Interview with food editor, Irene Ngo

Irene Ngo food editor recipe developer

Follow Irene at @irenengo.

What do you do?
I’m the food editor for Chatelaine and Today’s Parent magazines. Together with my team, we develop recipes and create food content for articles and videos.

How long have you been in this field for?
I’ve been in this field for nine years. Within the food industry, I’ve worked as a recipe developer, food writer, food stylist, recipe editor, product developer and cake decorator. I also launched a food start-up in Canada as their founding chef and head of product.

What inspired you to pursue this career?
I was inspired to get into this career because I’ve always loved food. I was obsessed with the idea of food growing up. I devoured any and all information on cooking and baking from a young age – through watching cooking shows with my mum and grandmother, and being in the kitchen with them. I’d even borrow cookbooks from the library!

What was the biggest hurdle in attaining your career goals?
Recipe development and writing is my second career. Growing up, I didn’t really see food as a career option for me. I was raised to believe that I needed to have a career in medicine – or at least a “prestigious white collar job” – to be successful and happy. So I set my passion aside as a hobby.

After I graduated from university with a communications degree, I worked in an industry where I realized I wasn’t in love with what I was doing. I found my office job boring and lacking in creativity. And if I was spending 5 out of 7 days at work, shouldn’t I love it? So I left that career and took some time off to decide what I really wanted to do. Without the mental clutter of working an office job, it became clear to me that what I loved was creating recipes at home and cooking. Ultimately, I decided to enrol myself in culinary school to pursue a career in food. The transition was not easy and I experienced lot of uncertainty and internal conflict. I sold my condo to pay for tuition. I was used to having an income, so I had to be comfortable with changing my lifestyle and giving up luxuries I had become accustomed to. Also, by pursuing a food career, I was shedding parental expectations – which I grew up believing would impact my personal worth. I’m glad I persevered through it all, because I was able to find my dream job.

What do you like most about your work?
Oh, so many things! I love the creative process of conceptualizing recipe ideas and food stories, and executing them. I enjoy working with my team and coming up with thoughtful content, so that it’s useful to readers, like cooking tips to save time, or ways for them to save money at the grocery store. Or simply just to offer a delicious recipe.

What do you find most challenging about your work?
Sometimes, writer’s block. Inspiration doesn’t always strike on demand. I can end up staring at the screen for a while before I even know how to start a story. With recipe development, I tend to push the boundaries a lot and attempt a lot of recipes that have never been done before. They don’t always turn out! I’m pretty good at knowing when to give up on an idea, but I can also be very persistent. Sometimes it pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t. (The ones that turn out are fantastically satisfying though!)

If you weren’t a food editor, what would you be?
I’d be a product developer. That was my first job in the food industry. As a culinary student, I worked at The Food Innovation and Research Studio at George Brown College. I assisted small food businesses by re-formulating their product’s recipes so they could be produced in larger batches to be sold at retail level. Many of our clients started off their businesses by developing a recipe at home that they loved, and over time wanted to share their creation with the world. It was an amazing feeling to know that I was able to play a part in making their food dreams a reality.

Name one hobby you have that’s not related to your work.
I love building and creating things with my hands. I love DIY projects, doing crafty things like making my own soap. I’ve been taking pottery classes, and it’s so fun. I also love yoga. I find it really meditative. Oh, sorry, that’s two hobbies!

What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
Sadly, check my phone.

And last thing you do at night?
Sadly, check my phone. I used to read books before bedtime, but now I usually read articles on my phone. I definitely want to get back into the habit of reading real books though!

On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you enjoy your work?
Currently – 10!