Photo By: Noah Webb
Photo By: Pool ©2009 Getty Images
Photo By: Peter Ross
Photo By: Peter Ross
Photo By: Peter Ross
Fast-Food Developer: Trevor Wilson, Sonic
When you see a new menu item at a restaurant chain, someone has spent months or even years working on the dish. As a product developer for Sonic, Trevor Wilson studies food trends, then comes up with his own take on the latest food craze. Best Perk: Trevor gets to eat his way across the country for inspiration. One day he'll be in Philadelphia sampling cheesesteaks, another day he'll be in the Southwest in search of new spicy flavors. Landing the Gig: Wilson has a culinary degree, but being a good cook isn't enough. Successful dishes need to be tasty and popular, so marketing experience is a plus.
Real-Life Willy Wonka: Janet T. Planet, Nestle
Janet the Planet (her legal name) has a job that's straight out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: As innovation manager for Nestle's Wonka candy line, she channels the fictional candy maker to dream up wacky new sweets. She sketches new candies and imagines new flavor combos, then assists with tasks like candy-bar molding and wrapper design. Best Perk: Working in a candy factory. "There are waterfalls of Spree and great tumbling kettles of Nerds and Runts," she says. "The smells are fabulous." Landing the Gig: A wild imagination and creative-industry experience are important, but so is technical know-how; Planet is also a fashion designer and engineer.
Pastry Chef-in-Chief: Bill Yosses, The White House
As the White House executive pastry chef, Bill Yosses whips up sweets for the First Family and their VIP guests. Some cool recent assignments: building a giant gingerbread house for Christmas (with a marzipan Bo the dog) and baking Obama-family favorites, like peach cobbler. Best Perk: Getting to call the White House his office. A close second: earning a nickname (the "Crustmaster") from the leader of the free world. Landing the Gig: Yosses became known for his world-class pastries in New York City's top kitchens before Laura Bush hired him. Culinary school and apprenticeships in Paris got him off to a good start. Also key: good behavior. Yosses had to undergo a background check.
Funky-Fruit Breeder: David Jackson, KiwiBerry Organics
Fruit breeder David Jackson grows and breeds KiwiBerries, a rare form of kiwi fruit that looks like a grape but tastes like a fuzz-free kiwi. The berries require constant care (he works more than 300 days a year), but that's exactly what Jackson loves. He's always on the hunt for the next big berry and spends years cross-pollinating berries to perfect a variety's sweetness. Best Perk: Shoppers' reactions. Jackson's KiwiBerries stop people in their tracks in the grocery store. "The best part of my job is watching people's expressions when they eat their first one," he says. Landing the Gig: Jackson, a former rock-and-roll drummer with a green thumb, read about the tiny kiwis and decided to pursue farming them.
Movie-Set Food Stylist: Susan Spungen
As talented as Meryl Streep was at portraying Julia Child in Julie & Julia , she needed help cooking all of those meals. Enter food stylist Susan Spungen. For a scene in which Streep and co-star Amy Adams ate French onion soup, Spungen experimented with different cheeses to get the perfect string of melty cheese to stretch from the bowl to their lips. "Food styling is telling the story," she says. Never mind those rumors about fake food; Spungen uses edible tricks, like misting pasta with oil on the set of Eat Pray Love to keep it looking fresh onscreen. Best Perk: Traveling and meeting celebs. While filming Eat Pray Love, Spungen got to stay in Rome for three weeks cooking for Roberts and the rest of the cast. Landing the Gig: Spungen started as a caterer and magazine food editor. She recommends getting a culinary degree and then assisting a food stylist to get experience.
Professional Gum Chewer: Bill Hirt, Cadbury
Bill Hirt, who dreams up new gum varieties for Cadbury (makers of Trident, Dentyne and others), had a eureka-moment when he bought some fruit juices, mixed them up and got the inspiration for Trident Tropical Twist, now the brand's best seller. He puts his ideas to the test at almost-daily "chews": meetings where people chew gum and take notes on flavor, texture and endurance. That's where he weeds out flops, like a strawberry gum that tasted like rotten vegetables. Best Perk: Free candy! Taste testers cleanse their palates with chocolate. Landing the Gig: A lot of science goes into gum-making, so a food science degree is useful. And it helps if you like to chew gum.
Gourmet Grocery Buyer: Maria Roemer, Dean & Deluca
The specialty grocery store Dean & Deluca is known for its luxe and exotic items and Maria Roemer is in charge of finding them. Roemer seeks out the best breads, pastries and packaged goods and analyzes their packaging, pricing and, of course, taste. Best Perk: Sampling new foods all day long. "Who else gets to try 10 kinds of potato chips in one sitting?" she says. Landing the Gig: A knowledge of food and a well-tuned palate are essential. Roemer suggests starting out in retail, professional kitchens or food production.
Big-City Critic: Frank Bruni, The New York Times
It's a tough job, eating out nearly every night in New York City's restaurants, but somebody has to be The New York Times' restaurant critic. Frank Bruni held the post for five years and still covers bars and spirits for the paper. "You have a responsibility and the budget to dine out constantly and exuberantly," he says, explaining that the company pays for every meal so critics can write honestly. For each review, he visited a restaurant several times and ate almost everything on the menu. Best Perk: The expense account. Bruni won't reveal his annual budget, but it was reportedly more than $150,000. Landing the Gig: Being a good writer is the most important part. And good timing: There aren't many critic jobs out there.
Restaurant Designer: Stephanie Goto, Stephanie Goto Design Group
New restaurants can get as much attention for their decor as they do for their food, thanks to designers like Stephanie Goto, who selects everything from the chairs and wall colors to the bar placement to bring an owner's vision to life. Best Perk: Industry connections. She works closely with restaurateurs and has lots of friends in the biz, so Goto never has to wait long for a table. Landing the Gig: Goto is a trained architect and says a background in architecture, interior design or product design is key. Also necessary: adaptability. She once had to rethink a design when a restaurant's taxidermied animals got stuck in customs.
Cookbook Ghostwriter: JJ Goode
When restaurant chefs want to write cookbooks, they hire someone like JJ Goode, a pro home cook, to translate their dishes into recipes that novices can understand. Goode spends his days in the kitchens of world-famous chefs like Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto and barbecue guru Adam Perry Lang, who prepare meal after meal just for him; then he tweaks the chefs' recipes. Best Perk: Private tastings. "I sit there and watch the chefs cook, ask them questions and wait for the lamb to be ready for me to eat," he says. Landing the Gig: Goode says being friendly is even more important than writing well. "Chefs hire you because they get along with you. They have to know that spending nine months together won't be awful."