Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Food blogs opening up a bigger conversation

Thursday night I attended the Getty Museum for a lecture entitled Picturing Food, hosted by Evan Kleiman, host of KCRW’s Good Food, which posed a question,“Are we losing what we’re eating by the obsession of blogs and food photographs?” Immediately I was taken back to an experience at a restaurant. The restaurant was a work in progress and the owner was unaware of the strength and voice of the public and the impact that the Internet would have on his restaurant. After the first day of our soft open we found an amateur review with pictures of our food and restaurant in the first few lines of any search engine under the restaurant name.

Overwhelmed and slightly disappointed, I was dumbfounded at how one patron had voiced their opinion on our restaurant over the Internet, which immediately changed the restaurants' course. The patron didn’t take the restaurant, our status or our feelings into consideration. They were just concerned with giving us our first review.

This person was obviously sneaking the photo; it was slightly blurry, out of focus and just not good. They were so consumed by expressing their opinion that they missed the experience. If this person had paid a little more attention they would’ve learned about our soft opening and that we were not quite ready to be exposed and that the restaurant had amazing charm and huge potential despite being unfinished. The person acknowledged that the restaurant was good, but the poorly taken photo left my food looking less than appealing.

Not to mention that as a chef you cook for people to eat and enjoy. A chef doesn’t cook every meal to be photographed and scrutinized. Food photography is a skill that takes tricks and good equipment. So, even though a dish may look amazing to the patron it may not photograph well; leaving them frustrated so they continue to take multiple pictures or they don’t care and post something that doesn’t clearly represent the talents of the chef or the restaurant.

Information is at our fingertips and the ability to publish personal opinion through blogs, Flicker and gives an individual a sense of immortality and self-indulgence about their personal opinions and their photographs.

Evan Kleiman, host of KCRW’s Good Food said, “Flikr is an Internet source where you can upload personal photos; it has over 332,812 photos under the category, ‘I Ate This’ with 19,905 members to that category.”

“The act of taking a photo at the table can lead to missing the moment,” Kleinman said. “Eating is a sacred communion when you engage with your food.”

This just means I’m not alone. There are countless chefs who’ve experienced the blogger taking pictures of their food in the middle of the meal, thus ruining the experience for their companion and distracting the rest of the restaurant.

There’s a movement that’s happening. While all of this can seem terrible, it also brings awareness and connection to food. As a society we’re starting to demand more from our restaurants, grocery stores and farmers markets. Society has taken interest in showing off what they consume. This, in a way, is reconnecting a lost generation of latch-key kids and today’s busy world back to their original roots and their desire to eat good food.

This was also very apparent as the photographs were being shown in a slideshow. Slides from Roger Fenton’s 1860Still Life with Fruit and Decanter, to Edward W. Quiggly’s circa 1935 Peas in a Pod, to William Eggleston’s 1971Memphis.. The slides ranged from natural whole foods that were captured in their tantalizing composition to modern day convenience of processed foods stored in boxes that didn’t even resemble food yet made an amazing composition. Floris Neususs' Supper with Heinecken (1983), an interesting and recent fotogram depicts a dinning room table that exposed a dinner party through out the course of an evening. As you look at the photograph you can actually feel their enjoyment of the food and the experience.

While it’s wonderful that the public has so much more access to voice their opinion, I was frustrated by the immediate release of information about the restaurant. In spite of my feelings, it taught me a very valuable lesson. Technology is raising the bar. As a chef I need to be ready for that change and never let things be served unfinished. Blogs, Yelp, and Flikr are forcing chefs to second-guess what they’re putting out for patrons. Remember to join the dining experience as seen in Neususs' Supper with Heinecken and not become so wrapped up in voicing an opinion that you miss the meal. Acknowledge that these technological outlets are bringing a bigger conversation to the table and it’s connecting us to our food as seen in the slide The public is now expecting better from start to finish.

Happy Cooking and Blogging!

Chef Mary

A special thanks to the Getty Museum and Zócalo for hosting the event.

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