Category Archives: Writing

Be careful what you wish for…

I really should heed my own advice so readily given to others; had I done so I might have made things a little easier for myself. The problem is this: I’ve become a food writing snob. Yes, I know, I’m a bit of a snob on my best days, This, however, is different.

In one of my very first food writing classes we were asked to categorize what we felt was good food writing. And when we’d bantered enough the professor finally clued us in to what is the difference between food writing excellence and food blabbing. Food blabbing, she said, focusses around the “me”; “I did this…” or “We went there…” without any kind of point or purpose. Conversely, Food Writing is GREAT WRITING with food merely the subject. If the writing is poor, the editing shoddy and the subject outdated – why bother wasting time to read it?

Wow.

I suddenly started to look to what makes food writing so interesting and good and what makes a bad piece REALLY bad. And I’ve realized that most of the writers that I enjoy reading (particularly with food as a subject) are GREAT WRITERS. Never mind what they write about – the subject has become irrelevant to me in many regards. Primarily, I’m interested in the writing. Gourmet, Food Arts, Everyday Food, MSL, Saveur – all excellent examples of outstanding food writing. Bon Appetit? Rachel Ray Everyday? No so much. Of course, this is all a matter of opinion but there are standards – clearly defined and logical standards that can be used to determine the quality of the writing.

Having said that, I’ve been asked recently how I feel about certain other food blogs out there. More and more bloggers are brokering book deals, others have published a book already and others are asked to participate in various magazine roundup type articles, sample products etc. Sometimes the quality is there but for the most part, frankly, I can’t be bothered now reading what they have to say. Its self-indulgent blathering – not food writing. Muffin Top is not only meeting these standards of excellent writing, educational and timely in delivery but for the most part exceeds my own grasp of language and structure and certainly, interest.

I hold myself, now, to the same standard. If I cannot say something newsworthy, educational or at least damn well written – I won’t say it at all. I’ve raised the bar for myself and I only hope that I can leap over it.

A return to sorted

There’s a great big huge gap since I last posted and I’m just now realizing how much I’ve missed it. Thanks to Christine and Connie’s insistance that I make a larger effort to share where I am and where I’ve been, I’ve been seriously considering what it is I have to say. I’ve discovered that its a lot, actually. There’s a lot to say about who I am now, what I’ve been through and how much my view of food, blogging and “food blogging” has changed.

Right, up to speed… I’ve been enrolled in the part-time culinary training program at George Brown College here in Toronto since September last year. I’ve also managed to move from my old design agency to a new one – with a massive boost in both responsibility and payscale along the way. Its been a challenge to try and manage these substantial life changes – not to mention some family issues, squeezing in a holiday to Mexico, several trips to L.A., Quebec City and San Francisco (where Christine and I finally – FINALLY – met in real life!). The one thing that has remained somewhat constant is that I’ve missed writing but felt as though I had nothing of any consequence to say – nothing of substance to contribute. I certainly kept in touch with my fellow MuffinToppers and other blogs of interest for their continued excellent reportage of things both small and grand but there was no passion left in my heart to even attempt to bring my literary skills into focus.

Things have changed. I’ve finally got something to say! About things grand and small, attitudes and beliefs, tastes and samples. At college I’ve gotten through Food Theory – Basic, Food Theory – Advanced, Nutrition and Communications for Hospitality and I find myself now taking a slight detour for the summer. My new course, Food Writing Level 1 isn’t part of my chef training program but rather a landmark “Food and the Media” certificate program (don’t worry, I’ll fill you in on this one soon enough… Keep your tongs in your crock, we’ll get to that). How ironic that the thing that brought me back to writing is… writing!

I guess this is something that every writer discovers at some point or another: if all else fails to get to writing; write something. Anything. By getting my literary mojo on for class and the required writing assignments, I’ve become interested in my voice again. I really do have something to say and finally, I’m not afraid to say it. By turns, I can and will most likely be controversial, aggressive, sweet, inquisitive, compassionate, fearless and benevolent. What I can no longer afford to be is quiet. A return of sorts to myself is where I am – and what comes next might be fun. Stay tuned for the ride.

Sick of hearing about it yet?

Michelin released its second guide guide for the States on Monday (the first was for New York) and Bay Area foodies are up in arms.  Not since Daniel Patterson issued his manifesto, “To the Moon, Alice?” in New York Times Magazine last year has the local restaurant scene been in such an uproar.  Only French Laundry received Michelin’s highest accolade, three stars.  Frankly, I’m not surprised that only French Laundry received three stars.  No one will dispute that FL deserves them.  In fact, Michael Bauer goes on to wonder if “our restaurants are being handicapped because  it’s much better than any of the other restaurants here and the three stars in New York, including Per Se [Thomas Keller’s other haute cuisine restaurant]”.  A three star restaurant is something of an entirely different caliber than what we usually get here in the Bay Area.  If you every have the opportunity to dine at the French Laundry, you’ll see what I mean.  But people are getting mightily offended over the lack of recognition for restaurants like Slanted Door, Zuni Cafe and Delfina.  Besides the food itself, service, decor, the wine list and ambience are considered in the Michelin rating systems.  While I love the food that these three places serve, I’m afraid that all three of them are LOUD and the service is wildly inconsistent.  Because I’m a big Alice-phile, I do believe that Chez Panisse deserved two stars, but I can sort of understand why it received one.  I think that Waters deserves all the praise she gets, but when you break it down, her food is very simple and rustic.  And that’s okay – I like simple and rustic, but serving a plain, unadorned (unsliced and unpeeled) but perfect peach as dessert doesn’t require much skill.  “That’s shopping,” someone once said.  I do not understand why Aqua and Michael Mina each received two, while Gary Danko received one.   I ate at Aqua when Mina was still the head chef.  The food was excellent, but the restaurant itself was LOUD.  I don’t think the noise level has changed since Laurent Manrique took the helm.  I like an energetic and celebratory atmosphere, but not while dining on haute cuisine – that’s why we go to Zuni and Slanted Door.  I have not yet eaten at Michael Mina, but by all accounts, the service is cold and the food uninspiring.  I loved Gary Danko – the service was warm and hospitable, and the food was excellent.  The only downside to my experience was that we were seated next to an obnoxious family, but I can’t place fault with the restaurant for that. 

 In the article I previously mentioned, Daniel Patterson began “To the Moon, Alice?” by lauding Alice Waters for starting a sustainable revolution.  He goes on to criticize Bay Area restaurants for getting stuck in the Chez Panisse rut (calling it the “tyranny of Alice Waters,”) – the dogma of excellent and locally produced ingredients prepared in a simple or tradional manner.    That revolution began in the sixties, and by now, according to him, is antiquated.  He asserted that Waters’ hegemony stifled creativity and promoted a certain homogeneity.  To some extent, it’s true.  How many Cal/Med French-Italian places (sometimes with a fusion/Spanish/Latin twist) emphasizing locally produced organic ingredients have you eaten at?  You also have to consider that many food establishments, from Acme Bread to Zuni are run by Chez Panisse alumni.  But honestly, after a tough day at work, I’d rather have a “rustic” dish of braised short ribs over polenta (permutations of this dish can be found at any CalMed place) than cucumber mint gelee with candied raspberries and miniature marshmallows (which I was served at Pierre Gagnaire).

 I think there is more at play here, and that has to do with our critic at large, Michael Bauer.   Though I don’t agree with everything he has to say, I don’t think he’s a bad critic.  But after I read Garlic and Sapphires, I got the impression that new blood on the critic’s circuit fuels the restaurant scene.  Bauer has been with the Chronicle for almost twenty years.  I know there’s plenty of other good critics in town, but Bauer is by far the most influential.  So just imagine – twenty years of accomodating the tastes of one person.  What kind of impact will that have on the dining scene? 

/food

Want to write for Slashfood? Thought I’d pass the word.