Food Bloggers and Critics - Let's All Just Get Along
As the airwaves are pummelled by Guy Sebastian's hit about "getting along" I wonder if we can apply the same to food critics and food bloggers. At times it's all cosy between the two. At times there is a little fraction. I ask, why can't we just celebrate each other?
We are blessed in Australia with eminent food critics that loom as experts in the culinary world, causing punters to hang off their every word, and restaurateurs to be on their guard lest a luminary critic should pass through their doors... It can be a blessing or a kick in the backside for these restaurants. But it helps raise the standard and I celebrate that.
Then we have hundreds of food bloggers, with a great range of expressions and views on a myriad of websites. I think we should celebrate that as well. Melbourne and Sydney seem to have a large percentage of food bloggers compared to other global cities. Some bemoan this, but isn't it a positive sign when we have a large number of top bloggers (say on Urbanspoon) coming from Australia? Isn't it a sign of a thriving exciting food industry?
Australia is a top notch culinary destination. We boast some of the finest cuisine and talented chefs in the world. Just look at the popularity of our food shows such as The Masterchef sensation and My Kitchen Rules. Just look at the San Pellegrino ratings with several Aussie restaurants like Quay and Attica in the top 100.
Great food is affordable and accessible. People love to dine out in our Australian cities. The breadth and quality of restaurants is breathtaking!
My contention is that it is only natural that around this food phenomenon there should be gathered a high number of both food critics and bloggers. We should celebrate each other. Criticism should be towards specific comments or actions of individuals, not generic.
Food critics should be lauded for the talent they display, not just because they are labelled as a "food critic". I celebrate critics like Matt Preston and Larisa Dubecki in our city. They are established and write with flair, depth and insight. I wish I could write with the same polish, skill and perception. I acknowledge food bloggers can be banal in expression or, worse, gushing in their description. We can excessively use terms such as "sublime" and "superb" too often, and gloss over the technical traits of dishes. But I know many bloggers that are actually incisive and technically excellent... You can't generalise.
Being a lover of the Melbourne foodie scene I just set out on my site to write about my personal foodie experiences. I never set out to be a glowing food critic with expert opinions. I have entered the fray with a positive celebratory attitude to the food scene. When I enter a restaurant my reflex is to "celebrate" not "slag" on a restaurant. Only if it's a "shocker" will I raise some questions...
These are restaurants and cafes that are mostly doing their best. They don't need pesky reviewers flippantly slagging them when they've had a bad day... On the other hand they should be open to genuine review. In my experience the excellent establishments don't get "taken down" over one or two negative comments. I believe that most people take in a cross section of comments and make up their own minds.
Notwithstanding bloggers have an increasing voice in the industry. Just look at some of the major advertising campaigns in Australia - advertising agencies are including bloggers more. Bloggers are here to stay.
Some smart restaurateurs have a positive attitude to bloggers and embrace them. I pay for nearly all my meals. But if a restaurateur invites me to sample their menu I will disclose it. I would like to think I am also impartial and not obligated to rave about the experience. More often than not these restaurateurs actually have a great "product" and are confident bloggers will like it. Why not.
While comedians slag bloggers at industry events (it's all good), some restaurant heavies at the same gathering are contacting bloggers moments later, as we blog about their restaurant successes. I find most cafes and restaurants positive towards food bloggers.
What is the difference between a critic and a blogger? Is it clear? There is no specific qualification to be a food critic. No PhD or Cert IV... Many of the food critics I've met started out as journalists in another field and moved across to the food section. That's cool. Some owned restaurants and have vast foodie experience. That's cool. Some of the best food critics in the world had no specific foodie qualifications - such as Frank Bruni who was food critic for the New York Times for many years. Frank Bruni believes restaurant reviews by bloggers are as valid as food critic reviews. I think it gets down to flair and the individual's talent for the role...
I contend that bloggers get to cover a wider range of establishments. More salubrious publications might not cover "Joe's Deli" where a blogger might. Not many people have visited over 400 restaurants in the last year and a half like this blogger... It gives you a certain insight when you make comments like "one of the best burgers in Melbourne".
Having also written fashion and culture articles, I don't detect the same tension in those domains. Fashion bloggers are highly celebrated in the fashion industry and some fashion blogs are massive globally, such as fashionising.com (which hailed from Melbourne).
Why can't we all just get along?