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Thursday, March 13, 2008

What is a foodie?

I've been perusing the Cincinnati Magazine restaurant issue since I got it, in case I missed something or forgot about a restaurant I wanted to try (I do that a lot!). I've read, over and over, an article in the section that includes comments from local chefs—anonymous, of course. First, apparently the hot kitchen sex only happens in Anthony Bourdain's world (bummer); nearly all of them are tired of foam (thank goodness) and Kobe beef (rarely from Kobe, Japan; it's a word that has become the meat world's champagne, and most of it is Wagyu, a breed of cow that can be raised anywhere); they wish the entire city didn't dine at 7:30 (I tend to dine towards 8:30-9 PM, thankyouverymuch); and French cooking is out and Latin flavors are in. There is one phrase that caught my eye, and I've been thinking about since I read it. When asked what they would wish for in Cincinnati dining, someone said, "More real foodies, not wanna-bes."

What does that mean?

What makes a real foodie? Am I a real foodie?

Most everyone I've met in the (very!) short time I've been writing this blog has been so enthusiastic about the work I'm doing. Sure, some customers look at me a little funny when I whip out my camera as soon as the waiter walks away, but I'm not that easily embarrassed. Not many people do this around here—LA, NY, SF, and other places with bigger populations and a faster restaurant turnover cycle than Cincinnati have tons of bloggers—and only recently has Cincinnati begun to have its own culinary stamp (outside of Skyline and Graeters and other local favorites). Many of the industry people I've talked with are happy that someone who is not on a newspaper's payroll is writing about experiences as a customer.

On the flip side, some folks aren’t so enamored with the idea of blogging; they believe culinary writers should have culinary backgrounds. I think, perhaps, that they're missing the point. Culinary training certainly builds an excellent foundation for food enjoyment—you learn the fundamental techniques of Western cuisine and, by repetition, learn to make them in both large quantities and with consistent quality. You apply that quantity and consistency to the line, delivering the desired products based on your skill, training, and artistry. It is difficult, physically and mentally draining work, and I applaud the chefs, who largely go unseen by customers. However, the average customer at a restaurant is not a chef. Customers may not know how to cook without opening a frozen dinner, or may be good at a few standards, or maybe they’ve never have taken a cooking class.

Some chefs embrace food bloggers (and blog themselves). Others, like Mario Batali, think we're a scourge upon the restaurant industry. Some food bloggers prefer the scoop to research, and some might argue that there is a lack of journalistic integrity and accountability in blogging, since so much of it is anonymous. Okay, so some bloggers might be in it for notoriety, free food, or social status, etc. There are definitely food blog haters out there (who aren't Batali); some think that we all need to have worked the culinary industry to be "more understanding." How many of us, on a daily basis, judge something as "good" or "bad" without formal training in the subject? I know next to nothing about the mechanics of cars, but I know that I like the way my car handles, and I also know that when a funny sound comes out, something's wrong with it. I know that when it's spring and I start sneezing, I should probably take a Claritin.

I've been cooking since I was a wee tot, and grew up on The Frugal Gourmet and Justin Wilson and Julia Child. I have a fairly educated palate (becoming more educated daily, and I still have a long way to go), and I am a fairly accomplished home cook (unless you count the bacon brittle, which was awful!). With the Internet, foodies are more common, because we have more access to knowledge about good, seasonal, artisanal, and exotic food that our grandmothers (in their Jello-mold haze) couldn't have imagined.

Web 2.0 has opened an entirely new opportunity for people who fall between being a trained chef and chain-restaurant diner. Sites like Chowhound, Epicurious, The Kitchen, Eater and The Accidental Hedonist give a voice to people who truly enjoy food: cooking, eating, and learning about it. There is less of a hierarchy. As one commenter put it on Eater.com:

With respect, I think a lot of you are missing the point about blogs in general. Most "food bloggers" are not pretending to be critics, but are sharing their experiences, prejudices, biases, and opinions. The absence of any pretense at journalistic standards is what makes the blogosphere…so interesting.

Don't think journalism.

Think cocktail party. Maybe after an hour and half of cocktails. Buck Callahan.

That's exactly what the Internet is: one big cocktail party where people have opinions and share them with others. You have to sort out the good from the bad; many blogs are well researched and are based on first-hand experiences. And of course some blogs (Yahoo Answers, Yelp, and Citysearch, etc.) have essentially anonymous and often vitriolic posts that aren't as reliable. There are major news outlets that put out unresearched stories, and there are blogs that are often better researched than the average newspaper.

What it boils down to is this: Chefs and food writers (whether they're restaurant reviewers, bloggers, or whomever) have opinions and have, historically, been at odds with each other. As a food blogger, I am not out to ruin anyone's business. I try to write well-researched posts that highlight the sort of food I like and discover. I hope that my reviews will help Cincinnati readers break the habit of going to known chain restaurants and start trying locally owned restaurants (or very small chains) that might be out of their comfort zone. I love good food, and hope I introduce you to some good stuff that you might not have tried.

What is a foodie? A foodie is someone who loves food. Good food. They want to know where it comes from, why it's good, how to prepare it, and how to enjoy it. If my lack of formal culinary training makes me a wanna-be foodie, so be it. I’ll keep enjoying wonderful meals and taking pictures of the fun.

20 comments:

Chris S said...

Its just a silly proposition that anyone in the business should hate food bloggers, or somehow find them to be "wanna bes." Your cocktail party analogy is quite apt. Good local food gets good local buzz. In a market thats currently booming in Cincinnati, these chefs have to understand that the only way to compete is on quality, its the only thing that differentiates them from commodity. Keep writing and taking pictures, you ain't no wannabe, whatever that is. A foodie is a foodie is a foodie ;)

PS - sorry to hear your bacon brittle didn't work out, mine worked wonderfully :)

Julie said...

Thanks, Chris! I hope I didn't read as if I wanted my arse kissed; it's just something that's been bothering me.

And send me your bacon brittle recipe. I'm fairly sure I know why mine didn't work-- a faulty candy thermometer-- but I'd like to try again.

Chris S said...

Oh, not at all. Sounded like "rightful indignation" to me, but I am biased :)

Drop me an email and I'll send you the recipe (cstpierre|-AT-|gmail.com)

vudutiu said...

Great post, you ARE a foodie make no mistake.

I think it is someone who is passionate about food, deeply interested in it, someone with a lifelong desire to constantly experience and learn about food. It used to be you called yourself a gourmet, now it think it encompasses much more than just cooking and eating. A foodie is aware of the politics and business of food, personally my hero is Michael Pollan I believe he speaks for many of us. The rise of the local craze has been interesting to watch and I think has spurred the foodie movement. We have been going to Findley every Saturday for longer than I can remember and for me it is a was to get closer to my food community, people and away from big business. If we skip a week our vendors start calling to see if we are OK.

I am an admitted card carrying, major league foodie. I have written a family and friends cookbook, have worked for a cookbook author, plant a garden and cook totally from scratch. I count great hedonistic wonderful characters as foodie buddies, I am blessed, I share food with people who can dissect the ingredients in a dish and pick the perfect wine to go with it. My fiancée is a master cook, no professional training but seriously, she is the best "natural" cook I have ever met. Great kitchen sense, she can eat a dish and go in the kitchen and recreate it, usually better than the original. I used to cook a lot more before I met her, now I am a lowly assistant.

I for one am happy to call myself a foodie, you should be too.

Cin Twin1 said...

I consider you a foodie! I came across your blog from the Foodie Report, and love your insight. I think a Foodie is someone who looks past the fast food restaurants and want eating to be an experience not just a time filler or a convenience. I love to daydream and think of possible combinations of food. I love coming up with meals that deals with textures, colors, and fresh ingredients. I find so much joy in that. I sometimes think I missed my calling and should have gone to culinary school. Food, dining, wine tasting, cooking will just have to be a hobby for now while I am a engineer by career. Anybody out there left their job to enter the food industry? I would love to hear your story.

Chris S said...

As a C School dropout (granted, I was only part time), I would say don't waste your time/money unless you are doing it for personal edification only. Yes, you do learn skills. I learned more in the first 2 days in an actual professional kitchen than I did in two semesters of C-School classes.

If you are seriously thinking about it, and can afford to live off of what you would get paid, your best bet is to try to get a job in restaurant. Start at the bottom, prep/cleaning, and take the opportunities to work new stations as you can. You'll learn more, and you'll quickly figure out if you can hack it (thats no dig, its just a very tough life)

Julie said...

Vudutu--

I am definitely happy to call myself a foodie! I agree- the locavore movement, Food TV (as much bad stuff as there is on there...), environmentalism, all of that have really spurred on "foodies". Hedonism has a bad rap, but enjoying the pleasures of life-- food, wine, arts, all of that-- are what makes life worth living.

Cin Twin--

Thanks for visiting! I agree-- I find joy in food. Food is not just fuel to me-- it's something that truly enjoy. I could never be someone who does more than "watches" what they eat. I just enjoy food too much.

I've thought that perhaps I've missed my calling and should have gone to culinary school (I'm a project manager/editor/copywriter these days) but I realize that if I were that immersed in the industry, I'd probably burn out and the experience wouldn't be as much of a joy to me. They say do what you like, not what you love-- and I agree with that, to some extent.

Chris--

Have you read any Michael Ruhlman? He cherishes what he learned in culinary school, which has helped his food writing, but he says he learned most in his Skills class and in cooking in the restaurants at the CIA.

Chris S said...

I've read Ruhlman, and to a point I agree with him. I learned most in my skills classes, but I learned waaaay more in my summer working in a restaurant. C-School can be a joy, if you are in it for the edification. That said, anything you learn there, beyond basic skills, can be picked up working in the industry and reading/tasting/doing. Further, if you are in it for the love of food, you have to consider that C-School prepares you for the industry of food. Which is not to say that you can't have "heart", but its really more about the realities of a hot, dirty, fast paced work world, where nuances have to be second nature, not really the act of love it is when preparing a meal for someone special.

Julie said...

Chris S--

This is why I stick to cooking for friends and family and other people who enjoy food. I'm not trying to prove anything to anyone-- just enjoy food, and I don't need a C-school degree to do that.

Cin Twin1 said...

Thanks for the advice and feedback. I know it is a hard industry with long hours, and a lot of tough work. I wouldn't mind opening a wine store or a kitchen supply store in downtown Cincinnati where I can talk about food all day long! I think that is something that is missing from downtown retail wise. Maybe I should look into that!

Julie said...

We could totally use a kitchen supply sort of store-- we do have City Cellars and Findlay Market's new wine shop opening!

Jaime said...

I really like this post, I completely agree with everything you said. I think its silly that chefs would look down upon food bloggers b/c you are correct, the average customer in their restaurants is not a chef. I do not have any culinary training but also consider myself to be a foodie. I cook for my friends and family all the time and am currently on my 8th serving job, all of which have been in locally run restaurants. So I feel like even though I have never worked in the kitchen, I have a lot of restaurant experience and can knowledgeably comment on local restaurants. If a chef wants to say that makes me a foodie wannabe, oh well!

I read your blog and have gone to restaurants (ie Terry's Turf Club) based on what you have said about it, and that is reason alone to consider you a "real" foodie. People look to your blog for recommendations and that should be taken seriously. Word of mouth for restaurants is really their bread and butter and they should be falling all over themselves to please you and other food bloggers who choose to come into their establishments.

valereee said...

I think the problem isn't the original blog post -- most people who read blogs know that a blog is just one person's opinion. The trouble arises when blogs start quoting other blogs as 'research.' Not everyone follows the link to find out what the quoted source actually is -- many folks just assume if there's a link, that means you've done your research. If you read something on another blog, you can't present it as supporting evidence of your own opinion. You have to either point out that the source is another blog (and therefore simply another opinion) or track down an original, identifiale, reliable source.

Chris S said...

Valereee, that assumes that when you are writing informally, such as on a blog, there is any intention to be "quoting" anything in the sense of a "source" quotation, or research. People who blog aren't "quoting" anything, they are saying "hey, look at this too."

As a blogger, it is not up to me to point out the particulars of the source or the quality of that source (the content of the link and the link itself speaks by itself). That assessment is left up to the reader, both in the realm of scholarly writing and in blogging. If I quote wikipedia in my dissertation, that dissertation is given less weight by readers who read critically. (Going to check the footnote is no different than following the link) I don't assume that just because its a dissertation it is full of original reliable sources, and nor should I. That burden is on the reader, and if the reader gets the wrong impression, its not the job of the writer to do more than simply point out the source of the information, leaving the reader to judge the quality of the source.

If that is really the problem, than the problem is with the reader, not the blogger.

valereee said...

I'd argue that communication is at least as much the responsibility of the writer as of the reader.

I don't think the average blogger (the cocktail party variety) has any particular responsibility to check sources. Gossip away! But if they want to be considered authoritative on a subject (and many do seem to want to be more than just a cocktail party) then they'd best emulate the pros and corectly quote reliable experts instead of other nonexperts. You can be a cocktail party, or you can check your sources and quote only reliable ones. I don't personally care one way or the other what kind of blog a given blog is, but I know which kind I'm likely to keep reading, unless for simple entertainment. (Which again is fine -- if you want to be a cocktail party, go for it.)

Julie said...

I suppose, Valeree, that I'm trying to be the informed person in the corner of the cocktail party. :)

valereee said...

Julie, I think that's called a 'salon' then. :D

A salon -- that's what I want to host! Not a modern cocktail party. Small talk, Bleah! I want an Algonquin Round Table.

Julie said...

Valeree, have you checked out Cincinnati Salon? :)

Anonymous said...

I really liked that issue, but I caught that little comment and it bugged me too (found it a bit snooty). I was raised by the most accomplished cook I've ever met, do moderately OK in the kitchen, did a couple stints in restaurants, and I know good service. Thus, my initial reaction was, 'eff you, pal' (especially because 7:30 is about the time I usually want dinner and I'm a firm believer that for sanitation reasons, hot kitchen sex should take place in one's own home :).

I started to wonder if this person was thinking, 'give me more people that are here for the food, and less for the social scene'? Because maybe I could see that, but it seems like an assumption on their part. And who knows... couldn't that be how you end up fostering 'real' foodies in the long run?

Oh, and personally, love Ruhlman and think Batali needs to get over himself when it comes to food bloggers (but I heart him on Iron Chef).

Great blog!
kellymo from Ravelry

Julie said...

Jaime-- Thank you! I do this because I love food and hope I can turn other people on to local restaurants. I'm so glad that I've sent at least one person someplace I like!

Kelly-- Hi, fellow knitter! I'm not sure why chefs would want to alienate their clientele-- but if they want to cater to what they deem to be foodies, they might have a couple of problems getting customers in the door!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

What is a foodie?

I've been perusing the Cincinnati Magazine restaurant issue since I got it, in case I missed something or forgot about a restaurant I wanted to try (I do that a lot!). I've read, over and over, an article in the section that includes comments from local chefs—anonymous, of course. First, apparently the hot kitchen sex only happens in Anthony Bourdain's world (bummer); nearly all of them are tired of foam (thank goodness) and Kobe beef (rarely from Kobe, Japan; it's a word that has become the meat world's champagne, and most of it is Wagyu, a breed of cow that can be raised anywhere); they wish the entire city didn't dine at 7:30 (I tend to dine towards 8:30-9 PM, thankyouverymuch); and French cooking is out and Latin flavors are in. There is one phrase that caught my eye, and I've been thinking about since I read it. When asked what they would wish for in Cincinnati dining, someone said, "More real foodies, not wanna-bes."

What does that mean?

What makes a real foodie? Am I a real foodie?

Most everyone I've met in the (very!) short time I've been writing this blog has been so enthusiastic about the work I'm doing. Sure, some customers look at me a little funny when I whip out my camera as soon as the waiter walks away, but I'm not that easily embarrassed. Not many people do this around here—LA, NY, SF, and other places with bigger populations and a faster restaurant turnover cycle than Cincinnati have tons of bloggers—and only recently has Cincinnati begun to have its own culinary stamp (outside of Skyline and Graeters and other local favorites). Many of the industry people I've talked with are happy that someone who is not on a newspaper's payroll is writing about experiences as a customer.

On the flip side, some folks aren’t so enamored with the idea of blogging; they believe culinary writers should have culinary backgrounds. I think, perhaps, that they're missing the point. Culinary training certainly builds an excellent foundation for food enjoyment—you learn the fundamental techniques of Western cuisine and, by repetition, learn to make them in both large quantities and with consistent quality. You apply that quantity and consistency to the line, delivering the desired products based on your skill, training, and artistry. It is difficult, physically and mentally draining work, and I applaud the chefs, who largely go unseen by customers. However, the average customer at a restaurant is not a chef. Customers may not know how to cook without opening a frozen dinner, or may be good at a few standards, or maybe they’ve never have taken a cooking class.

Some chefs embrace food bloggers (and blog themselves). Others, like Mario Batali, think we're a scourge upon the restaurant industry. Some food bloggers prefer the scoop to research, and some might argue that there is a lack of journalistic integrity and accountability in blogging, since so much of it is anonymous. Okay, so some bloggers might be in it for notoriety, free food, or social status, etc. There are definitely food blog haters out there (who aren't Batali); some think that we all need to have worked the culinary industry to be "more understanding." How many of us, on a daily basis, judge something as "good" or "bad" without formal training in the subject? I know next to nothing about the mechanics of cars, but I know that I like the way my car handles, and I also know that when a funny sound comes out, something's wrong with it. I know that when it's spring and I start sneezing, I should probably take a Claritin.

I've been cooking since I was a wee tot, and grew up on The Frugal Gourmet and Justin Wilson and Julia Child. I have a fairly educated palate (becoming more educated daily, and I still have a long way to go), and I am a fairly accomplished home cook (unless you count the bacon brittle, which was awful!). With the Internet, foodies are more common, because we have more access to knowledge about good, seasonal, artisanal, and exotic food that our grandmothers (in their Jello-mold haze) couldn't have imagined.

Web 2.0 has opened an entirely new opportunity for people who fall between being a trained chef and chain-restaurant diner. Sites like Chowhound, Epicurious, The Kitchen, Eater and The Accidental Hedonist give a voice to people who truly enjoy food: cooking, eating, and learning about it. There is less of a hierarchy. As one commenter put it on Eater.com:

With respect, I think a lot of you are missing the point about blogs in general. Most "food bloggers" are not pretending to be critics, but are sharing their experiences, prejudices, biases, and opinions. The absence of any pretense at journalistic standards is what makes the blogosphere…so interesting.

Don't think journalism.

Think cocktail party. Maybe after an hour and half of cocktails. Buck Callahan.

That's exactly what the Internet is: one big cocktail party where people have opinions and share them with others. You have to sort out the good from the bad; many blogs are well researched and are based on first-hand experiences. And of course some blogs (Yahoo Answers, Yelp, and Citysearch, etc.) have essentially anonymous and often vitriolic posts that aren't as reliable. There are major news outlets that put out unresearched stories, and there are blogs that are often better researched than the average newspaper.

What it boils down to is this: Chefs and food writers (whether they're restaurant reviewers, bloggers, or whomever) have opinions and have, historically, been at odds with each other. As a food blogger, I am not out to ruin anyone's business. I try to write well-researched posts that highlight the sort of food I like and discover. I hope that my reviews will help Cincinnati readers break the habit of going to known chain restaurants and start trying locally owned restaurants (or very small chains) that might be out of their comfort zone. I love good food, and hope I introduce you to some good stuff that you might not have tried.

What is a foodie? A foodie is someone who loves food. Good food. They want to know where it comes from, why it's good, how to prepare it, and how to enjoy it. If my lack of formal culinary training makes me a wanna-be foodie, so be it. I’ll keep enjoying wonderful meals and taking pictures of the fun.

20 comments:

Chris S said...

Its just a silly proposition that anyone in the business should hate food bloggers, or somehow find them to be "wanna bes." Your cocktail party analogy is quite apt. Good local food gets good local buzz. In a market thats currently booming in Cincinnati, these chefs have to understand that the only way to compete is on quality, its the only thing that differentiates them from commodity. Keep writing and taking pictures, you ain't no wannabe, whatever that is. A foodie is a foodie is a foodie ;)

PS - sorry to hear your bacon brittle didn't work out, mine worked wonderfully :)

Julie said...

Thanks, Chris! I hope I didn't read as if I wanted my arse kissed; it's just something that's been bothering me.

And send me your bacon brittle recipe. I'm fairly sure I know why mine didn't work-- a faulty candy thermometer-- but I'd like to try again.

Chris S said...

Oh, not at all. Sounded like "rightful indignation" to me, but I am biased :)

Drop me an email and I'll send you the recipe (cstpierre|-AT-|gmail.com)

vudutiu said...

Great post, you ARE a foodie make no mistake.

I think it is someone who is passionate about food, deeply interested in it, someone with a lifelong desire to constantly experience and learn about food. It used to be you called yourself a gourmet, now it think it encompasses much more than just cooking and eating. A foodie is aware of the politics and business of food, personally my hero is Michael Pollan I believe he speaks for many of us. The rise of the local craze has been interesting to watch and I think has spurred the foodie movement. We have been going to Findley every Saturday for longer than I can remember and for me it is a was to get closer to my food community, people and away from big business. If we skip a week our vendors start calling to see if we are OK.

I am an admitted card carrying, major league foodie. I have written a family and friends cookbook, have worked for a cookbook author, plant a garden and cook totally from scratch. I count great hedonistic wonderful characters as foodie buddies, I am blessed, I share food with people who can dissect the ingredients in a dish and pick the perfect wine to go with it. My fiancée is a master cook, no professional training but seriously, she is the best "natural" cook I have ever met. Great kitchen sense, she can eat a dish and go in the kitchen and recreate it, usually better than the original. I used to cook a lot more before I met her, now I am a lowly assistant.

I for one am happy to call myself a foodie, you should be too.

Cin Twin1 said...

I consider you a foodie! I came across your blog from the Foodie Report, and love your insight. I think a Foodie is someone who looks past the fast food restaurants and want eating to be an experience not just a time filler or a convenience. I love to daydream and think of possible combinations of food. I love coming up with meals that deals with textures, colors, and fresh ingredients. I find so much joy in that. I sometimes think I missed my calling and should have gone to culinary school. Food, dining, wine tasting, cooking will just have to be a hobby for now while I am a engineer by career. Anybody out there left their job to enter the food industry? I would love to hear your story.

Chris S said...

As a C School dropout (granted, I was only part time), I would say don't waste your time/money unless you are doing it for personal edification only. Yes, you do learn skills. I learned more in the first 2 days in an actual professional kitchen than I did in two semesters of C-School classes.

If you are seriously thinking about it, and can afford to live off of what you would get paid, your best bet is to try to get a job in restaurant. Start at the bottom, prep/cleaning, and take the opportunities to work new stations as you can. You'll learn more, and you'll quickly figure out if you can hack it (thats no dig, its just a very tough life)

Julie said...

Vudutu--

I am definitely happy to call myself a foodie! I agree- the locavore movement, Food TV (as much bad stuff as there is on there...), environmentalism, all of that have really spurred on "foodies". Hedonism has a bad rap, but enjoying the pleasures of life-- food, wine, arts, all of that-- are what makes life worth living.

Cin Twin--

Thanks for visiting! I agree-- I find joy in food. Food is not just fuel to me-- it's something that truly enjoy. I could never be someone who does more than "watches" what they eat. I just enjoy food too much.

I've thought that perhaps I've missed my calling and should have gone to culinary school (I'm a project manager/editor/copywriter these days) but I realize that if I were that immersed in the industry, I'd probably burn out and the experience wouldn't be as much of a joy to me. They say do what you like, not what you love-- and I agree with that, to some extent.

Chris--

Have you read any Michael Ruhlman? He cherishes what he learned in culinary school, which has helped his food writing, but he says he learned most in his Skills class and in cooking in the restaurants at the CIA.

Chris S said...

I've read Ruhlman, and to a point I agree with him. I learned most in my skills classes, but I learned waaaay more in my summer working in a restaurant. C-School can be a joy, if you are in it for the edification. That said, anything you learn there, beyond basic skills, can be picked up working in the industry and reading/tasting/doing. Further, if you are in it for the love of food, you have to consider that C-School prepares you for the industry of food. Which is not to say that you can't have "heart", but its really more about the realities of a hot, dirty, fast paced work world, where nuances have to be second nature, not really the act of love it is when preparing a meal for someone special.

Julie said...

Chris S--

This is why I stick to cooking for friends and family and other people who enjoy food. I'm not trying to prove anything to anyone-- just enjoy food, and I don't need a C-school degree to do that.

Cin Twin1 said...

Thanks for the advice and feedback. I know it is a hard industry with long hours, and a lot of tough work. I wouldn't mind opening a wine store or a kitchen supply store in downtown Cincinnati where I can talk about food all day long! I think that is something that is missing from downtown retail wise. Maybe I should look into that!

Julie said...

We could totally use a kitchen supply sort of store-- we do have City Cellars and Findlay Market's new wine shop opening!

Jaime said...

I really like this post, I completely agree with everything you said. I think its silly that chefs would look down upon food bloggers b/c you are correct, the average customer in their restaurants is not a chef. I do not have any culinary training but also consider myself to be a foodie. I cook for my friends and family all the time and am currently on my 8th serving job, all of which have been in locally run restaurants. So I feel like even though I have never worked in the kitchen, I have a lot of restaurant experience and can knowledgeably comment on local restaurants. If a chef wants to say that makes me a foodie wannabe, oh well!

I read your blog and have gone to restaurants (ie Terry's Turf Club) based on what you have said about it, and that is reason alone to consider you a "real" foodie. People look to your blog for recommendations and that should be taken seriously. Word of mouth for restaurants is really their bread and butter and they should be falling all over themselves to please you and other food bloggers who choose to come into their establishments.

valereee said...

I think the problem isn't the original blog post -- most people who read blogs know that a blog is just one person's opinion. The trouble arises when blogs start quoting other blogs as 'research.' Not everyone follows the link to find out what the quoted source actually is -- many folks just assume if there's a link, that means you've done your research. If you read something on another blog, you can't present it as supporting evidence of your own opinion. You have to either point out that the source is another blog (and therefore simply another opinion) or track down an original, identifiale, reliable source.

Chris S said...

Valereee, that assumes that when you are writing informally, such as on a blog, there is any intention to be "quoting" anything in the sense of a "source" quotation, or research. People who blog aren't "quoting" anything, they are saying "hey, look at this too."

As a blogger, it is not up to me to point out the particulars of the source or the quality of that source (the content of the link and the link itself speaks by itself). That assessment is left up to the reader, both in the realm of scholarly writing and in blogging. If I quote wikipedia in my dissertation, that dissertation is given less weight by readers who read critically. (Going to check the footnote is no different than following the link) I don't assume that just because its a dissertation it is full of original reliable sources, and nor should I. That burden is on the reader, and if the reader gets the wrong impression, its not the job of the writer to do more than simply point out the source of the information, leaving the reader to judge the quality of the source.

If that is really the problem, than the problem is with the reader, not the blogger.

valereee said...

I'd argue that communication is at least as much the responsibility of the writer as of the reader.

I don't think the average blogger (the cocktail party variety) has any particular responsibility to check sources. Gossip away! But if they want to be considered authoritative on a subject (and many do seem to want to be more than just a cocktail party) then they'd best emulate the pros and corectly quote reliable experts instead of other nonexperts. You can be a cocktail party, or you can check your sources and quote only reliable ones. I don't personally care one way or the other what kind of blog a given blog is, but I know which kind I'm likely to keep reading, unless for simple entertainment. (Which again is fine -- if you want to be a cocktail party, go for it.)

Julie said...

I suppose, Valeree, that I'm trying to be the informed person in the corner of the cocktail party. :)

valereee said...

Julie, I think that's called a 'salon' then. :D

A salon -- that's what I want to host! Not a modern cocktail party. Small talk, Bleah! I want an Algonquin Round Table.

Julie said...

Valeree, have you checked out Cincinnati Salon? :)

Anonymous said...

I really liked that issue, but I caught that little comment and it bugged me too (found it a bit snooty). I was raised by the most accomplished cook I've ever met, do moderately OK in the kitchen, did a couple stints in restaurants, and I know good service. Thus, my initial reaction was, 'eff you, pal' (especially because 7:30 is about the time I usually want dinner and I'm a firm believer that for sanitation reasons, hot kitchen sex should take place in one's own home :).

I started to wonder if this person was thinking, 'give me more people that are here for the food, and less for the social scene'? Because maybe I could see that, but it seems like an assumption on their part. And who knows... couldn't that be how you end up fostering 'real' foodies in the long run?

Oh, and personally, love Ruhlman and think Batali needs to get over himself when it comes to food bloggers (but I heart him on Iron Chef).

Great blog!
kellymo from Ravelry

Julie said...

Jaime-- Thank you! I do this because I love food and hope I can turn other people on to local restaurants. I'm so glad that I've sent at least one person someplace I like!

Kelly-- Hi, fellow knitter! I'm not sure why chefs would want to alienate their clientele-- but if they want to cater to what they deem to be foodies, they might have a couple of problems getting customers in the door!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

What is a foodie?

I've been perusing the Cincinnati Magazine restaurant issue since I got it, in case I missed something or forgot about a restaurant I wanted to try (I do that a lot!). I've read, over and over, an article in the section that includes comments from local chefs—anonymous, of course. First, apparently the hot kitchen sex only happens in Anthony Bourdain's world (bummer); nearly all of them are tired of foam (thank goodness) and Kobe beef (rarely from Kobe, Japan; it's a word that has become the meat world's champagne, and most of it is Wagyu, a breed of cow that can be raised anywhere); they wish the entire city didn't dine at 7:30 (I tend to dine towards 8:30-9 PM, thankyouverymuch); and French cooking is out and Latin flavors are in. There is one phrase that caught my eye, and I've been thinking about since I read it. When asked what they would wish for in Cincinnati dining, someone said, "More real foodies, not wanna-bes."

What does that mean?

What makes a real foodie? Am I a real foodie?

Most everyone I've met in the (very!) short time I've been writing this blog has been so enthusiastic about the work I'm doing. Sure, some customers look at me a little funny when I whip out my camera as soon as the waiter walks away, but I'm not that easily embarrassed. Not many people do this around here—LA, NY, SF, and other places with bigger populations and a faster restaurant turnover cycle than Cincinnati have tons of bloggers—and only recently has Cincinnati begun to have its own culinary stamp (outside of Skyline and Graeters and other local favorites). Many of the industry people I've talked with are happy that someone who is not on a newspaper's payroll is writing about experiences as a customer.

On the flip side, some folks aren’t so enamored with the idea of blogging; they believe culinary writers should have culinary backgrounds. I think, perhaps, that they're missing the point. Culinary training certainly builds an excellent foundation for food enjoyment—you learn the fundamental techniques of Western cuisine and, by repetition, learn to make them in both large quantities and with consistent quality. You apply that quantity and consistency to the line, delivering the desired products based on your skill, training, and artistry. It is difficult, physically and mentally draining work, and I applaud the chefs, who largely go unseen by customers. However, the average customer at a restaurant is not a chef. Customers may not know how to cook without opening a frozen dinner, or may be good at a few standards, or maybe they’ve never have taken a cooking class.

Some chefs embrace food bloggers (and blog themselves). Others, like Mario Batali, think we're a scourge upon the restaurant industry. Some food bloggers prefer the scoop to research, and some might argue that there is a lack of journalistic integrity and accountability in blogging, since so much of it is anonymous. Okay, so some bloggers might be in it for notoriety, free food, or social status, etc. There are definitely food blog haters out there (who aren't Batali); some think that we all need to have worked the culinary industry to be "more understanding." How many of us, on a daily basis, judge something as "good" or "bad" without formal training in the subject? I know next to nothing about the mechanics of cars, but I know that I like the way my car handles, and I also know that when a funny sound comes out, something's wrong with it. I know that when it's spring and I start sneezing, I should probably take a Claritin.

I've been cooking since I was a wee tot, and grew up on The Frugal Gourmet and Justin Wilson and Julia Child. I have a fairly educated palate (becoming more educated daily, and I still have a long way to go), and I am a fairly accomplished home cook (unless you count the bacon brittle, which was awful!). With the Internet, foodies are more common, because we have more access to knowledge about good, seasonal, artisanal, and exotic food that our grandmothers (in their Jello-mold haze) couldn't have imagined.

Web 2.0 has opened an entirely new opportunity for people who fall between being a trained chef and chain-restaurant diner. Sites like Chowhound, Epicurious, The Kitchen, Eater and The Accidental Hedonist give a voice to people who truly enjoy food: cooking, eating, and learning about it. There is less of a hierarchy. As one commenter put it on Eater.com:

With respect, I think a lot of you are missing the point about blogs in general. Most "food bloggers" are not pretending to be critics, but are sharing their experiences, prejudices, biases, and opinions. The absence of any pretense at journalistic standards is what makes the blogosphere…so interesting.

Don't think journalism.

Think cocktail party. Maybe after an hour and half of cocktails. Buck Callahan.

That's exactly what the Internet is: one big cocktail party where people have opinions and share them with others. You have to sort out the good from the bad; many blogs are well researched and are based on first-hand experiences. And of course some blogs (Yahoo Answers, Yelp, and Citysearch, etc.) have essentially anonymous and often vitriolic posts that aren't as reliable. There are major news outlets that put out unresearched stories, and there are blogs that are often better researched than the average newspaper.

What it boils down to is this: Chefs and food writers (whether they're restaurant reviewers, bloggers, or whomever) have opinions and have, historically, been at odds with each other. As a food blogger, I am not out to ruin anyone's business. I try to write well-researched posts that highlight the sort of food I like and discover. I hope that my reviews will help Cincinnati readers break the habit of going to known chain restaurants and start trying locally owned restaurants (or very small chains) that might be out of their comfort zone. I love good food, and hope I introduce you to some good stuff that you might not have tried.

What is a foodie? A foodie is someone who loves food. Good food. They want to know where it comes from, why it's good, how to prepare it, and how to enjoy it. If my lack of formal culinary training makes me a wanna-be foodie, so be it. I’ll keep enjoying wonderful meals and taking pictures of the fun.

20 comments:

Chris S said...

Its just a silly proposition that anyone in the business should hate food bloggers, or somehow find them to be "wanna bes." Your cocktail party analogy is quite apt. Good local food gets good local buzz. In a market thats currently booming in Cincinnati, these chefs have to understand that the only way to compete is on quality, its the only thing that differentiates them from commodity. Keep writing and taking pictures, you ain't no wannabe, whatever that is. A foodie is a foodie is a foodie ;)

PS - sorry to hear your bacon brittle didn't work out, mine worked wonderfully :)

Julie said...

Thanks, Chris! I hope I didn't read as if I wanted my arse kissed; it's just something that's been bothering me.

And send me your bacon brittle recipe. I'm fairly sure I know why mine didn't work-- a faulty candy thermometer-- but I'd like to try again.

Chris S said...

Oh, not at all. Sounded like "rightful indignation" to me, but I am biased :)

Drop me an email and I'll send you the recipe (cstpierre|-AT-|gmail.com)

vudutiu said...

Great post, you ARE a foodie make no mistake.

I think it is someone who is passionate about food, deeply interested in it, someone with a lifelong desire to constantly experience and learn about food. It used to be you called yourself a gourmet, now it think it encompasses much more than just cooking and eating. A foodie is aware of the politics and business of food, personally my hero is Michael Pollan I believe he speaks for many of us. The rise of the local craze has been interesting to watch and I think has spurred the foodie movement. We have been going to Findley every Saturday for longer than I can remember and for me it is a was to get closer to my food community, people and away from big business. If we skip a week our vendors start calling to see if we are OK.

I am an admitted card carrying, major league foodie. I have written a family and friends cookbook, have worked for a cookbook author, plant a garden and cook totally from scratch. I count great hedonistic wonderful characters as foodie buddies, I am blessed, I share food with people who can dissect the ingredients in a dish and pick the perfect wine to go with it. My fiancée is a master cook, no professional training but seriously, she is the best "natural" cook I have ever met. Great kitchen sense, she can eat a dish and go in the kitchen and recreate it, usually better than the original. I used to cook a lot more before I met her, now I am a lowly assistant.

I for one am happy to call myself a foodie, you should be too.

Cin Twin1 said...

I consider you a foodie! I came across your blog from the Foodie Report, and love your insight. I think a Foodie is someone who looks past the fast food restaurants and want eating to be an experience not just a time filler or a convenience. I love to daydream and think of possible combinations of food. I love coming up with meals that deals with textures, colors, and fresh ingredients. I find so much joy in that. I sometimes think I missed my calling and should have gone to culinary school. Food, dining, wine tasting, cooking will just have to be a hobby for now while I am a engineer by career. Anybody out there left their job to enter the food industry? I would love to hear your story.

Chris S said...

As a C School dropout (granted, I was only part time), I would say don't waste your time/money unless you are doing it for personal edification only. Yes, you do learn skills. I learned more in the first 2 days in an actual professional kitchen than I did in two semesters of C-School classes.

If you are seriously thinking about it, and can afford to live off of what you would get paid, your best bet is to try to get a job in restaurant. Start at the bottom, prep/cleaning, and take the opportunities to work new stations as you can. You'll learn more, and you'll quickly figure out if you can hack it (thats no dig, its just a very tough life)

Julie said...

Vudutu--

I am definitely happy to call myself a foodie! I agree- the locavore movement, Food TV (as much bad stuff as there is on there...), environmentalism, all of that have really spurred on "foodies". Hedonism has a bad rap, but enjoying the pleasures of life-- food, wine, arts, all of that-- are what makes life worth living.

Cin Twin--

Thanks for visiting! I agree-- I find joy in food. Food is not just fuel to me-- it's something that truly enjoy. I could never be someone who does more than "watches" what they eat. I just enjoy food too much.

I've thought that perhaps I've missed my calling and should have gone to culinary school (I'm a project manager/editor/copywriter these days) but I realize that if I were that immersed in the industry, I'd probably burn out and the experience wouldn't be as much of a joy to me. They say do what you like, not what you love-- and I agree with that, to some extent.

Chris--

Have you read any Michael Ruhlman? He cherishes what he learned in culinary school, which has helped his food writing, but he says he learned most in his Skills class and in cooking in the restaurants at the CIA.

Chris S said...

I've read Ruhlman, and to a point I agree with him. I learned most in my skills classes, but I learned waaaay more in my summer working in a restaurant. C-School can be a joy, if you are in it for the edification. That said, anything you learn there, beyond basic skills, can be picked up working in the industry and reading/tasting/doing. Further, if you are in it for the love of food, you have to consider that C-School prepares you for the industry of food. Which is not to say that you can't have "heart", but its really more about the realities of a hot, dirty, fast paced work world, where nuances have to be second nature, not really the act of love it is when preparing a meal for someone special.

Julie said...

Chris S--

This is why I stick to cooking for friends and family and other people who enjoy food. I'm not trying to prove anything to anyone-- just enjoy food, and I don't need a C-school degree to do that.

Cin Twin1 said...

Thanks for the advice and feedback. I know it is a hard industry with long hours, and a lot of tough work. I wouldn't mind opening a wine store or a kitchen supply store in downtown Cincinnati where I can talk about food all day long! I think that is something that is missing from downtown retail wise. Maybe I should look into that!

Julie said...

We could totally use a kitchen supply sort of store-- we do have City Cellars and Findlay Market's new wine shop opening!

Jaime said...

I really like this post, I completely agree with everything you said. I think its silly that chefs would look down upon food bloggers b/c you are correct, the average customer in their restaurants is not a chef. I do not have any culinary training but also consider myself to be a foodie. I cook for my friends and family all the time and am currently on my 8th serving job, all of which have been in locally run restaurants. So I feel like even though I have never worked in the kitchen, I have a lot of restaurant experience and can knowledgeably comment on local restaurants. If a chef wants to say that makes me a foodie wannabe, oh well!

I read your blog and have gone to restaurants (ie Terry's Turf Club) based on what you have said about it, and that is reason alone to consider you a "real" foodie. People look to your blog for recommendations and that should be taken seriously. Word of mouth for restaurants is really their bread and butter and they should be falling all over themselves to please you and other food bloggers who choose to come into their establishments.

valereee said...

I think the problem isn't the original blog post -- most people who read blogs know that a blog is just one person's opinion. The trouble arises when blogs start quoting other blogs as 'research.' Not everyone follows the link to find out what the quoted source actually is -- many folks just assume if there's a link, that means you've done your research. If you read something on another blog, you can't present it as supporting evidence of your own opinion. You have to either point out that the source is another blog (and therefore simply another opinion) or track down an original, identifiale, reliable source.

Chris S said...

Valereee, that assumes that when you are writing informally, such as on a blog, there is any intention to be "quoting" anything in the sense of a "source" quotation, or research. People who blog aren't "quoting" anything, they are saying "hey, look at this too."

As a blogger, it is not up to me to point out the particulars of the source or the quality of that source (the content of the link and the link itself speaks by itself). That assessment is left up to the reader, both in the realm of scholarly writing and in blogging. If I quote wikipedia in my dissertation, that dissertation is given less weight by readers who read critically. (Going to check the footnote is no different than following the link) I don't assume that just because its a dissertation it is full of original reliable sources, and nor should I. That burden is on the reader, and if the reader gets the wrong impression, its not the job of the writer to do more than simply point out the source of the information, leaving the reader to judge the quality of the source.

If that is really the problem, than the problem is with the reader, not the blogger.

valereee said...

I'd argue that communication is at least as much the responsibility of the writer as of the reader.

I don't think the average blogger (the cocktail party variety) has any particular responsibility to check sources. Gossip away! But if they want to be considered authoritative on a subject (and many do seem to want to be more than just a cocktail party) then they'd best emulate the pros and corectly quote reliable experts instead of other nonexperts. You can be a cocktail party, or you can check your sources and quote only reliable ones. I don't personally care one way or the other what kind of blog a given blog is, but I know which kind I'm likely to keep reading, unless for simple entertainment. (Which again is fine -- if you want to be a cocktail party, go for it.)

Julie said...

I suppose, Valeree, that I'm trying to be the informed person in the corner of the cocktail party. :)

valereee said...

Julie, I think that's called a 'salon' then. :D

A salon -- that's what I want to host! Not a modern cocktail party. Small talk, Bleah! I want an Algonquin Round Table.

Julie said...

Valeree, have you checked out Cincinnati Salon? :)

Anonymous said...

I really liked that issue, but I caught that little comment and it bugged me too (found it a bit snooty). I was raised by the most accomplished cook I've ever met, do moderately OK in the kitchen, did a couple stints in restaurants, and I know good service. Thus, my initial reaction was, 'eff you, pal' (especially because 7:30 is about the time I usually want dinner and I'm a firm believer that for sanitation reasons, hot kitchen sex should take place in one's own home :).

I started to wonder if this person was thinking, 'give me more people that are here for the food, and less for the social scene'? Because maybe I could see that, but it seems like an assumption on their part. And who knows... couldn't that be how you end up fostering 'real' foodies in the long run?

Oh, and personally, love Ruhlman and think Batali needs to get over himself when it comes to food bloggers (but I heart him on Iron Chef).

Great blog!
kellymo from Ravelry

Julie said...

Jaime-- Thank you! I do this because I love food and hope I can turn other people on to local restaurants. I'm so glad that I've sent at least one person someplace I like!

Kelly-- Hi, fellow knitter! I'm not sure why chefs would want to alienate their clientele-- but if they want to cater to what they deem to be foodies, they might have a couple of problems getting customers in the door!