THE OLD BLOG ROAD...
At the height of what Michael Parsons, in The Irish Times, calls the Septic Tiger, I was chatting to a friend of mine about our mutual interest in cars.
“I can’t understand why these people are driving Aston-Martons,” he said. “Why don’t they just go around with a big placard over their heads that says I’m A Fucking Builder”?
I was reminded of this the other day when I was talking to a restaurateur about – to use his words – the plague of food bloggers.
“I don’t like to piss anyone off,” he said. “And I really don’t want to piss off someone with a few followers. But the ones you notice are noticed for all the wrong reasons. They wave their cameras around and get sniffy about the table you give them. They might as well have a great big sign around their necks saying “I’m A Fucking Food Blogger.”
There you are, then. Don’t shoot the messenger. It seems that some of our food bloggers are doing what some of our restaurant critics have been doing for years and carrying about with them an aura – or perhaps something more substantial than an aura – which has the words DO YOU NOT KNOW WHO I AM? in emblazoned on it in day-glo.
Anyone who reviews restaurants needs to be careful to see the experience from the punter’s point of view as far as possible. If you are love-bombed, you have to watch what is happening to other diners and take your assessment from there. Having a fuss made of you, because of who you are, is actually just embarrassing and unhelpful.
Prior to a wonderful dinner from Richard Corrigan and Paul Flynn at the Waterford Food Festival last weekend, Matthew Fort was asked by – I think – Ivan Whelan of Cully & Sully, if restaurant critics should have experience of working in a professional kitchen before they pass judgement on the work of chefs.
Matthew gave a very elegant reply in which he recounted his experience of working very briefly in a rather grand kitchen and how it was a rather humbling experience but I think he implied that no, such experience should not be a pre-requisite.
And I agree. Ivan’s argument seemed to be that only professional cooks are qualified to comment on professional cookery. This is tosh. Only people who design cars should write motoring columns? You have to have stood in Herbert von Karajan’s shoes to be qualified to hold a view on his Beethoven’s Ninth?
No, what you need to be a critic in any sphere is a passionate, all-consuming interest in the subject, to be almost an anorak. And to have wide experience of that field of endeavour so as to make valid comparisons. To be fair, balanced, dependable and to flag up your prejudices (because we all have them).
This is a tall order and none of us critics can ever be sure that we tick all the boxes. But we have to strive to do so.
We also need to know how to write (and not all columnists do) and we must have some capacity to entertain the audience (and not all columnists ditto), otherwise readers will skip to the bottom line. Or just skip.
We also need to understand our brief, to have a specific word-count for our column and to have an editor who will, when appropriate, give us a sharp kick in the arse (or a word of appreciation if we have done well).
Bloggers who review restaurants, by and large, don’t have such constraints. The very best of them are pitiless self-editors (usually because they have long experience of being edited by others).
That’s the thing about blogging. Anyone can do it. You can blog to your heart’s content. If you want to write a 5,000 word review, there’s nobody there to stop you. You have total freedom.
And you know the trouble with total freedom? It’s take a lot of self-discipline to make it work.
I’m just glad I have an editor. Most of the time….