a consultant for a food company. Or you could take the reins and start a restaurant or food truck. Your choices are limited only by your imagination (and your ability to develop a solid business plan).

Chef cooking with a wok in a food truck

There are many entrepreneurial options for people who can develop recipes.

Are You Ready for a New Career?

Regardless of economic conditions, there’s always a need for recipe developers. When times are good, we love to host parties and try out new, creative recipes; when they’re challenging, we may look for recipes that can help us stretch our dollar or provide some comfort.

Ready to embark upon a career in recipe development? Contact us to discuss your goals and learn which classes can help you lay a great foundation in culinary skills.

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This article was originally published on August 2, 2016, and has since been updated.

*Information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors, such as geographical region or previous experience.

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