Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Are Floggers Qualified To Comment On Food? Part 2, A Reply To Comments

Thank you
for all the responses and insight, guys and gals! After a bit of soul searching, I came up with this post. As usual, feel free to bang me if you think I'm wrong!

I conclude that most of you concur that the Chef was being silly by not allowing people to tkae photographs of the food in his restaurants. Jun, SC , gfad, Thule and Jason rightly pointed out that bloggers actually provide free publicity for the restaurants they post up in their respective blogs, and even without blogs, word of mouth is also a very important method of disseminating information about where to get good food (or bad food, if you are a masochist).

I have no problems with the Chef not allowing pictures to be taken in the restaurant. I am fine with that. He has probably weighed the pros and cons himself before arriving at that conclusion. To be completely honest, I went back to the restaurant 2 times after that, because the food was good. I observed the Chef cooking (the Kitchen is an open kitchen) and he seemed to cook with so much passion. During the meal, he will drop by and ask if everything was allright, and again, even after dessert! I really liked him, and of course he is a genius in the kitchen.

Nigel has provided us with some interesting points. I think every food blogger wants to be a food critic when they grow up! Ha ha! In real life however, the line of distinction between a food blogger and a food critic may be blur.

Let's say for instance. A blogger reviewing typical Malaysian Fare may be acting as a critic. After all, we have been eating Nasi Lemak since two years old (maybe less) and even helped our own mother prepare it. In this aspect, I think the average blogger is actually as qualified as a Michelin Inspector to comment on the food.

Benchmarks are also interesting. The typical Food Blogger presumably, is a well travelled person and may have tasted the same dish overseas. In the case that he or she is not well travelled, he might have sampled the dish in Malaysia from another establishment.

As for me, if I am tasting the dish for the first time, I usually mention it in the post, and my comments will be a descriptive one. How the food tasted, how it is presented, and try to limit any disparaging comments.

Another benchmark is cooking technique. We generally have an idea on how a good piece of fried dish would be, or what to expect from a grilled/sauteed/baked dish. For example a good piece of fried chicken would be crispy, not too oily to the extent that every bite spouts a gusher and some retention of moisture that would still give the fried meat succulence. Even if I have not tasted Zimbabwean fried chicken before, if it came burnt till charcoal black, tougher than a piece of leather, I can honestly say that the dish was not very good and get away with it.

In the Sea is a very technical blogger who really knows cooking techniques very well (very typical of Hong Kong Chinese) and interestingly, his benchmark for Chinese Food is the quality of Rice served, and for Western Restaurants, the bread.

Another interesting observation is that by the description of the dish itself, we already have an image formed in the brain on what to expect. Take for example, Honey Roasted Chicken with Rosemary and Dijon. You already formed a mental impression on what to expect, right from the presentation and the taste. If you were served with a piece of chicken that tasted like KFC with some mustard on the side, you do not need a food critic to pan that dish.

Babe_kl (Thanks for the Blogniversarry wishes!), Joe and Rokh rightly pointed out that we should be very selective about the blogs we read, which I can only agree. Boo's blog was one of the blogs I read online when I frist relocated to KL. Her blog is usually very well reasearched, balanced and neutral. She earned my respect when she commented that Chef Takashi Kimura's amusement bouche failed to amuse her!

And Nic, maybe we should coin up a new name, eaggers, as distinct from bloggers and floggers! By the way, most of the nutrients for fetal growth is passed from the blood in the umbilical cord that is linked to the placenta which sticks to the womb. The swallowing of amniotic fluid is just to help train up the digestive tract and the baby's kidneys actually produces amniotic fluid. Fairly complicated stuff, I know.

My conclusions (or at least, what I'll do from now on):-

1. Bloggers are qualified to comment, but must be honest and know their limitations. I will only comment on what I know, and if I am unsure, I will ask the chef, other bloggers, other foodies or consult a book.

I went back to the comments of the restaurant that I found in the net and found that the comment on the pork skin was way off, and now I understand why the Chef was so miffed.

There are many ways to roast a pork. Slow roast and really slow roast. The blogger ordered the Speciality of the day which was probably the really slow roast (overnight) and is not the siew yoke kind of roast. The dish he ordered produces tender, strip off the bone kind of meat and is impossible to get the crackling skin with this dish.

Probably the best thing to do would be to ask the chef before posting, or if the chef is upset about the post, email the blogger, to correct him. As Nigel correctly pointed out, try to let the blogger write an informed opinion.

I would like to think that eating can be a learning experience itself too. Food just opens up the while microcosm of history, art and culture.

2. I will not be lazy. It is more difficult to write a bad review than an effusive, glowing review. Instead of just saying I don't like a dish, or casually mention a dish is not up to par, I must justify the reason behind it. For example, the Pork Chop review (Italian on sixth) that I did. I just said the onion sauce was too oriental. I should have justified my dislike by adding that in most Italian restaurants, the Onion Sauce that is usually richer (with added butter or cheese), infused with herbs such as thyme (which I was not able to taste) and depending on the version, some white wine or port in the sauce.

The Criteria for Selction of Michelin Restaurants are deceptively simple.

1) Quality of ingredients
2) Skill in preparing them and in combining flavours
3) Level of creativity
4) Consistency of culinary standards
5) Value for money

Probably we too, have been following this guidelines unconsciously while we are doing our write ups. I suppose, I'll just keep on blogging and hopefully, able to do so with honesty, integrity and transparency. If I stray from the path, my friends, feel free to let me know!


thule a.k.a leo said...

I don't think that EVERY food blogger will want to turn into food critic when they grow up la.. lol! At least, I'm not... my objective is simple! To try out all the places of interest and give my honest opinion about the food in the end, so my friends can read my blog and then decide whether they want to go or not. I never point a gun to their head... there's a Chinese phrase "You can't push a cow's head down if the cow doesn't want to drink water"... the decision is ultimately in their hand. After all, different people have different taste buds... what nice for me doesn't necessarily nice for them.

I agree with you... giving a bad review on the food is harder than good ones. I often see people on the good side rather than bad ones...

If I am a culinary expert, I would certainly give my fair review on the food based on the several criteria that you have listed out in your post. But then, I am only a regular bloke who like to eat... hmm, maybe I should put a disclaimer like masak-masak did in her every posts...

in the sea said...

Android, I somehow don't often follow those ABC standard things like Michelin. Doesn't mean I don't respect them, but when they came to Hong Kong and made their star rating. It really made all the local chefs and even myself doubt "what", "why" or "how"?

My US friends prefer sweet and sour pork with heavy sauce. When I told them sweet and sour pork shouldn't be like that. There shouldn't be any sauce left on the plate, even oil. In Chinese sweet and sour pork is a stir-fried dish. Cantonese stir-fried dishes shouldn't have any sauce left. If someone want a dish with sauce, they should go for those stew dishes or casserole.

When I went to Tokyo visiting my business friend, he brought me to a very local restaurant and ordered a fish head. That fish head was cooked in sweet soy sauce only and was quite smelly. I couldn't take it as it's much too smelly. However, he told me that one was the most expensive dish in the shop.

When I was in Italy, I got brought to a local restaurant, I was given a big bowl of raw veggie (quite chewy) - no dressing. I then asked "can I get some blue cheese dressing?". My friend simply told me "we take salad only with little olive oil and balsamic vinegar". I admit that at that time (13 years ago) I didn't appreciate eating salad with olive oil and vinegar. However, now I like balsamic vinegar so much.

A third example - it's som tam (papaya salad in Thailand). They sometimes use the salty crab. Sorry I really can't take it, but some of my local friends treat that as a treasure.

The Europeans eat the salty anchovy and the Chinese eat salty fish.

So taste is really subjective and sometimes our taste would change, like how I adapt to take balsamic vinegar.

Then back to your point about going stray. Don't worry. Feel free to write anything your feeling is with as long as your comments are not defamatory.

fbb said...

phwah, very deep lehhhh, and no pikchers either. aiyoooo. snigger, i think my WIP post was prob one of the rare ones where i actually criticised the food blatantly. i hope they not gonna come after me.

Paranoid Android said...

@ Thule: Yeah. Masak masak has everything thought out. Bright kid, she is.

@ ITS: Yes.But what struck me in the Michelin rating system is it is actually what we ordinary foodies seek while eating to. Value for money, quality and inventiveness. Yes, local tastes vary. I have never gotten over the shock of the smell of "Chao Tau Foo". Ha ha ha!

@FBB: Taukeh. Not deep la. Just reflecting on what I am doing, Sian Tau style.

rokh said...

great wrap up! as for me, 'critic' may not be the right word, as i mainly only share those food that i enjoyed, i never take the effort to write to criticize. i also tried my best to research or if not state 'disclaimer' in lack of information/experience. the best is to ask the reader to try it out for themselves! btw, love your writing, will be following ;)

Paranoid Android said...

@rokh How kind of you. I think yu hit the nail right on the head. The keyword is sharing! Sharing our experiences is the the most important thing in blogging, whether about food or life or travel. Genius!

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