11.09.2008

I'm not Thomas Keller

Nor do I pretend to be.

Recently on my blog, I wrote about the food of a newly opened restaurant, and also responded to glowing reviews, for the same restaurant, on a public food-lover forum. The resulting remarks degraded into back-handed comments pulling my credentials into question, and essentially calling into question the credentials of all who blog about food.

The customer is not always right, but as an eater, diner, and someone who loves reading and writing about food, this backlash solely serves to degrade those who work to enable the entire food industry, and have a passion for food.

Are my opinions worth anything, if I only give positive reviews? Are my opinions worth anything, only if I am a chef?

My aim is to encourage a love of cooking, and a love of good food. Not all food can be good. We all need to nourish our bodies, and should do so with care. I do spend substantial time pondering the origins of the food I put in my body. If it is less than healthful for me, it must be very, very good. Every morsel needs to be worth it, not just bang for buck, but bang per mouthful. Expensive or cheap, I just want good food, and something made by a real person, with a penchant for flavour. I started this blog for myself. I love good food; I travel frequently, and I wanted to document my experiences. Food is in fact an obsession for me, and it seems it always has been. I have to laugh when I find old postcards I sent as a child, in which I solely describe the foods consumed throughout a vacation. My parents also had an enormous garden. I grew to appreciate fresh vegetables, and the honey I used to have dripped on my finger, from the vat my Dad used for beekeeping. I consumed fresh cream and cheese from the farm, and nearly every imaginable homemade Ukrainian food that a Ukrainian granddaughter could be fed. It was certainly not pretentious, but always very good. Baba's food is not fancy, but there is a reason my Baba's first boyfriend named his perogy company after her. I have never had a better perogy than hers, and believe me, I've tried. I do not often create dishes for my blog with excessively refined techniques, as I also believe that everyone can cook something. No excuses. It doesn't mean that I can't use refined techniques, or that I don't; I just don't share those dishes, as others seem discouraged, when I am trying to mandate that we can all cook, and should share in a joy of good food. We do not need all of our food prepared for us from a box, we are all capable of preparing something. I work long hours with my two occupations, besides my preoccupation with food, and can always find the time and energy to prepare something. My idea of fast food, is a simple spread of flavourful and fresh vegetables, accompanied by equally simple meats or grains. Good food, doesn't have to be fancy, it just has to be good. Sometimes I write about food that seems so absurdly simple, as I hope to encourage friends to eat fresh, and enjoy a meal prepared with their own hands. A meal that is healthful for the body, and for the family as an opportunity to be together to enjoy each other's company. A meal is an opportunity to be savoured. For a while I lived on the Eastern Seaboard of the US, and restaurants were generally decent, no desperate necessity to find somewhere at least edible. The service might be brusque, but it was professional. You learn very quickly, that those who irritatingly complain or are excessively demanding are treated with inferior service. Generally, service was fantastic, and the food was wonderful. It came to be defined to me as good service. However, if I found a place I didn't enjoy, I wouldn't go back. If I spent hard earned money once, and there are hundreds of other options, why go spend more money at a less than stellar place? At this time, I also worked in several restaurants, and picked up the occasional catering gig, preparing the food. I am not a classically trained chef, but I can cook. Eventually you meet a lot of people, and pick their brains too. It also helped to live around the corner from a brilliant Italian pastry shop, incredible markets, and some of the best pizzeria's anywhere. You discover there is always something more to learn. I am an extremely curious person, and a voracious reader. There have been years in which I studied and memorized literally hundreds of restaurant menus. Abnormal to be sure. Sometimes it was like a game to see if I could pre-imagine how a dish would taste, just from reading the menu. I realize it's absurd. Although, I still occasionally pursue the same habit with recipes. It's just for fun, and when my expectations are blown out of the water, all the better. I must say that it is not often, when I do not have fewer books in my home than the local public library, from where I frequently borrow. I probably read too much about food, old and new, and for this I simply cannot apologize. It doesn't make me an expert, but I have a vocabulary. When I moved back to Calgary, after living away for nearly a decade, I became disappointed with the food and service I received. As time goes on, it improves, and for that I am thrilled. In the meantime, I have continued to cook for myself, and my family and friends more and more. I obsessively plan eating trips, to learn and discover. There is always more to learn. I certainly do not consider myself an expert by proxy. Actually, I'm hardly one to claim, expert status, even on things which I am more than certifiably an expert about. Although, I might very occasionally turn on foodtv, I honestly hard watch tv. Certainly, I don't like to watch schlock, or take it as anything more than entertainment. I do enjoy a good laugh, and shows which take me on a journey to a far away land for new experiences. I find it laughable that it is implied, I might consider myself an expert from watching foodtv, when I don't even really watch it. This is absolutely hilarious. NO press is bad press. Although, restaurants are not always happy when someone has a less than pleasurable word to offer; negative press is still press, and creates a desire for the curious truth seeker. Personally, I take all reviews I read with a grain of salt, and generally want to find out the truth for myself. I encourage others to do the same. I certainly do not take another's opinion seriously, if it is never without a certain element of scrutiny. I have eaten in New York often enough to know that New Yorker's do complain, albeit with nasty looks, or grossly absurd comments. Although, more often than not, and not shockingly, the food is quite good. I am not out to complain, but I believe in the tremendous power of potential held by the restaurants and food scene in Calgary. But we have to continue to demand more. More than nice silverware, a beautiful fa├žade, and expensive ingredients; the food has to be good.

Unfortunately, I know too many people who do not dine out in this town because they are tired of having overcooked fish or similar, at anywhere other than super high-end restaurants; they are tired of receiving inferior food, or likewise paying through the nose for something edible. There has to be some middle ground. If a restaurant sends out food, and I am paying for it, it had better be good, no matter the dollar figure. I find that overly glowing reviews are too difficult to swallow, as it seems just too artificial and contrived. I am not painting a less than rosy picture because I have a flair for the dramatic, but because to I prefer to be honest, as I am a meticulous and particular eater. If I can make a dish better at home than in a restaurant, this is disappointing for me. This is just as disheartening when I have enjoyed beautiful dishes in the home of a friend, who is interested in food, and creates dishes more enjoyable than at restaurants. I just want to say wow, even for a dish that appears relatively simple. I eat out to be inspired, and this is my expectation. The food has to be better than the home cook, or at least equally as good, but I didn’t have to do the work. I do not dismiss the ridiculously hard work of chef's as something which can be easily imitated, or that should be less than highly regarded. But, I do not put myself on a pedestal either. I do not want exceptional food to go under appreciated. However, I have great difficulty supporting blatant mediocrity, in any form. We need to discuss the bad and the good, and to distinguish ourselves from mere lemmings. Not everything can be good, nor can everything be good for everyone. We all have our own taste; no I am not Thomas Keller, and I do not consider myself solely entitled to criticize others outright, but I do strongly encourage others to form educated opinions for themselves.

25 comments:

Vanessa said...

Go Gail!
That's the ever-lasting debate about the internet and open communication, and how everyone wit an opinion and an internet access can broadcast their point of view. Is it bad? well, if you're a restaurant owner, or a hotel owner, who gets a bad review- yeah, it's bad!! However, every attempt to confine the natural tide that the Internet effectively unleashed with its open platform is useless and ridiculous. Restaurant owner who try to reprimand writers and food bloggers should be ashamed of themselves. Actually, they should know better- for every bad review, they get even more glowing ones, as only the extreme experiences tend to be broadcasted.
Keep your pants on, chefs, and learn that you can't fight the internet.

Diana said...

I get so frustrated with the internet sometimes. It's so wonderful to be able to share and gather opinions, but some people get really bent out of shape. In fact some people seem to think the internet is a great way to get out their aggression and bash other people, rather than simple saying they have a different opinion. Sorry you had to face some of that meanness.

HoneyB said...

Very well said!

FoodJunkie said...

Gail,
I think that you should continue tod o what you do the way you want to do it. People can judge for themselves whether you are right or wrong!I really enjoy your blog and wouldn't want to see it being watered down...If that upsets people, that's their problem really...

BaL said...

I do agree with every single word you write about your opinions dear.

And this one :

"If I can make a dish better at home than in a restaurant, this is disappointing for me."

I am for this too!

If I do pay a dish more than I could pay for the home-made, then the restaurant should offer me the good food (or the better) and good service both.

And no need to say, if something disappoints me I can simply say it.

Restaurant owners cannot always be for good reviews but our expression of unsatisfaction is much more improving for restaurant owners to develope than simple "oh so good" comments.

Jo said...

So very well said and I couldn't agree with you more! Not all reviews will be glowing and wonderful and I think it's our job... our responsibility as food bloggers to give our honest personal opinion. Granted, not everyone will agree with you... but then for me, that is the beauty of life, our differing views and thoughts.

Keep doing what you do Gail... in just the way you've been doing it. Your insights and opinions are valuable and add so much to the food blogsphere.

Jessie said...

Wow, so well put! I couldn't agree with you more.

I've worked as a professional writer my entire career (for newspapers, magazines, publishers, and ad agencies). The main thing I've learned over the years is that, for all the folks who agree with you, somebody always thinks you're wrong.

And? It doesn't really matter in the least. (That's the beauty of free speech, right?)

In my experience, the people who make the biggest stink usually do so because they feel threatened. It takes a lot of energy to be negative, right? And clearly your opinon matters to them in this case, or else they wouldn't have bothered to respond. Restaurants are still adjusting to the whole idea of food blogs as a legitimate form of journalism. I'd venture to guess that your critics here would never dare to lambaste a reviewer from a newspaper. (And some folks here have said, it's way too easy to point a virtual finger.)

My motto has always been to check my facts well, keep my nose clean, and let folks say what they will. I think your blog is just wonderful.

+Jessie
a.k.a. The Hungry Mouse

MacDuff said...

Hang in there. Don't let it get to you - it's much easier to attack than it is to create a thoughtful critique to a meal experience. Just keep doing what you're doing, because there's a huge community out there that loves it.

Somebody once said "Don't ever get yourself into a mud fight with a pig, because the pig will thoroughly enjoy it." Just be the better (smarter) person.

Chef E said...

Very well said...

Anonymous said...

Brava, Gail!

Lemming's we are not..... Although I must admit that if I was going to follow someone over the edge, in hot pursuit of a glorious meal, morsel, taste or sip of something fabulous, it would most likely be you!!

Having had the pleasure of eating in your kitchen, surrounded by fragrant smells and tastes that exceeded them, I know by following you, I'd definitely be in the running for something
delicious!

Your passion for writing about, tasting, savouring, and creating nourishing food shines through in every word. I stop by your blog often, and it is always a pleasure.

Thank you.


Shauna

Giff said...

You should not feel a need to defend yourself! I have not seen you put yourself up on a pedestal, or write with a vindictive tone. You are absolutely allowed to have and share your own opinions and judgements. It's your blog, and reading is voluntary.

As diana said above, the 'net can bring out the dark side in a lot of people, so try not to let it get to you. Can be hard.

Joie de vivre said...

Well said. You were very brave.

Anonymous said...

brilliant. glad you put this up!

CPla said...

Unfortunately, I have not seen what was said on that forum or board, but it must have been upsetting.

Firstly, stick to your guns. You write well, express considered opinions and are fully entitled to them.

Secondly, the internet is a channel for great freedom of expression for millions. That has its share of good and bad, as with all in life. I have participated in some internet forums up to a point where I could not take the crass stupidity on constant display from the most avid posters, and then I left. If the small minded want to be the arbiters of right and wrong on a board, they can have it to themselves.

I do not think I have lost anything by that. Better to be unaware of stupidity than to be constantly irritated by it.

gail said...

Thanks for the encouragement - I wasn't even seeking! Although a little encouragement never hurts :)

But it is interesting. I just want good food, especially when I eat out; I don't think it's too much to ask.

While restaurants might not realize it yet - this is a lot of free press!! So hopefully, restaurants will figure out that consistency, and press in any form are beneficial. Good or bad.

I've certainly stayed at hotels with far worse reviews (some 5 star hotels with bad reviews!...it was a risk I was willing to take ;) ). At the end of the day, it's one opinion.

gail said...

cpla - my house has erupted in laughter!

Caviar and Codfish said...

Here, here!!

:)

Cheryl A said...

I'm new to your site (thank-you Edible Prairie), but I have to commend you for this post. Honest, and a little bit angry. Just enough so, and justifiably so.
And I must concur about the quality of food, regardless of cost. When my family does go out it honestly pisses me off (yes I get that angry) if the food is bad. Crappy service bugs me, but I'll deal with it, but bad food makes me angry. Keep being honest, we need honest people to help us direct our time and money.

are you gonna eat that? said...

Well said... but I hate that you had to say it in the first place. If people haven't figured out yet that blogs and the internet are the great equalizer, then they should not reading them or using it.

Next thing you know, they'll be mad about people *gasp* talking to their friends about their experiences.

MKS said...

It makes me think - whose critique holds the most value - that of a fellow musician, or that of a random audience member? The fellow musician may have a more "educated" perspective, but the audience member is the person that I'm truly playing for, and thus the opinion that holds the most weight for me! Music lover, food lover, whatever - it is you who must digest what it is you are fed - musically or otherwise!

gail said...

are you gonna eat that - hahaha *gasp* indeed!

mks - you've hit the nail on the head! Thank you!

Carlos said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Foodosopher said...

Gail,

I agree with you 100% - and tried saying so on said food board, but my responses kept getting deleted. The respondent was ridiculous, and you have nothing to defend yourself against. You've written fairly, and intelligently.

Just would like to point out though, that the person who responded has an obvious relationship with the Chef at ParkerHouse. He continually pimped Tribune, Chef Andrew Keen's other restaurant, and has spoken of personal conversations he's had with the chef at both establishments. For anyone who can read between the lines, they should realize that it's their credibility, not yours, that is called into question.

Don't let them get you down! People who get it, and the people who matter,have your back.

gail said...

Yes, I couldn't help thinking that the food had been comped...

Y said...

Good on you for writing this - I don't think it could have been more well put!

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