Friday, July 8

The professional food critic speaks

In my recent post What Makes Food "Good" I wrote about how far removed some professional food critics are from their readers - the difference in tastes, in what we value, in what we are willing to pay for a meal. Different, especially to your average university student on a budget. Then I read an interesting article from a professional food critic, which was surprisingly harsh towards food bloggers - ouch. Let's start with a synopsis of his main points.

He claims that the art of criticism has been lost, with bloggers who "tend to jump on the bandwagon" instead of providing unbias views. A professional's opinion is more valuable, because he has "seen all the pictures". Yet these days, he claims, no one has seen all the pictures but are attempting to be critics by "hyperventilating - on Facebook, Twitter, or on their own blog." He goes on to prove that food bloggers aren't contributing in terms of criticism because they have a personal focus for example, rather than talking about the culinary skills. Users of Urbanspoon are "as silly as asking a bloke on the beach to extract one of your teeth instead of going to the dentist", amateurs simply don't have the skills or experience to differentiate good food from bad food. He finishes off by questioning whether the professional food critic is a career under threat.

I agree that professional food critics have the experience and knowledge to make interesting and informative comments that casual reviewers like ourselves aren't able to replicate. I agree also with the writer, that bloggers have a different focus. Yet I disagree the belittling manner towards amateur writers.  Plenty of diners (professionals as well as amateurs) give good reviews simply because others have done so. Needless to say, a professional site will not have the personal content of a personal blog, but the personal experience is part of the meal and that's one of the appealing factors about reading blogs. Before choosing a restaurant, we want to know about the dining experience, in a holistic way. Finally, the views of everyday folk is valuable and that's why Urbanspoon is popular. Think about it, how many times have you visited a new restaurant because a friend or family member has recommended it to you? She may not be a professional food critic, but why does she have to be for word of mouth to be effective?

The internet has brought about change. Some of these include ability of anyone to contribute to common knowledge, common opinion. For example via blogs, via Wikipedia and social networking sites. But really, how can you feel that your profession is being undermined because people can read and write reviews on the internet? Are doctors concerned about the future of their profession because patients can freely access health information and diagnosis via Google? (Yes, I suppose a small proportion are.)