Sunday, August 2, 2009

Food Bloggers. Are They Qualified To Pass Comments About Food?

3 months. Come this 7th, this blog will be exactly 3 months old. 3 Happy glorious months, where I learned how to use a digital camera properly, met up with some of the funnest people in Kuala Lumpur, got to know a celebrity baker with his own fan club, and tasted so many yummy food at so many places. The protests on Saturday buried my plans to dine at The Restaurant next to The Lounge opposite The Loo, at The Club.

Human taste buds actually develop in the fetal period from the 8th week and gains full function at the age of 15th week. In Utero. That means while the fetus is still in the mother's wound. Studies have shown that what a woman eats during pregnancy can affect the taste of her amniotic fluid. Fetuses start swallowing amniotic fluid at the end of the first trimester of pregnancy (after 12 weeks old) and the amniotic fluid is excreted as urine by the fetus. Subsequently studies have shown that depending on what the mother eats, the fetus actually swallows at different rates. Amazing isn't it? After birth, studies have also shown that pacifiers laced with sugar are sucked more aggressively that unlaced ones. Even as babies we have already developed a keen sense of taste. Any mother who changed her baby's milk formula can tell you how the baby may refuse different tasting ones.

I went to a restaurant recently, and was requested not to take pictures of the food there by the restaurant manager. She was very apologetic about it. When I asked her why, she said because the chef did not like food bloggers commenting on the food there as some of the comments were uncalled for and made by unqualified people. She allowed me to continue photographing it if it is for my personal use. I gave my word that I will keep the photos private. I do keep a lot of photos of what I had eaten and post a blog if they are exceptionally good. I can't keep posting about my favourite joints like Neroteca or my blog will turn into their official website! And there are places that serve food so atrocious, I could not even write a post about it.

I started this food blog mainly to keep my friends and family up to date with what I am doing. And naturally, if something is good, I would like to share it with them. Unfortunately, they seem to be interested in what I am eating. What I am reading and what is playing on my ipod bores them to death. My fault, mea culpa... I don't know why I have such a weird taste in books and music.

So, i got back and did a google to uncover why anybody would pan the restaurant. Because when I was there, the service was excellent, food was divine and everything just fell into place so effortlessly. Their Panna Cotta was to die for. If there is a Panna Cotta heaven, I am actually floating on a cloud there! Who in their right mind would be so vicious to criticize them?

I did a google and found that all of the comments were actually positive. Some commented that the dishes were not salty enough. One complained about the dessert. Somebody did not like the pork skin. And one vicious comment, but about a restaurant with the same name in Albany, New York!

That set my head spinning. Again I began to think. Are bloggers qualified enough to make comments about food? What was the chef so sensitive about?

Here's my take.

1. Food/taste is very subjective. What is salty to one may not be salty to others. I don't think anyone should be too sensitive about it.

2. If I hate fish, and order fish, and complain that it does not taste good, I am not being fair. If I hate cod, but ordered cod, and it tastes good to me, then the chef is a genius.

3. A 30 year old would have had 32850 meals in his lifetime. I think he or she can compare what he/she had eaten before and make an informed judgment about what he or she likes or dislikes. After all, we are just doing what we have been doing since we were in our mother's womb. Discerning taste, making judgments about what we like to taste and what we don't.

4. Not being a native of the country of origin of the dish does not disqualify a person from making a comment on the whether he/she likes the taste of the dish. A German may say he likes Peking Duck in Malaysia more than the Peking Duck at Tiananmen, Beijing. It does not mean that he is wrong, or the chef in beijing is inferior. It's just his personal observation. Similarly, although I am not an architect, I can say that the Tangs building in Singapore looks ugly, or the Guggenheim's in New York looks good. Nobody can fault me.

5. Opening a restaurant means serving food to the public. Everybody has an opinion on food. Even mothers, who cook with full of love for her children receives comments about her cooking from them. Even if no pictures are published, a restaurant can still be panned in less than 250 words. Just read the New York Times.

Show me a customer satisfaction survey with 100% satisfied customers, I'll show you 2 employees with an IQ of 50 filling in the forms themselves. Either that, or the establishment has only one customer. The owner's mother. I'm sure when Da Vinci was painting Mona Lisa, he received a lot of flak about the crooked smile. Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one. Just live with it, and be a happier person.

Please comment and let me know how you feel about food bloggers commenting about food in the cybersphere, but do not name the restaurant if you know which one I mean. The purpose of this post is not to humiliate them, but to give what we enjoy doing so far some thought..

Taking a short break to see what the philosophers have to say about food. 'm not sure if it is covered in Philosophy of Aesthetics or not???

Here's to 3 months of adventure!


boo_licious said...

Definitely food for thot, what you have brought up. I'm always believed, everyone has their opinion abt the food since it differs for everyone's tastebuds.

Jun said...

hello, can't help but click on boo's link to ur site after previewing ur thoughts abt food blogging.

my take is that floggers contribute so much to a restaurant's thriving business. as you pointed out, diff ppl have diff opinions abt food, but to post a review up on their blogs, it may attract as many clients to the restaurant as there is traffic to the blog. at the same time we do have to respect a restaurant's policy on picture-taking, but imho, it's their loss if they refuse publicity-- good or bad.

sc said...

hi! popped over from boo's link via FB too. Well, to me, be it food or any other matter, everyone has their own opinion. i started my blog to document the places i've eaten and also as a form of reference for myself. never thought myself as a critic on these restaurants. and even if there's no food blogger in this world; good food or bad food- there's still word of mouth to spread the news..

J2Kfm said...

a very interesting thought. stopped in my tracks for a while there, as I'm sharing the same opinion(s) with you, mostly.

for sure, I'm no food critic, nor reviewer myself. but i find satisfaction in sharing the good AND the bad eateries with people, anyone at all, no matter they're foodie or not, locals or foreigners.

taste is VERY subjective, and nobody has the exact same preferences and dislikes. hence, just as u likened a personal opinion to an ... erm, a$$hole, nobody's anatomy is the same duplicate of another.

Allan Yap & Nigel A. Skelchy said...

Hey bro; Am glad you brought this up. I believe that the lines have blurred between Food Critic and Food Blogger.

I think that to be a Food Critic, you need to have a benchmark, a knowledge of the food you review and criticise. This presupposes either extensive travelling experience and trying different foods or a passing knowledge of the kitchen processes and recipes involved.

However, to be a food blogger, well, I think it's silly to try and prevent people from having an opinion. Everyone has one.

That restaurant you mentioned, I find it silly in this day and age to do something like censor the photo-taking that people do or even to tell people not to blog about it.

Instead, I would try to take the step of actually educating people as to what the food is about, if the chef is soooooooooo fussed about his food.

I'll bet that experience ofbeing told that you can't take photos of the food left a bad taste in your mouth as well as the restaurant manager's.

In my opinion, everyone has an opinion and it's useless to try and put a cork in it. All you can do is to try and help them write an informed opinion.

rokh said...

blogs are more loose, informal and opinionated - so all should be taken with a grain of salt. on the other hand, as a writer we should be responsible as well, either researching the facts first else state that you do not have the information. if you are the reader, then you should be able to discern what are good reviews what are not. we are all here in this information age, we just have to embrace it!

gfad said...

I personally prefer reading a food blogger's account of a restaurant than a food critic. But of course I will not take it as the gospel truth.

Well, a chef can't open a restaurant and expect only professional critics to eat at his place. He cooks for the public, and therefore someone, somewhere is bound to make a remark abt the food, whether online or otherwise. And since I would imagine the bulk of his business comes from ordinary people who patronise his restaurant, it wouldn't be very good for business if no one talks abt it. And if it takes only a professional food critic to be able to understand and 'get' his food, then me as a common layperson will definitely be too intimidated to even go to the restaurant.

One only needs to look at the multi-billion dollar direct selling business, or as they nowadays call it multi-level marketing, to see how powerful word-of-mouth recommendations from family and friends really are.

jason said...

Hi, I hopped over from Boo's link on FB too.

I would agree with SC, that whether the food/service are bad or good, there's still word of mouth to spread the news. Do those who spread the news thru this also regarded as a food bloggers too?

For me, I think it's fair to tell the public as it is. People constantly need suggestion on where to dine and what do others think about that particular place. If there are too much negative comment on a particular establishment, I'm sure there is something very wrong with the place.

"Joe" who is constantly craving said...

i dont think food bloggers go to the extent as food critics..if we r qualified then by all means, but if we are mere mortals, got to take it with a pinch of salt.

Nic (KHKL) said...

excellent write-up, dude! i especially enjoyed the first few paras on the development of human tastebuds. never knew that a fetus actually swallows! i'd always thought that food was diffused and transported as dissolved solids.

as for food blogging, well,i guess everyone want to achieve a certain objective with his/her/their blog. it's really up to the blogger's conscience as to how the blog should become. sometimes i wonder if it's better to call it an eating blog instead. sounds friendly, doesnt it? haha!

babe_kl said...

happy blogniversary haha!

like what I've left in boo_licious FB, there are a whole load of food bloggers out there now, but after a while you'll know who are those having the same tastebud as yours. I supposed readers need to read them with a pinch of salt as one man's meat is another man's poison esp when it comes to food.

in the sea said...

Yes, comments on food or travel/hotel...etc. are very subjective. Some like classic and some like fancy. Some like salty and some like hot and spicy.

However, my point to cooking is on how the skill is. Like frozen meat, quite many people (especially fast food shops) put it in water with salt. This way it will defrost the meat faster. However, I wouldn't recommend using this method as the taste will lose. I would normally use conducting heat. Putting the frozen meat on a flat metal plate or a marble stone or anything conduting heat fast. For example, putting chicken wings on a metal plate, it takes about 30-50 minutes to defrost it. Never use the micro-wave machine to defrost food.

The above is just an example about cooking skill. So whether we can comment the food is good or not, we need to take into consideration about the Chef's cooking technique and skill. One of my principles on an index for a good Chinese restaurant is how they cook steamed rice and for a Western restaurant is on how they make bread.

thule a.k.a leo said...

I had similar experiences too... some people are so worried that others will copy their food to create same or similar version of it.. so they created certain policy to protect their s0-called trade secret... but then they have no idea on how much free publicity that they can get...
Oh well... I guess it's their loss!

CUMI & CIKI said...

oh yea.. SPOT ON! hear hear.. i sokong!

(btw, tis mother's womb, not wound..?:P)

Bangsar-bAbE said...

I agree with Allan & Nigel. People tend to confuse food bloggers with food critics/reviewers. Everyone is entitled to his opinion, and when you pay for the food, I feel you have the right to photograph and write about it. Food bloggers can write what they think of the food/place, but it's really up to the public to decide whether it's worth trusting the blogger's opinions.

Frat said...

Hi Paranoid Android,

I've dedicated an entire blog post to you... to discuss the matter. My 2 cents don't fit in the comment box :)



Paranoid Android said...

@Frat Thanks, man.

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