OK. Well if you’ve just read my last post you’ll have seen amongst my ‘random facts about me’ that I was once an NUJ shop steward. And if you are at all into astrology you’ll know not to mess with anyone born under the sign of Aries. Where is this all leading, you might ask. I thought this was a food blog. This is about me not taking an unnecessary and unjustified insult laying down. So who on earth has insulted you, you say. Well, it wasn’t a personal insult, it was a general one – against food bloggers. Leafing through the latest Waitrose Kitchen magazine I happily came across an extract from Giles Coren’s latest offering: How Rude! Modern Manners Defined. I’ve always liked reading Giles’s work and watching him on TV so didn’t anticipate him being the cause of some indigestion over lunch, caused by indignation, when I read his words on food bloggers.
The extract in the magazine looks at modern dining etiquette when eating out. There are some pretty obvious things here, like ‘being polite and kind to staff’, which hopefully I always am (and I’m sure you are too), but I’m not quite sure why I should hand over a £10 or £20 note even if I’ve been charged Service on the bill and I would just like – politely, of course – to say to Giles that I don’t count myself in the category of ‘big man or woman with the job and the car and the ready cash to spaff on overpriced food’. Any reader of my blog will know that to enjoy eating out regularly I most often take advantage of the pre-theatre or special fixed price menus as my ‘ready cash’ is actually fairly limited. In fact, I think most restaurant diners would fit into a category that doesn’t include them having spare £20 notes to throw at even the best and nicest waiters on top of a standard service charge.
Apparently, a gentleman should still always sit facing the wall unless he wants to be considered ‘rude and stupid and pointless’. Many years ago – 20 perhaps? – I remember going to Marco Pierre White’s wonderful Harvey’s restaurant in Wandsworth. I also remember we’d been told that Marco took exception to men not sitting facing the wall and would rush out of his kitchen to put them right. But, this seems to me very old fashioned. And I’m almost old enough to be Giles’s mother (though not, I should like to add, Marco’s). When I married in the late 70s I adopted my husband’s name because, well, who on earth would choose to keep Smith … and in this patriarchal society we live in, my maiden name was my dad’s anyway. But I have never used ‘Mrs’ on anything formal, including my passport. So, you see, my feminist hackles are rising and actually I think in a restaurant it’s fair to just sort out between you who sits where. I don’t see why as a woman I should always get the best view. And anyway, maybe the walls are more beautiful and the best view is the person sitting opposite you. Since I only want to dine out with someone I also want to have good conversation with, why on earth would I be looking anywhere other than my fellow diner(s) in the first place. Except at my food of course … and photographing it … which leads me to …
Now we come to what really irritated me: ‘No photographing your plate’. Before I get to the main point, I’d like to say that I have always, or since digital cameras were invented, photographed great food when I’m out in restaurants, in street markets, or in a fabulous food shop. Food is my passion. So when Giles says that food bloggers ‘take photos because they are too bone stupid to remember what they ate and then go away and describe it later in prose … they have to blog because nobody will pay them for their words and nobody cares what they think’, I think I can only say that Mr Coren is way out of touch.
For a start, plenty of writers who get paid and are professional food critics write entertaining and informative blogs. For example, Matthew Fort (whose blog I follow). I also wonder why Coren assumes that anyone who writes a food blog lacks knowledge, memory and the ability to put a sentence or two together well. Please note, Giles, that I am an editor who loves to wield my red pen and has made a 30+ year career of putting paid writers work into good and grammatically correct English, making it fit for publication. A quick look at my ‘About’ page on the blog will reveal that I also have a reasonable background of experience in the world of food and cooking and cookery writing to indicate that I am not a total and uninformed novice. And as for my memory – it hasn’t failed me yet. But part of the point of food blogs is the photographs. Readers of food blogs like to see photos of the food being described and if I didn’t take any, well I wouldn’t get many readers. I may not be a big name in the food blogging world (yet!) but I am now getting about 3,000 views a month so presumably – since many of those views are people coming back again and again – they like what I write.
Fortunately there are more enlightened people around when it comes to food blogging. For instance, I was invited to the Oxfordshire hotel, Fallowfields, last year because its owner, Anthony Lloyd recognises the importance of food bloggers and had a party for a large group of them with a wonderful meal prepared by their exciting young chef, Shaun Dickens. The Cinnamon Kitchen also recognises the importance of social media and invited me to a Tweet party. The lovely A Cena restaurant has a link to my blog on their website as they feel it encourages visitors to it and they invited me to their first Not So Secret Supper Club so I could write about it on my blog. The fabulous Joe Allen also has a link to my blog on their website and has been a great supporter. And then there is my Chefs’ and Restaurateurs Top Ten Cookery Books series in which you’ll find that a number of our most brilliant chefs and restaurateurs have been happy to let me interview them – for my blog.
So food bloggers everywhere: food blogging is on the up. More and more people are turning to blogs they come to know and trust for opinions and readers aren’t stupid. They keep coming back for more because what you write is worth reading. Yes, there are some awful blogs out there (there are some pretty awful paid food critics too!), but there are some great writers giving us an insight into their world and bringing much pleasure to many people.