The battle between bloggers and chefs grows more and more pitched, and it seems that the swirls of the battlefield center around two participants: The Tribune’s Monica Eng, and Time Out Chicago’s David Tamarkin.
Tamarkin is the chronicler of these goings-on, with his gunpowder writeup of the state of the professional restaurant critic in the time of the bloggers, and today’s blow-by-blow of the exchange between Eng, who questioned why Farmerie 58 listed no farms on their menu, and chef William Alexander, who rebutted in the comments.
Interestingly, Eng was also the moderator of the chefs’ roundtable in which chefs Graham Elliot Bowles and Bill Kim railed against both bloggers and user-review communities like Yelp and MenuPages. She also appears to be playing for both teams (though not necessarily by her own will): as a full-time staff writer for the Tribune, she both blogs (as in the Farmerie 58 case) and files official reviews (in her recurring byline for the Cheap Eats column, for one).
Here’s the thing, though: Monica Eng’s not the only one. A similar dual role is played by freelancers like Mike Nagrant, who occasionally files “real” articles for TOC and other publications, but also writes whatever (and whenever) he darn well pleases on his Hungry Magazine website. But it gets even murkier: Tamarkin and Shouse do “first looks” for TOC and write up buzz and gossip on their blog, but also file judgment-of-God-levying reviews for the print edition. When folks like Bowles or Kim say “screw the bloggers,” they’re lumping in Eng, Tamarkin, Shouse, and the like with the rest of the unwashed blogging masses (like, say, us).
For better or for worse, though, this is something we’re going to be seeing more and more of as print publications attempt to extend their reach to the zero-lead-time internet market, but don’t want to create a new online identity. Instead, they add to the responsibilities of their existing food writers — write reviews, but also stay current and keep the brand youthful by blogging. An alternative to this kind of print/web confusion of identity, not a perfect one but a good one, is the model taken on by New York Magazine [disclosure: they own MenuPages, but no one in the office knows us from a hole in the ground], where the paper issue of the magazine has long-form reviews from heavy-hitters Adam Platt and the Robs [band name!], and the website contains the James Beard Award-winning food blog Grub Street, which is written by full-time bloggers.
Still, the power dynamic is being upset, and we have a feeling that the chef backlash against bloggers and user reviews is something that’s born of confusion and fear, not righteous indignation. Most of the people cooking now came of age with the notion that the newspaper review (and, as they grew to prominence in the ‘90s, the weekly mag review) bore the standard for restaurant criticism. But as the internet becomes more and more both the method and the currency of communication, chefs are finding themselves not knowing who to bow and scrape and comp a dessert to. It’s entirely possible that an eviscerating report on LTHForum will do more harm than a glowing Tribune review can repair, and vice versa. But everyone knows what Phil Vettel looks like — who can identify LTHer “ppezalla” from across a crowded hostess stand?
Tamarkin predicts that the brewing antagonism between chefs and bloggers will soon escalate into a pitched battle — New York is already seeing bans from chefs against picture-taking in their restaurants, and it’s probably just a matter of time before that kind of kitchen-imposed martial law comes down on one of Chicago’s buzz-bin restaurants. Is it? Really? Or is it just a matter of time before the paradigm stop shifting and just settles in as the status quo?
We’d say more on the topic, but it’s the weekend. Go have fun. Take pictures if you want to. Tell everyone you want about anything you ate, using whatever medium, whatever language, and as much passion as you damn well please.