One of the funniest things I've read recently was in a USA Today article that came out on Sept. 26. The piece was perhaps the 10,000th New Orleans has “more restaurants post-Katrina” article written in the past few years, but this one was special:
The frame of reference used to be how many restaurants existed in August 2005 vs. today (809 then, 1,366 now, according to blogger Tom Fitzmorris of The New Orleans Menu Daily, who keeps a running tally of places that aren't national chains).
I think perhaps Mr. Fitzmorris would object to the appellation “blogger.”
The reference made me think of an afternoon a few years ago when I ran into a bunch of celebrity chefs on Tchoupitoulas Street. They were in town filming an episode of Treme, I later learned. Tom Colicchio, Wylie Dufresne, Eric Ripert and David Chang were walking from Poydras toward the Garden District when I saw them, but it's Chang whose name was brought to my mind by the USA Today story.
Chang is famously hostile to bloggers. Indeed, the day I saw the chefs on the street, we ended up at the same place about a half-hour later: Cochon Butcher. I hadn't followed them, but I understood why they thought I might have. I'd clearly recognized them earlier, and then, although I was there ahead of them, there I was with a laptop open at their next destination. “Probably a blogger” is what I heard Chang say, and I suppose I should have written about it at the time, but my thought was, “Who gives a shit about a bunch of New York chefs in town for a TV show?” (I did).
Bloggers in markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are, generally speaking, different than bloggers here. There, the environment is cutthroat, and simply being the first to discover a new place isn't enough. There, bloggers will show up at a place and slam it publicly with no responsibility, merely to be the first to do so.
That's never really been the case in New Orleans. Food bloggers here have been, more or less, cheerleaders for our local cuisine and our chefs. I count myself among that number, and I'm not ashamed of it. I've never hidden my bias: I generally write about things I like; there are exceptions, but my theory is that if I have a bad meal at a restaurant, I'm not going back. Life is too short to have bad meals, particularly in New Orleans, and it's not really fair to be critical of a place on the basis of one meal.
But on a more basic level, when Chang is dismissive of bloggers, it strikes me as a terribly déclassé reaction, as though he's saying, “Who are these peasants to judge my food?” The same is true of certain “professional” writers who decry the amateurs and their base palates. Now don't get me wrong – Yelp and Urbanspoon are pretty much worthless as far as I'm concerned. But that's not because the opinions of non-professionals don't matter; it's because there's no accountability at the end of the day. With food bloggers, at least you can read what they've written over a period of time and decide whether you agree or disagree with their opinions Try doing that on one of the “social media” review sites.
Am I pissing into the wind here? Probably, and perhaps your reaction will be the same as mine when Chang bitches about food bloggers, which is to say that I just ignore the diva and concentrate on the food. And while I'd like to tell you that Chang's cookbook, Momofuku, is a waste of time, I can't.
Because while he annoys me, Chang is passionate about what he does, and he goes deep into it. I still wouldn't piss on the guy to put out a fire in his hair, but I've used his recipe for pork belly, and I've modified his recipe for dashi. (He uses bacon in place of smoked bonito, or tuna, flakes in his Japanese broth. I use smoked ham hock in addition to the flaked tuna and seaweed, and the result is exceptional.)
So that's my story. I fought the term “blogger” for a while when I first got the New Orleans Magazine byline, but these days I'm proud of what I started with on Appetites.us back in the late 1990s. I won't apologize for most of what I've written as a blogger, though I have been intemperate and profane. I think the lesson we should all learn is that there aren't as many filters as there used to be; that change is both good and bad. We all need to be more discerning consumers of media, whether it be food blogs or otherwise.