Having your cake and blogging it too (and a Work in Progress review)

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In today’s world, everyone wants a piece of the food journalism pie.  Broadly speaking our key players are chefs, food critics, food bloggers and the general public. It’s interesting to note that although the groups share a common interest, we all seem to hate each other. Last month Manu Feildel, chef and judge of My Kitchen Rules announced a blanket ban on all professional restaurant critics for unfavourable reviews that have “cost him both financially and emotionally”. Martha Stewart once said in an interview with Bloomberg TV that she had no idea who bloggers are, just that they aren’t “editors at Vogue magazine”. And you only need to scroll past the first couple of comments on Urbanspoon to see the kind of vitriol certain bloggers have a tendency to post. It’s enough to make you think the restaurant served them something fished out of a toilet bowl. All of this happens while the every man looks on, still incredulous that people are *still* taking photos of their food. Rolls eyes.

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Snowcrab, tobiko and shellfish oil lo mein – $16

I’m a blogger and a sometimes food blogger so this is my subjective opinion. Ex-food blogger (now photographer and professional instigator of wanderlust) Lola Li responded to some badly written blogger hate mail with a simple message, “This is the world now. Social media and blogs are not going away” and I couldn’t agree more. Critics and chefs can’t cover their ears and shut their eyes and hope that we’re just imaginary beings. Similarly, it would be great if my sourpuss friends would stop complaining about my food photography habit. You can opt to not participate, but there are 158,268,179 photos on Instagram with #food, a strong appreciation for meal times and aesthetics is no longer a minority view. Social media isn’t a fad, it’s here to stay. Here in food, I’m arguing that it isn’t such a bad thing.

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Agedashi’ish Tofu – $14

I’ve never met Patrick Friesen – the man behind Work in Progress’s kitchen counter – in real life but I know his face and he knows mine. He also probably knows that I ate at Kim restaurant last week just like I know he was at Mr Wong. All of this information flows freely between us because Instagram is the everyman’s panopticon of the 21st century. We might be meeting for the first time but conversation flows like a river. We chat about mutual friends and people we know, people who are also on the interwebz, Chocolatesuze, Jeff, Zach of Devon on Danks and Bob Wong of Jugernauts to name a few. Pat tells me a bit of his life story and I compare him to Bill Gates. “Yeah but who’s the one pulling noodles in the kitchen right now?” he laughs. The question I should have fired back is, who looks like the happiest guy in the world?

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Side of kimchi

You hear a lot about the passion of chefs for their work from finely crafted media stories but how often do you feel it? If you’re a mildly interested foodie you might watch Masterchef but do you know the whole nine yards of the actual prep required for dinner service? I don’t claim to know anything at all about food, I am just a fan. But in that ten minute conversation, Pat’s transcended from “the guy who cooks my food” into a real person with aspirations, personality and a wicked Canadian sense of humour. Similarly, I’m no longer just a faceless customer. Eating out has historically been something of privilege as chefs perform behind the mystique of closed kitchen doors. But with social media, we’ve torn down the divide between chef and patron, all with a single tap of a “Follow” button. Social media is the magic that connects people with common interests and who doesn’t have more in common between someone who likes to cook and someone who likes to eat? This is kind of a really rad thing, yet instead of embracing this new found transparency, all there seems to be is the above-mentioned hate.

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Halfies – $18

In 2007 Mario Batali wrote a piece for the New York Eater entitled “Why I Hate Food Bloggers”, ending it with the fact that he didn’t, not really. He just always expected and wanted more [journalistic integrity] from us. Fair call. I believe there’ll always be good bloggers and bad bloggers, just like there are good chefs and bad chefs, journalists and customers. What we need is to all stop focusing on our differences and instead on our communal love for food because that’s when conversations open up and great things can happen. Like the one that inspired this blog post.

Blogging and writing is something I am passionate about. I am not going to stop because people are annoyed by food photos or think I’m a Terry Durack knock-off. I am not and have never claimed to be a food critic. But I endeavour in each post to write as fairly, honestly and as ethically as I can, keeping in mind that the words I type could adversely impact the livelihood of many others. I write like the whole world is reading, even if no one is. I don’t speak for everyone but there are many, many that I know who will continue to fight the good, clean fight because some food is just too good to not write about. Most of us bloggers may not have a degree in journalism or write words below a giant masthead but we are trying our best.

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Oh yeah, the agedashi’ish tofu is fantastic. Pat makes fried chicken mean enough for a usual non-fried eater like me to consume a couple of pieces. The lo mein has the springy-ness of some of the best wan tan mee I’ve had in Malaysia. A little lacking in flavour but nothing a good dose of the table chilli sauce can’t fix. Go check out Work in Progress, a pop-up bar in conjunction with March into Merivale.

Work in Progress on Urbanspoon

samanthawxlow

17 Comments

  1. I love this post! I actually studied media/comms at university so I enjoy looking at the food industry and food blogging from a more traditional media perspective and seeing how it’s all changed. I think it’s quite sad when people come out swinging saying they hate food bloggers and whatnot because for me I’m also simply a “fan” of food and I honestly just love sharing good food 🙂

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the technical aspect of this! I work in PR (although not food/lifestyle) so I definitely see the value in engaging in social media on a daily basis. Change is inevitable so people will eventually have to adjust their mindset I suppose. Here’s to good food!

    • Neither do I. But I think nowadays a lot of restaurants do appreciate our work and particularly see the value in Instagram. Hopefully we keep moving towards this. Thanks for the compliments!

  2. Everything that’s happening with regards to food blogging seems to me to just being a matter of dealing with change. The double-edge sword for restaurateurs and chefs of instant praise and criticism and more competition for food journalists from people they feel lack the expertise and experience. It’d be nice if we did focus on what we have in common as you’d mentioned.

    Also, love how your impressions of the food was an afterthought. Priorities 🙂

    • I mentioned in a reply to a comment here that there needs to be a distinction between what we do and what the experts do. I mean as far as I am aware, established movie critics do not chastise Rotten Tomatoes (poor as a comparison as that may be).

      Also hahaha thank you! Thought it was an appropriate end to the post.

  3. Its a good piece. read it. Between jugernauts is a few people even if I’m the front guy. Just a FYI.

    • Sorry for the late reply, was AWOL all weekend. Noted, would you like me to make a reference to that in the post? I figured it was more than one guy, lest you just like to refer to yourself in third person hehe.

  4. A great read. Well done. I love the “Social media is the magic that connects people with common interests and who doesn’t have more in common between someone who likes to cook and someone who likes to eat?” Social media is definitely gaining strength as a marketing tool and I think times have certainly changed from the voice of a well written food critic being the only influencer to instagrammers that just have to post an awesome photo of an awesome dish and be liked by 100s and 1000s in minutes to make people want to visit the restaurant or share with others about it. Its a shame about the trolls and keyboard warriors but it sadly comes with the territory.

    • Reading and replying to all of these comments have been incredible. It’s nice to hear that other people share the same sentiment I do. Even better to hear it from someone like you who’s been in the game for so long!

      I think the key lies in distinguishing what we do from what critics do. It isn’t the same and we shouldn’t be competing.

  5. Thanks so much Jason! Bloggers and Instagrammers have completely revolutionised the food industry. It’s incredible to be a part of and to watch it grow.

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