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.