Tag Archives: oxford companion to food

Qualified Opinions

There are many reasons to write a blog and they are a little different for everyone. Given that there are now millions of blogs, the reasons grow more diverse as do the styles and topics they cover.

Being as a blog appears on the world wide web, lets take the first definition that appears in the search results:

Noun: A website on which an individual or group of users record opinions, information, etc. on regular basis.

On that basis, I’m unsure I can regard myself as a ‘blogger’ as I fail miserably at the regularity qualifier.

As for the motivations to post one’s opinions online, and in particular in the case of food bloggers, many seem to wish to share their experiences with others or feel it is their duty to warn others from venues which don’t meet with their expectations.

Yet others have a more entrepreneurial motivation, setting out to build an audience, attend launches and events, and attract the attention of public relations types and advertisers.

Other bloggers, not just those who write about food, see a blog as a way to record their experiences in a convenient, update-from-anywhere platform. The figure if they are going to write, they might as well share it with others. As a bonus, they get to prolong the pleasure of their experiences a little longer by writing about them.

All of this seems straightforward, and there is certainly no requirement to ‘decide’ what ‘type’ of blogger you want to be when you create your blog. There is no soul searching survey with hard questions when you sign up for Blogger or WordPress or whichever platform. No oath of blogging to swear.

But is blogging without responsibility? Firstly, not all food bloggers review restaurants or products. There are some fantastic blogs about cooking, recipes, produce and some which feature fabulous food photography. I suppose the responsibility there ends at posting recipes that work and perhaps disclosing when recipes feature products you’ve received as samples.

Does reviewing restaurants and cafes or products carry responsibility? For me the answer is yes. There are not that many bloggers who are powerful enough to end the business of a restaurant, but at the same time, behind these businesses are people. Owners and their employees for a start. It would be unusual for a restaurant to set out to serve bad food, though their purpose may not always be to serve the best food. Working in these businesses, particularly at start up is grueling without even looking beyond the physical work to the emotional investment and financial risk. It’s fair to say that some food bloggers fail to understand this and feel that restaurants are fair game for negative or willfully ignorant reviews.

If you are taking the time to set up a food blog, irritate your friends and loved ones by taking photographs of every plate that arrives at the table, pinching forkfuls of their food in the interests of research, and tapping away at your iPhone to make notes, then extend yourself a little and research your subject matter. If you don’t understand modernist cuisine or don’t know what a terrine is, then perhaps you should just enjoy them as a new and exciting experience and share your opinions with your friends, rather than post them on the internet and record your ignorance for all time.

To look at it from another perspective, imagine there was a review website for your profession. All of us have days where we are not performing at our best. Perhaps the work you do is highly specialised or technical and difficult to understand for those that do not work in the same industry. Would people have the right to critique your work in a public forum? If they were disappointed by the work you did or didn’t feel it was good value for money, would you expect them to speak with you about it before committing it to a public record?

Putting the ‘blogging’ aspect aside, do reviewers in mainstream media have the same responsibilities? Should they meet certain food and wine qualifications before their opinions can appear in print? Or is their ability to write in a style designed for a public audience the more important qualifier?

A couple of incidents had me pondering this. From Twitter:

This tweet from a well known chef:

“Oh dear part time bloggers….yes yes yes. lets just concentrate on what you do best. Your full time job!!”

This tweet from a well known restaurateur, a comment on a short review of Tetsuya’s that appeared in the Courier-Mail :

“I think the review of Tetsuya’s in today’s CM Qweekend maybe the strangest review I have ever read.”

Now, I am unsure who the chef is referring to. It could be me, or I could be paranoid. The restaurateur however leaves us in little doubt, since anyone could identify the writer of the review he refers to by checking the byline on the review.

So, my questions to you dear reader: Is the writer in the Courier-Mail more qualified to write about food than a blogger? Or are they both simply writers who happen to utilise different mediums?  Does being published in a mainstream publication bestow the opinion of the writer with credibility? How do you decide whose opinion matters to you?

One of the most outstanding food writers, in my opinion, and one who continues to command respect is Alan Davidson.  Starting from a hobby in his spare time, he went on to compile the Oxford Companion to Food. Was he a ‘trained’ ‘designated’ ‘food writer’ published in mainstream publications?  No, he was a diplomat who loved food and who originally self published his writings on exotic food as a part-time passion. Perhaps if we were starting out today, he’d have a blog.