Career Inspo: Recipe Writer

One of the creations of recipe writer, Cathie Lonnie. Photos: TruPics

Who says you have to live in a capital city to be involved in an amazing career?

At Border Cafe we like to highlight some of the talented, diverse and inspiring people who are making a mark in their industry, right here in the Border and North East.

If you’ve cooked a recipe out of a cookbook or magazine, chances are a home grown recipe writer and food editor has played a part in its creation.

Let us introduce you to the first in our local career inspiration series, Cathie Lonnie

How did you get into recipe writing and testing?

I’m a chef by trade, then went into food technology and studied and worked in research and development at a dessert manufacturer in Wodonga.

While doing that, I taught food science and cookery at Wodonga TAFE.

When I moved to Sydney, I thought I’d ring the Women’s Weekly Food Director, out of the blue.

Cathie Lonnie, at home in her kitchen.

I have always loved Women’s Weekly, ever since the first cookbook my mum gave to me when I was about ten. Pamela Clark, the Food Director was my hero when I was a teenager.

When I called and spoke to her, she offered me two weeks’ work experience in the kitchen, alongside ten home economists. At the start of my second week, one of the home economists was leaving and I was offered the job.

After about 18 months, the Test Kitchen Manager left and I was offered that role.

What was involved in recipe writing and testing for Women’s Weekly Cookbooks? 

We would publish 12 A4 cookbooks a year and develop recipes for the magazine. It takes 12 months to make a cookbook from original idea to the shelf, with each recipe triple tested. As Test Kitchen Manager I had ten home economists working under me.

If the book we were working on was say a ‘potato cookbook’ – some girls would develop recipes for baking or roasting, others for a creamy mash or fries chapter. They would submit their ideas, then I would sit with the editors and we’d work out what ideas would go into the book. The home ec’s would then write a recipe, cook it and see if it works.

We’d have tastings at 12 o’clock and 3 o’clock and every girl would present a recipe they had developed for everyone to critique. We worked out that every girl on average put on six kilos their first year in the test kitchen!

You also had a role on TV show, Ready Steady Cook – what was that like?

My role was the recipe writer. I would stand off camera and quickly jot down notes as the chef is cooking, then get the footage, look at my notes and write the recipe to go on the website – keeping the integrity of their original recipes.

All the chefs were quite good to work with. We had George (Columbaris), Manu (Fieldel), Alastair McLeod, Janelle Bloom – most of them have moved on to bigger things. I think that show in Australia was the start of the celebrity chef.

You have moved back to the region with your family, but it sounds like you’re still never far from the kitchen.

I’m a freelance recipe writer. I develop and write recipes for publishers such as Super Food Ideas magazine, Weight Watches, and Coles magazine, who will commission me to write recipes for a cookbook or magazine feature.

I will come up with ideas that suit the book’s theme – such as baking, Asian cuisine, low-fat, midweek meals, absolutely anything food related. The publisher will then choose which ideas they like and I will develop and write the recipe, making sure its easy for the reader at home to make.

I am also a food editor for publishers. It just means I edit existing recipes, looking to see if the recipe makes sense on paper.

Cathie creates a scrumptious treat in the letter “B” for Border Cafe during our photo shoot.

What have been your most enjoyable projects?

I loved the French and Thai cookbooks we did for Women’s Weekly, because we learnt so much about those cuisines.

I was also food editor on Paris Cutler’s Planet Cake book, that was very interesting.

For Murdoch books I was food editor on a kids’ party cake book. It allowed me to get together a team of recipe writers to work on the project, coming up with ideas and developing kids cakes, which is always fun.

How many recipes do you think you’ve written or tested?

I’ve contributed to more than 200 cookbooks. Between the cookbooks and magazine features, it would be well over three thousand recipes over 17 years.

What plans do you have to share your skills locally?

I’d like to become more involved in the local food scene and the beautiful food producers around – helping them write recipes for websites or advertising. Maybe do some cooking demonstrations, or become involved in cooking schools, keep writing recipes and become a bit more known locally.

For more on Cathie, you can follow her on Instagram @harvestcookgraze