I was at Charlie Trotter’s 20th Anniversary celebration last weekend, described here on time.com, which featured six chefs who are among the most famous in the world and who flew in from all parts of the globe to prepare a course for a $5,000 per plate dinner ($250,000 will be donated to Trotter’s educational fund used to support and educate young culinarians).  Among other things, the actual courses were fascinating in that they demonstrated the varying styles of each chef.  The whole meal was amazing, but my favorite course (and others’ favorite) was Heston Blumenthal’s seascape, which arrived with iPod headphones uncoiling out of a large welk.  When I heard about this—listening to the sounds of the seaside while you eat a shellfish dish—cute, but gimmicky, but ok, if you say so.  BUT: When I put those headphones on and stared at what really did look like seascape, with seafoam on sand, seaweed, oyster clam and urchin, I grinned, widely.  And it was delicious.  What I thought was going to be a gimmick was remarkably effective.  Decanter.com has a story here and a shot of Blumenthal plating the dish.  Brilliant dish.  This article disses Pierre Herme’s dessert of, I believe it was mascarpone and pea puree with actual peas and corn and popcorn.  It was one of the best desserts I’ve ever had, period, notable especially for its great balance of flavors and subdued sweetness.  David Myers of Sona, whom Trotter asked to do the canapés (he’s a Trotter and Boulud alum), is probably the only chef not in the above chefs league fame-wise, but talent-wise, he’s very much in their league, and I’m hoping more and more people know about him.  He’s opening a second restaurant this month, a two-minute walk from Sona.  If any Los Angelenos read this, I’d love to know how the new place is.

Of the many questions I asked Chef Trotter, one was about the internet and bloggers.  Trotter, as with every single chef I spoke with for this column in Restaurant Hospitality, did not have mixed feelings.

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70 Wonderful responses to “Trotter’s 20th and chefs on bloggers”

  • playchef

    I’m a new blogger here, so forgive me if I’m not up to snuff on stuff…I do however like TNIC and I like Top Chef too.I love micheal colickehole…is that how you spell his name?. Micheal Ruhlman…well I aint seen nothin bad yet..Andrew Knowlton…he is a kiddie bag…AND Alton Brown…he needs to say something other than “you have survived to cook another day!”

  • search_for_the_holy_gruel

    Thank you so much for mentioning David Myers. Sona is truly a culinary experience and he is a chef that deserves every recognition. I can’t wait until his new venture, Comme Ca, opens.

  • veron

    Hi Sara! Definitely go to Citronelle and have the tasting menu. The hubby and I did the 10-course one and it was fabulous and as Andrew said totally worth it!

  • RitaC

    Okay, so when people find out that I am a restaurant reviewer they always have two comments:
    Wow! How did you get that job? I sure would like that job.
    and
    Can I go with you sometime?

    That tells me that “everyone wants to be a critic” and that’s what food bloggers do. They get to be a critic whether they know anyting about food, the industry or writing. Plus, it is a power trip (one that I don’t always relish; I am dealing with someone’s livelihood). These people love to be mean and many food bloggers are.
    Most of them know nothing about any of the above topics and it’s a damn shame that anyone takes what they say as the “truth”.

  • Gina Edwards

    This comment thread is very enlightening. I started an online magazine/website a few years ago as a supplement to cooking demonstrations and as a place to showcase recipes, tips and writing. Recently, I’ve also added a blog to this and have been surpsrised at the groans I get about blogs (of all kinds). Seems to be a general distaste for people who use their blog as a personal online journal whereas others (as Ruhlman points out) use it as a way to write and share their views with the public. Living in Peoria, Illinois, there are not a lot of avenues to break into food writing and the internet and blogs at least give those of us who really just want to write a democratic opportunity. We need something to show to potential employers.

    As for professional restaurant reviewers, our local daily paper, like many other papers, uses whatever reporter is available to review restaurants. New to reviewing restaurants, they don’t have any more of a food backround than the rest of us. It’s only if they have a knack for it that they stick with it for awhile and learn about food along the way. (I’ve been interviewed by them, believe me.) Plus, their food news/trends usually come from a recent article they’ve read in the current issue of Bon Appetit – not because they’re really in touch with the food industry.

  • chefjp

    Ruhlman—you are being suffocated by the dementia of self-celebration. Please discontinue this hazardous course at once.

  • ruhlman

    derrick did ask something noteworthy–if andrea strong is comped and has a negative experience, what does she do? I did ask her and she said, she does not write it up, but emails the chef about her experience and then returns later to try the place again.

    i love the passion in these comments!

  • Sara

    “…so I prefer to let the professional critics, with much more refined palates than mine, critique the dining experience.”

    I guess my whole mindspace is, I don’t see why a professional reviewer has any more a refined palate than anyone else. Maybe they can’t taste for shit, maybe they taste way better. But I’d hazard to guess that if you asked their Editor, their taste level is neither here nor there — they’re simply the person who was the best writer.

    Maybe that’s where my point of view differs with a lot of you guys — I see reviewing as a question of writing, not a question of tasting. The ability to convey what you tasted to readers in a manner both vivid and fair is a skill learned by writing, not by eating. Maybe it would help chefs to reconcile the growing world of food blogging if they started to view people as writers, and writers only (excepting those who cook, blog, and blog about their own cooking only), who are working in their area as opposed to “foodies” or “aspiring chefs.” Maybe they’d be less teritorial. I’m not sure many movie directors care about the hundreds of small movie blogs on the internet; chefs might benefit from adopting the same ambivilance?

  • Sara

    Anyone who judges a restaurant by the composition of the kitchen and service staff before even trying the food doesn’t deserve to eat out.

  • Todd

    “… the good ones tend to rise to the top and the bad ones are best ignored.”

    The bad rising to the top on occasion is what we call the “Perez Hilton Anomaly”.

  • Skawt

    My own view of food blogging is a bit tainted, having trained as a chef in school. With that in mind, I know how difficult it is for a restaurant to succeed, so I prefer to let the professional critics, with much more refined palates than mine, critique the dining experience.

    I will, however, blog about what I like. And I will blog about recipes I’ve made. Sure, there are probably some celebrity chefs that need to be taken down a notch or two because they’re asshats, but I will bitch about their asshattery not their culinary skills. There’s a reason they got to be celebrities.

    Aside from Batali’s disgust at anonymous food bloggers, he is a semi-regular celebrity blogger himself, with regular posts on other forums. Mario is probably the most passionate chef I’ve ever seen, and has been known to go into the kitchen and cook at parties where he is simply a guest. It’s my suspicion that the reason he detests food bloggers is that a great many of them simply slam chefs for no good reason, and do it anonymously. For someone who is so passionate about cooking, it’s a not-so-trivial insult to give such a chef unwarranted criticism, especially from behind a facade of anonymity.

  • Mgmax

    Oh, and one more thing. Yes, a blogger/food board poster probably only tries a place once. But on a food board, they’ll almost certainly NOT be the only one writing about a place. I’ll stack the visits of ten or twenty different LTHForum users against the two or three visits of Phil Vettel or Dennis Ray Wheaton any time, when it comes to giving a restaurant a fair shake, trying its full menu, and seeing how it performs on different nights over time.

  • Josh

    Bloggers for me are a double edged sword. Taking critisicm over a dish being too salty is far more beneficial to me than a complaint that my food could not possibly be good because my sushi chefs weren’t all asian.

  • Mgmax

    So you tease us but you’re not goingto tell us what Trotter said.

    I think chefs are mostly complaining about a creature that doesn’t exist. The annonymous blogger who writes a fictitious slam, has no track record yet somehow has a zillion readers? That’s a contradiction in terms, like the opening night of an old favorite restaurant. Yes, the anonymous slammer on a site like Yelp may get the readers– but nobody looks at Yelp and gives total credence to a single review, especially from someone who never posted before. If someone has readers on their blog, then by definition they have a track record which means their new review is built on the credibility of many other reviews. And it seems safe to say they’re not going to piddle away a good rep to grind one axe.

    I help moderate LTHForum in Chicago and I can tell you that people are very attuned to the track record of posters. If someone comes on and registers today and slams a place, then everyone knows to assume a high probability of it being a hit job. Where if someone with thousands of posts and a record of what their likes, dislikes, level of intelligence and discernment, etc. all are, slams it, people tend to take it seriously because they know that person to have demonstrated their level of quality and credibility. And that’s nothing like the straw blogger Batali or others rail against.

    I too suspect, like folks above, that one of the things chefs don’t like is that they do, in fact, know who many of the “anonymous” reviewers are, and in smaller markets many of the reviewers are probably in the tank for local restaurateurs, serving as community boosters, so bloggers/posters on food boards upset the cozy little world by representing the actual undercover voice of the customer. If that scares you, you deserve to be scared.

  • Elayne Riggs

    Not being a food blogger (just a general blogger), i can but speculate that many well-known chefs are a bit wary that their perceived pretentiousness or pomposity will be punctured by people who — well, who don’t like pretense. I don’t know Trotter but his image on TV has always struck me as rather aloof. He’s probably a really nice guy in person, although his lack of lips would probably scare me, but on TV he doesn’t exactly exude warmth and friendliness. At least to me.

    Public figures — and Trotter certainly is one — are not like us ordinary Joes and Janes. If you’re a TV chef, you’re fair game for intelligent critique on everything from your style to your opinions about food. (I wouldn’t presume to critique the food itself until TVs come with the ability to actually taste the results.)

    Of course, the key word up there is “intelligent.” As many well-spoken commenters have already noted, there are good bloggers and bad bloggers on just about every subject, and the good ones tend to rise to the top and the bad ones are best ignored. Why more professionals don’t get this is beyond me, particularly since they themselves can and often do blog as well.

  • Claudia

    Well, Ruhlman certainly looked pained when he had to critique a dish, but it didn’t prevent him from leveling steely blue eyes at his bud, Symon, and crisply zanging him for being derivative, shall we say. (And Symon didn’t get eliminated for using his pastry chef’s bacon ice cream recipe – it’s just that he didn’t win the challenge. Besh did.) And Ruhlman more than made up for it by standing up for some dishes that Donatella and Knowlton found a little “on the cusp”, as she put it. Very earnest, is our Mr. Rulhman – earnest when praising a dish, and earnest when grilling a chef about it’s . . . er. . . “provenance”.

    Poor SYMON, however, looked like he was about to cry. I think, though, their friendship and mutual respect for each other will survive TNIC – to cook another day.

  • Kirk

    Michael,
    I completely agree about Heidi Swanson. She is a model of what food blogs can be. 101cookbooks.com has been a favorite for years.

  • Bob delGrosso

    Chefs don’t like bloggers who critique their work? Gee, well then add another group to the list.

    I’m not aware of many chefs who feel that anyone besides another chef of commensurate ability has the right to say anything negative about their work. You know it’s true Ruhlman.

    BTW, I finally got to see you on TNIC last night. You speak great sound bites and no, you don’t need a haircut (that guy on the other end did. Yikes!) But I’m not so sure that you are emotionally equipped to negatively criticize chefs in public. You looked so uncomfortable when you had to say something bad about a dish and I thought you were going to heave when you had to dismiss Traci des Jardins. You are too human my friend.

    And that fellow who was eliminated because he admitted to using an idea from his pastry chef -what kind of BS is that? Did the judges dig into the sources of the dishes of all the other chefs and determine that he was the only one who borrowed?

  • Sara

    Why does background or experience have anything to do with the validity of blogging about food? We all have mouths, right? And tongues? And palates? Someone who has spent 20 years researching food, working with food, even cooking food could still have the same reaction as someone eating their first haute cuisine meal if they put something un-tasty into their mouths.

    Think of it this way — film critics often have no credentials when they start. It’s not typical to find someone who went to film school for four years exclaiming to his friends in Starbucks “I’m totally going to be a film reviewer!” on the eve of their graduation. No, that person is going to go to Hollywood, try to write or act or direct, and maybe end up reviewing films on the side. More often (and I speak with some authority on this, as an editor of a college newspaper for 2 1/2 years), your film reviewers start as college kids who want to see movies for free, and before they come out. So they take the passes, they write two months worth of totally shitty reviews, and then they get better, and their criticsm gets more technical, and they become more familiar with film as a medium because of all the free screenings they go to.

    Food writing works the same way. I minored in Journalism in college (my major, and my main academic path, is classical cultural studies), and was told over and over again that all I had to do to be a journalist — any kind of journalist — was to be a good writer. So when we read Jeffrey Steingarten’s book for a Feature Writing class, I realized that I could blend my love of eating with my love of writing. Now, a year and a half out of college, I’m finally working on a blog that will let me get regular practice at writing and editing food journalism without the problems of desperately searching for a job and finding an internship that won’t pay, or worse finding nothing at all.

    In the meantime, I’m slowly expanding my palate. So while I might be generally uninformed about technique and history (though I try to do some research if I think it is warranted), I don’t think my tongue is any different than the New York Times food critic. I think my opinions are just as valid, and my mind is almost as open to strange, new things. But because I blog, because it’s on the internet and I don’t have 20 (or even 5) years experience, I’m somehow a problem, an insulter, an interloper? That doesn’t seem fair at all. Blogs are a wonderful way for aspiring writers to practice their craft and get feedback on their work before diving into a very difficult profession. If I couldn’t blog on my downtime as a receptionist, I don’t know what I’d do.

  • Derrick Schneider

    “I don’t ever want to be lumped in the same category as the ‘freebie’ eater. ”

    Trish,

    Just so we’re clear, neither do I, a food blogger and a food writer.

    Your next sentence, “It really pisses me off when bloggers with zero background in food or journalism suddenly decide they are qualified to become food writers.” is guilty of the exact same generalization that chefs use. We’re not all the same; the ethical standards I set for my blog are more strict than most of my clients’.

  • rockandroller

    IMO, this is another example of why chefs are great at what they do in the kitchen but not always great at understanding marketing and PR. There’s an old saying in PR: “All publicity is good publicity.” (alt. “There is no bad publicity.”) Hollywood gets this in spades. I mean, have you heard anything good about Lohan or Spears in 2 years? But the general public knows who they are and reads news about them all the time. They all tuned in to see how Brit-Brit did on the MTV awards. LiLo’s rehab trips were listed in this month’s Esquire magazine.

  • Todd

    “Every, EVERY restaurant has its off nights, and if a blogger just happens to be there, chances are, he’ll give the place a crappy review and not feel the need to go back.”

    A restaurant (or any service for that matter) where I spend upwards of $600 for a few hours of entertainment has a certain level to which they have to meet even if they’re having an off night. And yes, I’ll blog about it if I so choose (I don’t blog anonymously, but I wholly support those who do).

    Most ‘blog readers’ (read: internet opinion readers, they were around long before the http protocol was established) with a modicum of intellect will see an anonymous bad review of a place and go searching for other, additional reviews. I would bet that in most cases, the more negative review, the more interested they are in seeing other opinions.

    The internet is what it is and it has suffered greatly from the ‘real world’ trying to enforce its values upon it. As long as no laws are being violated (slander, etc), I see no problem with people posting anonymously.

    But in the same token, there’s likely not a single restaurant of these esteemed chefs that is worse off due to the blogosphere. Almost all, I would venture, use the internet for some form of advertising, even if it’s their own, lonely site. Such things were verboten in the early days of the web. Commercialization, of course, must win out because… well, because commercialization isn’t a bunch of geeks doing research and playing nethack, and that’s immediately better!

    Any author who has a pseudonym, any entity (restaurant, what have you) that has a website or any web presence for the benefit of that business, has absolutely no room to criticize legal and historically ethical, anonymous uses of the internet.

    I do agree, however, that it’s the morally prudent to disclose such things as whether or not a meal was comped.

    And really, though folks hide behind anonymous screen names, I really like the idea that the most insightful thing I read all day might be posted by GeniePantsOnFire192.

    The fact is, if there’s consensus in the blogging community with a fair sampling of independent opinion, chances are the business they’re reviewing has some issues.

  • sorchar

    I don’t know that my fellow Food N00b Kal and I could be called “food bloggers”, but we do have a blog devoted to food. We don’t really do restaurant reviews as such, but we do recommend restaurants we like, and give the reasons that we like them. The reason for this is that neither of us is a chef, or a professional food writer, or anything like that. We’re just two chicks writing about our experiences with food and cooking, wanting to share the stuff we like. I sometimes wonder if it’s the right thing to do, not to post the bad experiences as well as the good, and I know it’s not very professional. It’s also a quite a bit more fluffy-bunny than I tend to be in the rest of my life, but being amateurs in all aspects of the food-writing game, we think it’s best to err on the safe side.

  • Ty Tanji

    Excellent article, Michael. I myself am an avid food blogger, and the news I report and rant on is simply opinion. But when getting into the touchy realm of restaurant criticism, fellow bloggers need to give the restaurants they dine at a fair chance, or else there’s just no point at all. Every, EVERY restaurant has its off nights, and if a blogger just happens to be there, chances are, he’ll give the place a crappy review and not feel the need to go back. When I review for my blog, the critiques adhere to the Assoc. of Food Journalists’ guidelines. More bloggers need to be more aware of their influence.

  • Kirk

    There is no way I would pass up dining at Per Se, wd-50, Charlie Trotter’s or Del Posto because a blogger wrote a scathing review. If a good friend who shares my love of a great meal said she had a bad dining experience there, I might think twice. (And after second thought I would still eat at any of these restaurants and judge for myself.) Bad bloggers aren’t that powerful and giving them more credibility than they deserve is the same as responding to flaming comments meant only to provoke.
    To say one hates bloggers is equivalent to saying one hates molecular gastronomy. First off, the terms are vague and subject to broad interpretation. Second there are brilliant, thought-provoking practioners in both fields as well as inane, vapid hacks.

  • Tags

    There’s a big block of salt out there and you can take each post on each blog with as big a grain of it as you like. And to those who don’t like it, lumping privileges are granted.

    BTW, by bloggers, do they mean Jean-Georges Vongerichten?

    http://www.jeangeorges.blogspot.com/

  • trish

    I’m a food writer/journalist who worked and studied damn hard to get where I am. Sorry, but people who take comp meals and then write about them are below contempt.Not for one minute do I buy that you can be completely free of bias after someone has just paid for your entire meal. Argue the point all you want, but you are now beholden to them. End of story. I don’t ever want to be lumped in the same category as the “freebie” eater. It really pisses me off when bloggers with zero background in food or journalism suddenly decide they are qualified to become food writers. It’s an all-about-me mentality of I-like-to-eat so I think I can write. And that’s when you start to read bone-headed criticism that can induce a major case of the chuckles along with major heartburn. (The lamb chops would have been good, if only they weren’t served rare. Blah, blah, blah.) Can I be a doctor just because I like to read the articles in the New England Journal of Medicine? Maybe not, but I can certainly blog about doctors…

  • Kevin

    I’m a blogger from a cut of cloth that could care less about restaurant reviews. I don’t care. I eat at home, thank you very much. I read a dozen or two blogs, and not a single one posts about restaurant visits. And not because I seek them out that way – but because most food blogs have absolutely nothing to do with restaurant critiques. I’m pretty sure I can’t be the only one aware of this fact, but somehow there’s this overriding assumption that ‘food blogging’ = ‘restaurant critique blogging’. Most food bloggers are people passionate about food, writing about their experiences cooking at home – and this is who ‘elite chefs’ are badmouthing?!?! Come on. Forgive me for being offended, and losing a good jag of respect for chefs with their noses up in the air and rolling their eyes about it. Even if it is only because they’re misinformed.

  • Kevin Weeks

    Speaking as a time blogger (four years as of tomorrow, I hope someone baked me a cake) anyone who speaks of bloggers as some sort of homogenous group, even when restricted to a category such as “food bloggers,” is clearly completely out of step with the phenomenon and so not entitled to an opinion at all unless it’s prefaced with, “I don’t know what I’m talking about but…”

    I’ve never reviewed a restaurant. I have, on rare occasions, mentioned restaurants in articles on other food topics, but a review? Nah. I concede that getting down on me as an untrained and clueless cook who’s recipes reflect a complete misunderstanding of flavor, texture, taste, color, and balance would be appropriate (albeit wrong) because what I mostly offer are recipes.

    In the political world people rant about the political blogs — ignoring that some, such as instapundit, are almost purely aggregates reflecting an editorial eye while others almost pure personal reactionary venom. To condemn all political blogs is just plain “igrant” as some of my fellow East Tenesseans mights say.

    And for bloggers to be concerned with the rantings of “igrant” political pundits — or chefs — is silly.

  • Carri

    I think it was Oscar Wilde who said “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

  • lux

    The dynamic tension between “the blogs” and “the pros” is not limited to the world of cooking. it’s occurring in a number of areas, and the debate tends to play out the same in all of them.

    Bloggers need to remember that just because you can be a nasty, catty jerk on the Internet does not mean that doing so is necessarily a good idea.

    Professionals need to let go of their bunker mentality and realize that painting all bloggers with the same brush hurts them much more than it helps.

  • Jennie/Tikka

    I’m an Angeleno (a.k.a. resident of The City of Our Lady, Queen of the the Angels). I’ll do my best to stop in at the new Sona spinoff and take a few notes for Ruhlman’s sake as soon as I can!

  • Kansas City rube

    Natalie, from reading your post on the Amateur Gourmet and seeing how worked up you got over one man’s interpretation of a cartoon, you seem a bit tightly wound. You also didn’t get the humor behind the Cloggies. I suggest you take a deep breath, pop a Xanax, masturbate or just follow through on your idea to “tune out of this blog forever.”

  • Natalie Sztern

    You know Michael, after reading Hospitality I realize you talk out of both sides of your mouth. After lambasting me in an email for commenting on what I thought was THE most ridiculous entry in a food blog that I read this year – The Amateur Gourmet on Ratatouille, you then turn around and tell your readers in Hospitality – and I quote “embrace blogs that try to practice responsible citizen journalism”… Yes, I know, Adam is your friend and clearly there is mutual back rubbing since his book has been published, which is probably a great read, and I even made a donation to Share in his honor (which he never acknowledge probably because of my negative comments), and true restaurant reviewing is a different animal than the plain blogging of opinions, but when you blog, even opinions on all things not on a restaurant menu should follow the same vein. It should be responsible journalism, at the very least it should relate to the topic at hand-on that I agree with you. In fact I agree on every word you wrote in that article, but then why blast me?

    And yes, you insulted me.

    An added plus is that I am not a blogger, just a commenter and I NEVER comment anonymously, I say what I mean, and if a blogger only prints the positive comments, then what good is their blog?

    Natalie Sztern

  • TXstarla

    I blog. Its random. If I feel like blogging about a restaurant, good or bad, I will. If you don’t like it, respond or blog yourself. If a chef gets pissy about it, he or she can blog just as well as I, and they have equal opportunity to be read.

    Don’t like it, tough shit. Thats life. The pissy ones were probably the ones picked last for kickball. I know, I was too. The sweet revenge is they are all on their third spouse, in rehab, unemployed or just plain ugly. I win.

  • Claudia

    Oh, Tags, I was wondering when you (or Skawt) would break out into song or doggerel – I guess you really couldn’t get anything to rhyme with “frenemy” instead of “freen”? Crikey!

  • Snoozer

    I use a screen name. So what? It’s not how you sign your post, it’s what you write. So I value my privacy. I don’t want to show up 80 times on Google. I’m a professional and people do searches on my name. I don’t want all of them knowing what I do and think in my private life. Trolls will be trolls whether they use their real names or not. I have far more often been inspired to visit a restaurant by reading a post than the opposite — in fact, it would take a bunch of negative posts to convince me that an otherwise respected establishment is not worth visiting.

  • Tags

    Cho do row your boat
    gently past the spleen

    merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
    life’s too short, my freen

    Even the highest rated shows with millions of viewers are a sliver of a splinter of the entire population. No audience is unanimous, and opinions are discounted and embraced every day. If you let it get to you, paralysis by analysis is the result.

    Enjoy the wave and when the wave crashes enjoy the ride back to sea, looking at the flotsam but always ready to react if it turns out to be a shark.

    And remember that when it all comes down to it, it’s just ego, anyway.

  • Morton the Mousse

    When will chefs learn that blogs can be good for business? Most of the food blogs and forums I read are overwhelmingly positive. Troll reports are scarce, and trolls are often attacked by posters who are loyal to the restaurant.

    Many eateries owe part of their success to free internet publicity. I tried Chris Cosentino’s restaurant, Incanto, after reading numerous glowing posts on Chowhound. It’s now my favorite restaurant in SF. Batali’s Mozza is worshipped by the LA blogosphere, yet Batali hates bloggers?!?

    I think the Chef backlash is indicative of human psychology. When you read ten positive reviews and one negative criticism, you remember the critique. Chefs need to take a deep breath, recognize that some of the criticism might be valid, and focus on the positive press the blogosphere provides.

  • Kansas City rube

    I think the chefs are frightened by the idea of bad word-of-mouth being so easy to find on the interweb. But to me, how seriously I take a blog is based entirely on the reputation of the person writing it. If I read a hundred bad reviews of a restaurant by a bunch of garlicboy32s and one good review by an Amateur Gourmet, whom do you think I’m going to trust? I can usually tell if a reviewer has an ax to grind (a lot of complaining about the prices and service are a good indicator) and I just disregard the ranting.

    It’s no different than asking all your friends about a restaurant. There are certain people whose opinion you trust and then there are people who eat at Chili’s. Personally, I like the idea of being able to read what other average diners thought about their experience, but people who are serious about food will always go to the restaurant to see for themselves and form their own opinions.

  • Derrick Schneider

    I agree with Sam. My food blog almost never runs restaurant reviews (certainly not much anymore). I write about cooking my own food, drinking wine (which I do review), and food politics. Do chefs hate mine as well?

    And, for the nine millionth time, even a restaurant review blog and yelp are two different beasts. Chefs who “hate bloggers” and then talk about Yelp might as well just say they hate the Internet if they’re going to be so vague and uninformed.

    But I think what a lot of chefs dislike is not the random review from a blogger, most of whom — let’s be realistic — have only a handful of readers, but the fact that those blog posts show up in a Google search. It doesn’t matter if RandomFoodBlog.com has only 100 readers; if it comes up high in a Google search, it’s what a searcher will see.

    Some notes on your article, Michael. I assume “No anonymous slams. Bloggers and commenters on food forums ought to be immediately recognized as cowards and ignored.” is missing a word somewhere. Surely you meant just anonymous bloggers and commenters, rather than all of them/us, the way the sentence reads right now.

    Also, while you mention that Andrea Strong doesn’t give a negative review if a place doesn’t comp her, you sidestep the issue of whether she ever gives negative reviews to the places that _do_ comp her. The flip side of the coin is just as important.

  • The Foodist

    Now I can only speak for myself here, and I wouldnt think of speaking for everyone anyway, but..

    Chefs need to realize that the internet and blogging is still much like the wild west. No set laws and restrictions in regards to pieces of opinion and subject matter. What we have on the internet now is, all things considered, free speech at its core.

    The problem with that is we hide behind avatars and annoymous postings, which leaves us feeling mighty in our computer chairs as we slander and bash a place, person, or item we dont like for the sole reason that we just dont like it.

    There has to be self restraint, and an understanding that the world outside the blogosphere works in very different ways. But with the pull that the internet seems to have on public opinion its hard to see where the line seperates.

    and if anyone questions it, I am a cook, training to be a chef. What I write is soley my opinion and I try my best to make sure its understood as such. Try not to slander and try not to be bias, its really that easy. State facts, and when your opinion is stated ensure that it is known that it is just that, your opinion.

    While the spotlight shines on Chef-dom and all it encompasses there will always be the haters. What we need to do as foodies is to be able to decode the signs and realize when theres to much bias in an article.

    and its a shame when so many bad apples spoil what could be a very lovely thing.

  • Claudia

    I think Carri hit it on the head – no one blogger can ruin a chef or his restaurant, and a chef might actually take heed of some of the criticism aimed at him/her; bloggers are, after all, members of the dining public – not necessarily a weird subspecies of frustrated, attention-deprived anti-social personalities still living in the parents’ basements who live to flame. (Well, OK – apologies to those who are!)

    Batali and Cosentino sound like they’re being tormented by one or two specific bloggers who’ve become their bete noires – but still, no need to get all Jeff Chodorow-y on bloggers en masse.

  • Carri

    The bottom line, really, is that if a restaurant is good, it will thrive, if it’s not, it won’t. No one blogger is going to take it down because of one bad meal or percieved axe to grind. The chefs themselves can either use the information coming at them to their benefit, or they can choose to ingnore it and let the market forces have their way. No one is perfect one hundred percent of the time…and if they are then they are machines and who wants eat food from a machine?

  • Andrew

    Sara,

    Make sure you do the tasting menu at Citronelle; it’s absolutely worth it.

  • Sara

    GAH! Andrew you made my day! I’m a tasting menu fanatic — this is a DEFINITE for my birthday now.

    logicalmind: “Some of these things “exploded” so you couldn’t even take a bite if you wanted to. That’s the only hint I’ll give…”

    I had a foie gras croquette like that at Komi in DC once. Delicious. Incredibly salty. I loved it. But Komi doesn’t do near-30-course tasting menus, so..

    No, you don’t send it back, but you say something to the waiter. You say “Wow, this is all really salty, is it supposed to be that way?” Something like that. Polite, but expressing your displeasure. But a tasting menu is kind of a different deal — since you’re putting everything in the chef’s hands, you’re relenquishing your ability to say “I ordered this, and I’m not going to pay because it’s so salty it’s nearly inedible!” You’ve accepted the risk of the chef’s discretion — you might get something you truly hate, but you’re not making any decisions yourself. And, I think, that makes it even WORSE to send a letter the next day. You took the chance on the tasting menu and didn’t like it; next time, order ala carte.

    This was a tasting menu, correct? If not, I would please like to know the place where you ordered a nearly 30 course meal. I would like to go there and see the menu; it must look like Ulysses.

  • sam

    I am not going to take the opinion of blogger-hating chefs seriously unless they start to show some understanding of the difference between yelp, blogs and other web media types. They diss many restaurant bloggers, then they diss the customers who probably most adore them. Do they really think it is a sound business idea to show their fans contempt? Are chefs always right and their customers always wrong? Are they above learning from any mistakes they or their restaurant staff might make?

    I recently wrote a critique of the restaurant of a celebrity chef I adore where I had eaten an overwhelmingly disappointing meal. The post was gruelling and heartbreaking to write. It probably took me well over ten hours to pen the piece. I thought long and hard about every sentence. Not all bloggers take their hobby lightly.

    But OnoCoffee makes an excellent point – audience might well have an effect on the way a blogger writes. I cringe when I look back at some of the awful and sometimes rather mean review posts I wrote when I first started my blog and had no audience and less clue about how the internet worked or how I should conduct myself.

    It was a quick learning process when I discovered the power the internet can have and learned to take responsibility for that. I have been trying to visit restaurants more times before writing about them and its been an eye opener. There are a lot of consistency problems out there so I can totally understand how one-time visitors can have widely differing experiences after eating at the same place.

  • Claudia

    “that’s the thing, claudia, they don’t distinguish between the trolls and someone like amateur gourmet. They don’t like the fact that an amateur, maybe with an ax to grind, someone without the backing of a professional media organization and the checks and balances of editors and editing, can trash a business they have poured their soul into. And I think the anger is so great that garlicboy32 is no different from say, heidi swanson.”

    What a shame. More often than not, I think bloggers use their powers for good, so to speak (!) Not to take anything away from David Chang’s or Zac Pellacio’s stellar food (which more than speaks for itself), but, just as two examples, I repeatedly posted about how fab their food was way back when they just opened Momofuku’s and Fatty Crab, before those places became known, and dragged a lot of people down to both (numerous times). Given, chefs like Batali dand Keller on’t need bloggers to fill their places, but they should also consider that most bloggers are simply people who care about food a lot and are usually supportive (verbally and financially) of those chefs, and therefore SHOULD be differentiated from the garden variety trolls, flamers and – well, you know.

    Siiiiiggghhhhh . . . .

  • logicalmind

    Let me clarify. This was nearly a 30 course meal of mostly single bite items. So it wasn’t like I could taste something and send it back. It was more like, I would eat something and think to myself “damn! that’s salty”. Then I’d think about it a while. Then the next item would be excellent and I’d chalk it up to a single mistake. Then a couple items later, “damn! that’s salty.”. And my wife started to say “don’t you think that last item was too salty?”. And then I realized it wasn’t just a single mistake, or just me noticing it. It wasn’t until discussion on the way home with my wife that we realized just how many of the courses were extremely over-salted. Don’t get me wrong, 25 out of the 30 or so courses were excellent. But those 5 others were pretty bad. After my wife and I thought about it, we decided to write the chef and inform him what precise items were too salty and on what particular night. Our intent was for him to find that line cook and fix the problem.

    Should we have sent the items back? I really don’t know how. We couldn’t spit them back out, or start taking mini-bites to verify it was ok before eating the whole thing. Some of these things “exploded” so you couldn’t even take a bite if you wanted to. That’s the only hint I’ll give…

    Also, and maybe I’m a wuss, but I wouldn’t be able to tell Thomas Keller to face his food was too salty. It’s not Thomas Keller I’m talking about here, but the chef is on that level.

  • matthew leeper

    On a side note every restaurant has that patron who is just a PITA. If that same patron is also vocal it can hamper any real problems that could be fixed. Most top end places do everything to make a customer happy, I guess its all the money they are spending. As for the salt comment that is such a fine line. I have noticed from working with top nd chefs and lower end run of the mill, the word highly seasoned comes to mind. One chef I used to think oversalted everything, then as my career progressed I realised it was jsut seasoned more and not actually salty. To my wife being a super taster everything would be salty. Yet, the line between to salty and just right can be on the fence very easily. Peoples taste buds are not the same, and it is easy to say the chef over salted but in truth it could be seasoned perfect for the other 90% of the patrons. Let the kitchen know if you feel the food is to salty early on. They will probably gripe but will in general try to fix what they can.

  • the pauper

    Sara,

    I disagree with you. You’re making a distinction between the time elapsed, to pertinance of the opinion. While there’s evidence in the scientific world to back you up, it’s usually about long periods of time and the accuracy of a distant memory.

    The next day generally does not qualify as distant memory. I think writing means that there’s no scene. The restaurant can deal with it without customers seeing your dissatisfaction. If you write an actual letter to any large coporation and complain about the product you purchased, you get a response almost all the time. It’s good customer satisfaction.

    A good business wants to know what its customers think, regardless of the time elapsed. What if it tasted good going down and came out six hours later in brown liquid form? Based upon your rules, I should just go back, pay again, and tell them what happened the first time. Do you want to re-think what you wrote earlier?

  • The Onocoffee

    Michael-
    I read your article on blogging in Restaurant Hospitality when I received the issue a couple of weeks ago and have to say that I disagree with many of the chefs’ commentaries.

    Like any media outlet, a blogger (or poster to a forum like Chowhound) builds a reputation by what they write and whether or not the readership agrees with that writer. The argument presented presumes that everything is written and executed in a vaccum where there is no “accountability” for what has been written. For a respected and followed blog, this is simply not the case.

    The “wild west” nature of the Internet that “allows” bloggers to write just about “anything” they desire also allows anyone to rebuke their statements – in their own forums or comments. One cannot merely go out and trash a restaurant without basis and have an audience follow with confidence.

    Chefs and restauranteurs need to realize that this “one off” reviews that they are complaining about are exactly the kind of “reviews” that their “regular” patrons are giving them. Regular people (like bloggers) don’t have the financial resources or time to visit a restaurant over and over again. You have one chance to wow each customer and if you blow it, they won’t return.

    The “fear” that any patron could be a blogger with a large audience should serve as a wake-up call to the chefs and restauranteurs to always have their best foot forward or to pay attention and make corrections for a positive resolution when things go poorly.

    Gone are the days when the restauranteur could blow off the patron and ignore the situation that caused the problem. Now there’s the very real possibility that “word of mouth” will be spread by someone with a national blog.

    For many of the top restaurants, there’s little for them to worry about. Their level of service and execution almost assures them of a positive blog entry. It’s those places who’s service and execution aren’t quite skilled that need to worry. No more resting on the laurels of that three-star review six years ago by the local alternative weekly…

  • Sara

    Veron! I’m thinking Citronelle for my birthday this year (the only time I can eat the really expensive stuff is when it’s on the family…). What say you?

  • Sara

    logicalmind,

    I had a long, and probably rather insulting (to you), comment to respond to yours. I couldn’t read the letters to post it. I took it as a sign. This is revised.

    It seems to me that you had a bad experience at a restaurant, toughed it out, and then sent what probably came off as an insulting letter to the restaurant critiquing it. If your food is bad, bring it up while you are there. Don’t make a scene, but bring it up. Chefs would rather know that their line cook is fucking up *during* service so it can be fixed for everyone, as opposed to the next day when the mail comes. If it didn’t warrant bringing up while you were eating, it didn’t warrant a letter. And if I had received that letter, after the fact, I would not have responded either. I hope you do go back — I hope you realize that all chefs are human, and human error is a factor in cooking professionally, no matter what level you are at.

  • veron

    Very interesting article. Oh well, I use to have a separate blog for restaurant reviews but I stopped because I ran out of words to describe the food – hee. Besides, I don’t really go out to restaurants much anymore (except for a splurge in a place like Citronelle or Inn At little washington) – better food at home ;). Still, it’s funny how chefs get so annoyed with food bloggers but I agree they should distinguish between food bloggers who really know something about food versus the troll.

  • Sara

    Some bloggers, like me, trying to do some chef-ing, and then blog about our failures. Isn’t that, like… kind of acceptable?

  • logicalmind

    Could it have anything to with the chef’s knowing when their restaurants are being critiqued and by whom? I know a lot of the mainstream reviewers try to hide their identity, but can they really? Maybe the problem is with the unknown reviewer coming into the restaurant. Someone who is just a random Joe. Can a chef keep their guaranteed quality every night of the week to every possible customer that walks in the door? I used to think so, especially the higher end chefs. But then I spent a night at a very high-end restaurant. I was sadly disappointed. Numerous dishes were so salty they were nearly inedible. This is not something I would expect when paying hundreds of dollars for dinner, but it happened. I don’t have a blog so I didn’t go out and post my disappointment anywhere. I wrote a letter to the chef/restaurant outlining my disappointment and specifying the exact parts of the dishes that were problems. I wasn’t expecting much in return. I like the restaurant, I like the chef, and I felt like I was helping him improve his restaurant. But it’s almost two months later and I haven’t received so much as thank you or acknowledgment. Needless to say, I don’t have plans to go back. But if I were a mainstream reviewer, would I have had the same meal and experience? Now I wonder.

  • the pauper

    logicalmind,

    see, that sounds like that chef is not doing good business. if someone writes in to help you out, at least a thank you note is in order. perhaps the chef is too busy and hasn’t gotten to it, but 2 months is a long time.

    chefs and restaurants like that should be exposed more often i think. you should just tell us which restaurant it is.

  • Carri

    Perhaps these chefs are the victims of too much access…it must be hard to sort through all the white noise to get down to the critiques that can actually be helpful…because whats the purpose of criticism if not to better the situation(the trolls not withstanding). it’s time for them to embrace the medium…after all this blogging thing is a two way street.

  • jabbett

    Getting to the crux of the matter, I’d imagine that chefs don’t like the lack of control when it comes to food bloggers. Nowadays, they need to be on their game for every meal, and not just when they’ve heard __John Mariani__ will be in town.

    You note that there are responsible and irresponsible bloggers. Similarly, on my blog, I’ve seen examples of responsible and irresponsible restaurateurs. The best ones take the high road: they accept criticism, invite the diner back, offer contact information to discuss further, and ultimately make improvements.

    So, the amateur brigade can be a force for good, giving a chef a glimpse at what it’s like for a regular guy in his restaurant, even if he’s just ordering a couple apps at the bar.

    (There is a risk, though, that the populism of blogging could ultimately make chefs pander to the lowest common denominator, as do our politicians. That regular guy might never warm to a catfish dessert even if it’s brilliantly prepared.)

  • ruhlman

    that’s the thing, claudia, they don’t distinguish between the trolls and someone like amateur gourmet. They don’t like the fact that an amateur, maybe with an ax to grind, someone without the backing of a professional media organization and the checks and balances of editors and editing, can trash a business they have poured their soul into. And I think the anger is so great that garlicboy32 is no different from say, heidi swanson.

  • Claudia

    I hope that the chefs’ unilateral loathing of bloggers is solely predicated upon (a) criticism of their food/restaurants without a solid basis (i.e., repeat trips to a restaurant), and (b) anonymous flaming. And I agree, bloggers should neither be anonymous flamers, nor should they just flame for the sake of flaming without some constructive basis for their criticism. But just from the people you quoted, Michael, it seems the loathing has actually oozed through the loathing of trolls and flamers to bloggers en masse – was that the sense you got, or did you just catch them all when they were cranky?