Let’s file this one under “things about four people in the world care about.” But since one of those four is us, bombs away!
Last friday we issued an end-of-day tirade about the changing nature of food reviewing; specifically, how the rise of the internet has basically given everyone their own printing press (we call these unchecked opinionistas “bloggers,” even though the mediums also include forums, user-driven-content sites like Yelp and our own listings, vidcasts, and podcasts).
But here’s the neato twist: In the comments of David Tamarkin’s blog entry on the topic, an interesting thing happened: a chef dropped by. Now, normally when a chef drops by in a blog’s comments, it’s to defend himself against criticism or to (under cover of alias) shill for his restaurant’s good points. But here there’s something different: Not only is the toque speaking up none other than Graham Elliot Bowles, noted blogger-hater, but he’s proposing peace talks! He very sagely suggests that chefs, bloggers, and critics all get together for “an informal pow-wow” to discuss the changing face of the restaurant/reviewer relationship, and TOC web editor Scott Smith follows up his comment with a promise to set just such a thing up. (Hey Scott! Invite us! We have a lot to say on the matter.)
We stand firm in our belief that when it comes to the triangular interaction among old-media reviewers, chefs, and bloggers, the crux of the tension actually lies with the chefs: They’re used to the old way, and are recoiling against the new way. While print journalists still carry more influence than do bloggers, that influence is waning as a generation that basically lives online is growing up.
Blogging is, at its heart, just word-of-mouth communication — but it’s word-of-mouth communication granted serious superpowers. Where once we would tell a handful of friends what we thought of a place, we now tell hundreds — sometimes thousands — of friends, strangers, and google-searchers. Writing on a blog is basically shouting on the streetcorner, except (depending on your traffic) you’ve got a stadium-rock soundsystem and a Jumbotron to amplify your opinions, and the echoes reverberate more or less forever. So yeah, we can see how chefs and restaurateurs might find that scary — or might not find it scary, but might be taking a contrarian attitude towards the medium, restricting the tools of the blogging trade (banning picture-taking and the like) just because they can.
So a summit is a good idea, to us, because it’ll give folks like Graham Bowles and Bill Kim a look at the face of their enemy — a face which turns out to be just as human (maybe more so?) than that of Phil Vettel or Pat Bruno or even Heather Shouse (though we find her reviews to possess a laudably bloggerlike sensibility). And maybe it will help remind bloggers that the dish we’re micro-dissecting (“the thrice-smoked bacon tastes like it’s only been smoked twice. FAIL”) was made not by quality-assured robots, but by human hands at a human directive.
Meeting together is a wise start (we, like Barack Obama, support face-to-face interactions among enemies), but we don’t anticipate it leading to any sort of solution, in the usual sense of the word. This isn’t, realistically speaking, a solvable problem. It’s not peace in the middle east, it’s not gangs of unruly kids throwing rocks at each other from opposite sides of the street. Like we’ve said before, this tension is just the growing pains of a paradigm shift. Blogs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and if we’re kept out of certain restaurants, directly or indirectly, we’ll just eat (and rave about, rant about, and otherwise delives bucketfuls of publicity to) elsewhere.
Chefs Vs. Bloggers: Fear & Loathing [previously]
Chefs to bloggers: We aren’t going to take it anymore [TOC Blog]
[Photo: No Bloggers Boys Allowed, via oblong_dog’s Flickr]