13/01/2011

I blog, you blog, they blog, WE blog

I have been thinking rather a lot lately about this whole food blogging phenomenon that has swept across the pages of our much beloved Internet. Long gone are the days when The Interweb was purely a geek preserve, a place to swap conversations consisting of capital letters and ASCII characters, spark amazing – and not so amazing - new ideas and programmes, or even to just trade Star Wars memorabilia. It started out as a big wide world full of technical things that I really didn’t understand, much less want to get involved in. I moved on to having a few chatrooms that I visited and I could keep up with friends living far away uses them, and good old AIM, but I think that was about all my involvement.

Now we are in the days when AOL start up discs are so prevalent they are used as wall hangings, bird scarers, place mats and ashtrays and the Internet has morphed. It has changed, the media would have us believe, into some sprawling, hard to control, hyperactive Gorgon that traps innocent people into Gaming Worlds and never lets them go. A place that nurtures anti-social behaviour and enables isolation.

Of course it can be all those things, but it can also be a source of great fun and sociability. It can be a life line in many cases where, for example, you may be a new mother, feeling totally alone, and then you can log into www.mumsnet.com, or myriad other sites, and realise that what you are going through at 4am with eau de nappy burned into your nasal passages and your hair on end, is actually normal, and not even out of the ordinary. You can link with other people who feel the same way that you do, and who, hopefully, will not shout you down for it. (Yes, yes, I am well aware there are Militants out there but let’s not give them any more page room than they deserve.)

This brings me around to the subject, not so neatly I admit, of food blogging. The day that I found a food blog, my eyes were as wide and round as Botham's Yorkshire teacakes. Oh I had joined recipe sites before and found them useful, but, ultimately, wanting. Some were passionless places, some even run by people who just wanted some control and grip over their contributors. If your food ideas disagreed with theirs, heaven forfend. You were outcast into the cold, left only to wander WalMart, or Sainsburys, in search of inspiration. Luckily I shrugged that off, after a while, and branched out into finding fellow food lovers. Not just cooks, oh no, but people passionate about ingredients and contents, the history of food and how it speaks to us, the memories that go to make up a part of each dish that we serve.



I found that the majority of food bloggers are like me. They love to eat, but more importantly they love to cook and share with others too. People who get to know me realise, after a while, that whilst I adore food, and oh my goodness I really do enjoy eating, cooking for someone and making them happy, or sated, is the best way for me to be happy too. This can, of course, lead to tragedy, and when a dish fails, or people don’t like it, then I get that small voice telling me that that I have failed my friends. I also have to say that when someone rejects what I have cooked, it is one of the most staggering solar plexus blows that can be dealt to me. Well, it used to be, thankfully I have managed to get over that one but there have been times when I have been in tears over a rejected dinner.

I am very nervous cooking for new people, and I worry that it was all just be inedible, and the terrible truth will come out that I am Just Not That Good at it, that somehow I will be found out as a person who talks a good dinner but isn’t actually that great. I am well aware that this is nonsense, because I trust my friends to be honest with me, but it’s an underlying fear which probably stems from growing up watching my Nan bustle around her kitchen, creating dishes that were always amazing and delicious. Perfect pastry, beautifully risen cakes, melting casseroles and silky soups. I still have the ‘not as good as Nan’s was’ whisper when I bake.



Luckily I also had my wonderful mother, who taught me about all kinds of foreign foods and how to have FUN while you create delicious meals, which is far more important than any old crimped bit of pastry. My mum and my step dad far surpassed my Nan in the cookery stakes because everything was imbued with love and care – plus their cooking was OH MY GOD delicious. I still remember home made deep dish pizza, made in a circular curved pan, tuna pie made with puff pastry, and the gorgeous flatbread that went on the barbecue. Roast lamb with red onions, gammon with pease pudding, a thai style beef casserole that killed off any cold germs going around and slow cooked spicy chicken soup made in a big, brown crock pot. Now my mum is in Cyprus and she still makes me hungry when she tells me what she is making for dinner!



To find a community of people who live and love food, who will talk about it, think about it, recreate it, revel in it, that, to me, is worth more than a tonne of gold and truffles. These people will not laugh at me for taking photos of my dinner – which I did before I had a blog anyway – and they will understand when I say that I read cookbooks like novels. They will just get how happy the first asparagus of the season can make me, how a trip to a farm shop is as imbued with as much excitement as the first visit to the circus or the fun fair was as a child. I can share my obsession with these people, I can meet up and we can share food, which is just heaven on a gourmet cracker for me.

Food bloggers have also become the restaurant trade’s free form of advertising. In the same way that when Delia mentioned cranberries the shops ran out within a few days, when a well known blog praises a restaurant their bookings can soar.

Restaurants need to realise that the folks taking photos aren’t just food nerds, they are potential attractors of revenue. When bad service happens, it can start on one blog and go viral within a few hours. I would point people at www.meemalee.com to see just what can happen at even the best restaurants. Mr Blumenthal should maybe keep a closer eye on his people and possible revamp the ideas that his staff have on what constitutes service or, at the very least, jack up their willingness to help out patrons who are in distress and trying to do the right thing.

Ripping people off can no longer stay behind the closed kitchen doors. People will report it. They will blog it, they will Facebook it and retweet it. The very same way that they will heap praise upon praise for what is good and deserving of mention.

However, this does mean that, as bloggers, especially those of us who have a substantial following, (not me, I hasten to add) we do have a duty to do things right. There is a difference between constructive criticism, and a downright slating. By all means say what was wrong, but say what was right too. Remember that the people behind the food are human, and whilst a restaurant needs to know when things are not up to standard, they do not need to be told that in derogatory or insulting terms. Your visit may have been on an off day for the kitchen, they could have been down by three members of staff, we cannot know as we aren't out there doing it.

We should strive to be constructive, and fair or we shouldn't really be doing it.

Food Bloggers Unite - and be cool to each other.

2 comments:

meemalee said...

Thanks for the mention, Lisa :)

What many restauranteurs/chefs still fail to get is that food bloggers are predisposed to being on their side.

We love food and we're paying to eat at their establishment, so obviously we *want* to have and more importantly think we *will* have a good experience - that's why we chose their restaurant.

So we turn up with happy thoughts, excited about our meal (or in the case of me and the Fat Duck, we try to book with happy thoughts).

It's their game to lose so it's sad if they drop the ball.

Lisa said...

MiMi - your experience just went against all that was fair. It was just wasn't right. That 'jobsworth' attitude is one guaranteed to make me very cross.

We aren't restaurant critics, we are food lovers who tell the truth. We want to have a good time, we want to tell all and sundry about the lovely places we've been to, and share the food we've eaten. Many is the time I have said "Oooh so and so would love this place." and a blog is a great place to be able to do just that.