Are you an avid foodie considering a career in the media?
We caught up with food photographer, writer and TV chef Lilly Higgins to find out what it takes to be a successful multi-talented freelancer.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
An air hostess with United Arab Emirates. I had a huge poster of Dubai airport on my bedroom wall over my desk as motivation for me while I was studying.
What did you study at college?
My degree is in Visual Communications but I also did a year-long FETAC course in Animation and another year-long FETAC course in Art and Design. I was 16 doing my Leaving Cert so had a bit of time to try out different courses before committing to my degree!
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Talk us through your career to date.
After college, I worked as a freelance designer and had a few art exhibitions but I kept being drawn back to the kitchen. I’ve cooked all my life so enrolled in Ballymaloe Cookery School to do the 12-week course and I loved it.
I taught at the cookery school for the next batch of 12-week students before starting my blog. I was working in a Cookware shop, teaching cookery lessons while writing and photographing food for different publications. I tend to do several things at once.
I ran supper clubs for a year from my sister’s house in Dublin and have written two cookery books with Gill. I also starred in Fancy Vittles with my sister Maeve on RTE2. She’s a comedian and writer for the New York Times and others. She hosts podcasts and is such an inspiration. We love working together.
I regularly cook on RTE’s Today Show and The Six O’Clock show on Virgin Media One. I was The Sunday Business Post’s food columnist for four years and have been a weekly food columnist and food photographer for The Irish Times for four years now.
What skills do you need to be a TV chef/food writer?
I think you need to have a passion for good food. You need to be able to communicate and write. It really is essential. Being a food writer is not about selling something but rather communicating something. It has become very commercially minded over the years. Styling is all about making the viewer want to eat something or to evoke a response. The scene should tell a whole story.
Do you enjoy working as a freelancer?
I do. I love it. I have three kids under the age of 6 and have been working non-stop throughout. I’m very thankful that I can work from home 90% of the time and still get to be the primary caregiver. Of course, it’s very hard too but I’m constantly pushing myself to make it work because I love what I do. It’s an unusual one because I can’t exactly justify having a live-in nanny when my work involves cooking and testing recipes! It’s getting easier to do work while my kids are around and they love helping and being involved.
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What’s the biggest misconception people have about your job?
That I just sit around eating. There is so much washing up too and food shopping is constant!
What is a typical day like?
It honestly revolves around my small kids at the moment and I fit my work in where I can. Usually scribbling notes and ideas during the day, cooking and photographing food when there is good daylight and then writing it all up on my laptop at night. Instagram and Twitter are 24/7 tools for this kind of work. Once a fortnight or so I am filming something or at an event in Dublin or the UK but I’m usually back home that night.
Who has been your biggest role model?
For me, Darina Allen has been a total inspiration. My own amazing mother taught me to cook but Darina taught me that I can use these skills to do anything I want. She gave me the confidence to believe in my own ability and every time I see her she’s galvanized that confidence in me a little more.
What is the biggest career lesson you have learned to date?
That you don’t need to be one thing and have just one career. What you do in college can be one part of the puzzle and you can just keep adding skills and experiences to it. I’m currently taking my exams in wine and progressing through the WSET wine exams in order to write more about wine. The list of possibilities is endless.