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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Foodie & The Truth

The Foodie and The Truth

"A truth that's told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent."
William Blake

We have spoken within this writing regarding the actions and the inner working of those who choose to serve and do so  with excellence. There are however those who are a nemesis of the service operator. They choose a different path and the weapons they choose to battle with are written words. A select few are the ones who truly are dedicated to cuisine, others approach from haughty know it all attitude. They speak with roars but have attached little truth to what they say. So I have an acronym for them as to what the truth could be: Taking Real Understanding to Heart. Those who serve as partners in business are known as the "critic" some are hired to be truthful in journalism, others have elevated themselves to the position and believe they are void of the responsibilities that journalist must live by. In the hospitality industry they have renamed themselves many times over the years. Once known as gastronomes  they became known as the epicures, later gourmets but now they call themselves "the foodie."

 Gastronomy is a word derived from two ancient Greek words,  gastér, meaning stomach and nómos, the laws which govern. Therefore Gastronomy is the a study of the laws that govern that which goes into the stomach. The most respected of all gastronomes would be Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the author of the, Physiology of Taste. A brilliant writer his works have been the foundation and trustworthy source for most other gastronomes including Prosper Montagné who wrote Larousse Gastronomique the dictionary standard for cooking (especially French cuisine) the world over. Any gastronome would be of little worth without having read and fully understanding both of these founders of the laws which govern the stomach. It is important to note that Brillat-Savarin was an outstanding cook and Montagné was an incredible chef. To write well on cuisine you must be able to prepare it in excellence as well. A critic words has no value if in fact they cannot perform that which they are reviewing. "Whoever receives friends and does not participate in the preparation of their meal does not deserve to have friends." Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

The "Epicurean" is a philosophy of luxurious pleasures, especially those of food, drink, and bodily comfort. The epicurean follows the teaching of Epicurus an ancient Greek philosopher who taught that life was about pleasure. Therefore all epicurean's propagate a teaching of the pleasure of food. Their writing must herald that the experience is well worth the effort. Epicurus taught that pleasure was gained through modesty in life.  He said, "It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly. And it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life." A conundrum of life.

The epicurean is also an ethicurean one who believes in eating ethically without depriving oneself of taste. They hold to a local, sustainable, organic philosophy and their writings concern themselves with these areas including that of most cuisines. Epicureans would hold to the writings of Miguel Angel Ruiz author of the "Four Agreements" which are:
Be Impeccable With Your Word.
Don't Take Anything Personally.
Don't Make Assumptions.
Always Do Your Best.

For the epicurean he has said "Be Impeccable With Your Word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love." This philosophy would clearly prevent the harsh and destructive words used against many establishments today found on websites such as Yelp, Trip Advisor, Urbanspoon and others (but we will get to them.)

The "Gourmet" is an idealist with a focus upon the culinary arts of fine food and drink, or haute cuisine, a person of discriminating taste and who is knowledgeable in the preparation of food. One who is passionate about all areas of food and its formulation. They have the palate and the skill to back their opinion in their writings. Perhaps one of the finest of gourmets was Craig Claiborne the well known and equally respected food editor of the New York Times. Author of many cookbooks including the New York Times cookbook an important book for any cook to own. Many gourmet's are also gourmands which is an epicurean on steroids, any person given over to the excesses of fine dining. They live by the words of Mae West, "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful." Mr. Claiborne once consumed a 31 course meal in his pursuit of the finest of food. Again the gourmet speaks about food and concerns themselves with the all aspects of its preparation and service. So their writings are focused upon these points, they equip themselves with knowledge and have the skills to fortify their words.

The Foodie, pick any of the aforementioned review sites and a good amount of the reviews will be written by someone who is a blogger, oh, what's a blogger? Defined by "A blog is a personal diary. A daily pulpit. A collaborative space. A political soapbox. A breaking-news outlet. A collection of links. Your own private thoughts. Memos to the world." So these food writing bloggers consider themselves to be a "Foodie." So then what is a foodie, best possible explanation is a mishmash of the Gourmet, Epicurean and Gastronomoe, that being the best explanation. However the most common definition is a person who simply has taken a limit amount of knowledge and portrays themselves as an expert in the topic of cuisine.  
I performed an unscientific test, to determine the skill level of foodie bloggers, the result was only 2 of 100 actually had any culinary training, knowledge or work experience. Here is an example of what I found in my study. A world famous three star Michelin guide (highest they award) rated restaurant located in the Napa Valley of California, of 13 restaurant critics, all gave the highest rating possible including the aforementioned three stars. Of the twenty nine foodie bloggers 9 gave a very negative report, 1 on the same day Michelin awarded their three stars (who are you going to believe?) Of the 13 critics all have culinary backgrounds and are paid by their employers (not the restaurant) to review food service establishments. Of the twenty nine foodie bloggers only 1 had any culinary background or history equipping them to review restaurants, (I know not if any are paid.) Skilled blogging foodie's (by skilled I mean having knowledge of the culinary arts and are not writing just because they like to eat) write because they want to express themselves in an artistic manner. They are not paid for writing, if they were paid then the review is called into question which would make them a "hack." "Truth will always be truth, regardless of lack of understanding, disbelief or ignorance." W. Clement Stone

The foodie blogger is obliged to speak (write) the truth for if they do not then the blog becomes nothing more than a lie and the author, the creator of the lie.  The foodie blogger must be true to the reader, the food, the establishment, and the public, to break trust by writing something untrue is to devalue all who are dependent upon the writing. We all have heard that we are not to believe everything we read, yet we desire to do so. That is why cult's do so well, lazy people believe what they read then do nothing to find the truth. "One of the peculiar sins of the twentieth century which we've developed to a very high level is the sin of credulity. It has been said that when human beings stop believing in God they believe in nothing. The truth is much worse: they believe in anything." Malcolm Muggeridge The foodie blogger or writer is not a cult leader but a cuisine leader and must lead the follower on a path that is true to the cuisine.

Although some foodie bloggers can cause havoc, they are an important part of doing business. When they review a restaurant truthfully the operator has a great opportunity to improve. Truthful bloggers are in a sense partnered with the operation in that the words they choose to use can increase or decrease sales, a positive review which goes viral can actually overwhelm the restaurant, the negative one can crush them. A foodie blogger has equal responsibility to that of any other food critic, the truth and nothing but the truth.

As the review sites grow (and they will) so too shall the foodie bloggers that use them as their means to vent, what should an operator who believes in their service do? Many of the sites allow the operator to respond to any reviewer, so monitor the sites (Twitter too) and respond to the reviewer in the same manner you would as if they were still seated in your restaurant. If the reviewer has given valid points, listen to them, and don't make excuses for a poor performance.  Any operator should welcome point of views that will help do the job better. A reviewer who use vague wordy comments are more difficult the respond to, when the review is "the worst thing I ever ate" it begs the question, why? The reviewer needs to be more specific with the comment, why was it the worst. I find it difficult to believe a 1,2 or 3 star restaurant actually made anyone the worst thing they ever ate. In lesser qualified restaurants reviewers need to understand the skill level of the service offered and write accordingly. Perhaps invite the foodie blogger to spend a night working along side the chef and see how they do, and let them know that you too get to write a review on their performance, if they believe in the foodie principals they would jump at such an invitation.

Anonymous appears at the restaurant for a dinner service, great they should, thus being able to receive the exact same service as everyone else, anonymous however should never write as such. Anonymous, who is he or she, how does one take the comments made seriously if they won't even identify themselves and who they may be. We stand beside one another is providing excellence in service, how do stand with whom you cannot know for they choose to hide. "I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong." Abraham Lincoln Anonymous often will blog comments they would never say in a face to face conversation therefore the comment is not constructive and needs to treated as such. Their comments are often like a virus which quickly spreads and to others (going viral is the expression) with the same disease that they suffer with, there are healthy viruses but not often found on review sites. There is a name for those who join the bandwagon and add their comments to the original one, they are called "trolls" nothing more need be said. Anonymous means there is no way to verify the skills of the writer and therefore one can only assume the skill is that they have a hate on for whom they are writing about. Although sometimes the bloggers' comments may be slightly negative but it is the trolls that do the damage with just a little feeding, anonymous is still responsible to stop the feeding by being identifiable and by replying to each troll comment.

The fodie(as I have said) is an important part of the food business, as partners, we welcome their input. A writer who uses his or her ability to build the relationship with the customer while not agreeing with you on all points can be very helpful. The actions of the foodie blogger must be those of the paid food critic, no exceptions, same code of ethics. Once you have posted to the internet you are a publisher and thus must abide by the same rules any publisher would demand of their journalists. "Truth is not a matter of fact but a state of harmony with progress and hope. Enveloped only in its wings will we ever soar to the promise of our greater selves." Bryant H. McGill Foodie bloggers may want the subscribe to the same code of ethics as the food reviewer, see then sign up. Finally be true and truthful, true to yourself, the reader and the food, then report truthfully. "Between falsehood and useless truth there is little difference. As gold which he cannot spend will make no man rich, so knowledge which cannot apply will make no man wise." Samuel Johnson

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