I am a foodie. Even though for two years I’ve had a restrictive pescetarian diet (I’ll eat fish and veggies but no meat or chicken), I still enjoy eating a nice meal at a fine dining restaurant (particularly when I go to Vegas, which over the years has become a gourmet food-lover’s paradise). I enjoy perusing the cook books friends and family members have given me over the years and experimenting with new recipes and dishes. I love sharing about my food adventures and reading about others’ culinary delights. Over the holidays, I’ve done quite a bit of cooking, reading and of course, eating. I’ve also had time to reflect on the shifting nature of how we write, read and share about what we eat. I wanted to write a
short post about this topic. So, here it goes.
A lot has changed in the 6 years since I put down my critic’s pen as one of four reporters on the The Herald-Sun’s staff fortunate enough to write the weekly restaurant review. We strictly adhered to the Association of Food Journalists’ critics guidelines which meant we went anonymously, we went more than once and the paper always picked up the tab. Since we covered the Triangle region, we always had to consult with each other to make sure we had geographic balance and ethnic cuisine balance from week to week (we wouldn’t want, for example, 4 straight Chapel Hill restaurant reviews or 4 straight articles about barbecue joints). I loved the gig, which I got because of my love for food and having a really cool mentor who offered me the job after he reliqinquished it. I probably wrote a few dozen reviews over the course of about three years serving as a food critic. I’ve been home for the holidays visiting my parents and we’ve gone to two of the restaurants I once reviewed. One of the neat perks of the job is seeing your reviews framed on the restaurant walls, even years later. Bali Hai even has a link to my review on their home page to this day still.
I always tell people I garnered more feedback as a food critic than I did as a local government reporter, which is true. I always found it a little unsettling that readers got more upset if you wrote something bad about their favorite restaurant than writing about a matter that could directly impact their health and well being, such as a zoning decision to allow a new potentially negative business or voting to raise property taxes. People are passionate about food, however. I was a food critic before the Food Network made celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay or Paula Deen household names. I was a food critic before cooking shows were commonplace on network, cable and syndicated television. I was a food critic before reality television shows like Top Chef (my personal fave) took us behind the scenes of restaurants and cooking. In short, I was a food critic before anyone could be a food critic and writing about food was chic.
Fast forward to the present. Now, through the proliferation of social media, anyone can blog about, tweet about, and converse about food, cooking and diet. I couldn’t be happier about the change. There’s still a place for the privileged few media elites to write restaurant reviews. In major cities like New York or Los Angeles, a critic’s review can make or break a new venture among a crowded, cut-throat culinary scene. In Atlanta, I still read reviews from the AJC or Creative Loafing, but I also look for advice from fellow users on Urbanspoon.
In the past two weeks, I’ve cooked recipes I found through Twitter (including this veggie recipe one of my former students shared), saw on Rachael Ray’s television show, and got from old fashioned print cookbooks (Mrs. Wilkes, Paula Deen, Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet and a few others). I also downloaded my first e-reader cookbook using the Kindle app and bought Mario Batali’s interactive iPad app, which has videos to go along with its recipes. I follow Twitter accounts of some of my favorite celebrity food personalities like Padma Lakshi and Tom Collichio of Top Chef and the tweets of local restaurants I frequent. I enjoy reading the food blogs that some of my former students created for class, particularly Cody Thompson’s blog and Remy Thurston’s Beats and Carrots (class assignment) and Thurst 4 Food. I snap pics of dishes I make or dine on and post to Twitter. I salivate at the delicious meals enjoyed by my friend and followers who do the same.
So much has changed in such a short amount of time. As a critic, anonymity was extremely valued. Students like Cody and Remy, however, put themselves front and center. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, in some ways it’s refreshing to see their passion and personality come across on the cyberpages of their blogs. Cooking, and eating, are both labors of love that should be shared. Now, thanks to simple tools and technologies, anyone can be a cook. Anyone can be a critic. Anyone can easily share in that conversation. As Martha Stewart would say, that’s a good thing.
Happy cooking and bon appetit!