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9 posts from July 2007

31 July 2007

Forthcoming podcast: Claudia Roden

I am delighted that after a short hiatus my podcasts are back. I am particularly delighted that Claudia Roden will be my subject. She is a prolific author with a self-evident passion for the food she is writing about. For me what sets her writing apart, is the social history that peppers her books and adds meaningful colour to well written and researched journalists.

My particular favourites are her Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand and Vilna to the Present Day and The Food of Italy.

If you have got any questions you would like me to ask her, email me or leave a comment below, by Monday afternoon, UK time.

30 July 2007

A response to John Whiting on blogs

This is a somewhat belated response to John Whiting's summary of my talk to The Guild of Food Writers.  There is much of what he wrote that I disagree with.  I don't think blogs are about "feeling the width", quantity over quality or a mere passing phase of popular mania.  I fail to understand John's point that blogs are harder to search than other websites.  As site is limited by its navigability.

John also tries to draw a distinction between 'ordinary' websites and blogs, a distinction that I think is irrelevant.  There is very little difference as far as the average reader is concerned between the two.  I am willing to bet that if someone googled Paris bistros (John's speciality) and came across Whitings Writings and then did a similar search for kosher food in London and came across Silverbrow on Food, they wouldn't appreciate the difference between the two sites.  I also question whether they would care whether there is a difference between the two.  What people want is good information or comment that is well written.  I know that's what John provides and I hope I get somewhere close as well.

However, I do agree that for essays blogs are not the best medium.  But I would extend the argument, I think the internet is not the best medium for lengthy Elizabeth David style essays.  But more to the point, the beauty of the likes of David is her rarity, very few people write like her or have her knowledge or food.  It doesn't matter what the medium is, few people can reach her heights.  Whether I wrote on a more traditional website or some GFW members wrote on a blog, the quality of the writing simply is not comparable.

But, we should remember that John wrote his article primarily for the members of the GFW and it needs to be read in that context.  This is something that John makes clear in the comments to his post.  The GFW is for people who write about food professionally and those attending my talk were clearly interested in what the internet can do for them.  He may well have a point that blogs are not the best way for a writer to promote themselves.  Writing a blog is very different to writing for a newspaper or magazine, the obvious differences are the style and timeliness required for a blog.  But they do have their advantages.  Blogs require regular updating and therefore require the author to write frequently - never a bad thing.  Posts also tend to be relatively brief, thus giving a reader (or potential editor) an idea of the blogger's skills of self-editing and brevity.  Given that, I suppose I better stop now.

29 July 2007

Waitrose sticks it to Whole Foods

Waitrose has got trading standards on to Whole Foods, according to The Sunday Times. It seems that Waitrose and at least two others, have suggested that Whole Foods' policy of selling anything from the UK as 'local' is more than a little misleading. I have made no secret of what I think of Whole Foods, but it seems it will take trading standards a couple of weeks to publish its findings. I'm not sure what the law on this is, but I wonder whether trading standards will actually have much in the way of teeth to act on this. Anyway, this will be one to watch.

28 July 2007

Sniffing out the industry

I know I am yet to post my response to John Whiting's email, but as most people would no doubt expect, I disagree with much of what he has to say, although by no means all. Anyway, that's a long way of getting round to recommending that you go and take a look at Napkin Sniffing.

It is a blog written by a British restaurant insider who wants to remain nameless and I am happy to accommodate that. It is worth noting though that in previous incarnations this person has written for old media. Interesting that they have moved on to blogs. Except of course, that on blogs they have an ability to remain anonymous and say things they might not have felt free to say elsewhere. No doubt they will get some criticism for hiding behind the cloak of anonymity, but it should also allow us outsiders to get to know what is really happening in the restaurant industry in London. I'm hoping for some fireworks.

25 July 2007

John Whiting on blogs

I was invited by the good burghers of The Guild of Food Writers to talk about blogging. Those people in the room, who had kindly paid to come and hear me write about food professionally. Hence their incredulity that I spend so much time writing without any expectation of being paid. I can see that is rather scary from their point of view. Eyedropper gives a pretty good summary of the night.

However, I was particularly intrigued by an email I received from John Whiting. I have known, in the internet sense of the word, John for a few years. We have come across each other primarily on food forums and exchanged emails. He has been thrown off virtually every food forum for managing to infuriate one management team after another. An impressive feat that I admire him for - especially as so far he has managed not to get on the wrong side of the notoriously controlling lot at eGullet. He is also the author of Whitings Writings, a website, not a blog he would stress, that focuses on Paris bistros.

Back to that email. John had written a summary of my talk for fellow members of GFW, that I found thought-provoking. He has agreed for me to repost it here, which I have done, in full below. I am interested in readers' views on what John has to say about the importance of blogs. I'll post my views in the next couple of days.

Silverbrow’s workshop on blogging was so expertly presented that it narrowed down attention from the larger and more interesting question of websites in general — indeed, of the entire internet as the growing means of global communication. Blogging is getting all the attention because, like using a Blackberry, anyone can do it (providing they’re young enough). Newspapers and magazines are wild about blogs because they fill up the space vacated by their shrinking journalistic and editorial staff; never mind the quality, feel the width.

At the entry level, blogs are to writing as ready-meals are to cooking. They’re fine as Show and Tell for grownups, but as a carefully considered and categorically arranged archive they are about as accessible as a stack of old newspapers. And there’s a breathless air about them that doesn’t take kindly to the discursive essay. Imagine the prose of Elizabeth David or M.F.K. Fisher in blog format — it would be like dressing them in track suits.

As for finding your way around in blogs, the more sophisticated versions may have on-site Google search, but that’s useless if you don’t know what to search for. Down-the-edge indexing, if it works, just takes you to a snapshot in an endless home movie. (Political blogs are a different matter; their content tends to be both urgent and ephemeral.)

As a vehicle for your CV, contact details and samples of your work, a blog soon looks dated if you don’t keep adding to it – unattended blogs have a strong whiff of mortality. And the more you add, the more your original material gets buried. So what’s the solution? Putting together a proper website, like cooking a proper meal, is a skill that doesn’t come instantly. You must be prepared either to put in the time and effort or pay someone who knows how to do it properly — there are so many slick websites now that a bog-standard format looks amateurish.

If you go to the GFW Members’ Web Links page, you’ll find that they are all proper sites, not blogs. The only exception is Charles Campion’s, which is attached to the Evening Standard, for which he writes; it goes with the territory.

17 July 2007

Where have all the jokes gone?

When was the last time you heard a good joke? Not received in an email or watched on YouTube but actually heard one, mano a mano. Can you remember the last time someone tried to tell you a joke, repressing the urge to laugh at their own sense of humour but revelling in the joy of the perfect punchline? I can't and it has been bothering me.

This isn't food related, granted, but we all need a bit of joy in our life.

15 July 2007

Whole Foods and Waitrose

Some people have asked me why I have such a visceral dislike of Whole Foods. Fundamentally my issue is that Whole Foods sells a myth and so many people buy into it. The most obvious example is that despite the perception all the food is organic, large amounts of it are not.

It now turns out we shouldn't be so surprised that all is not what it seems at this bleeding-heart mecca. Chief Executive John Mackey has been posting anonymously on Yahoo finance forums playing up his own company and it is receiving lots of coverage. This kind of slightly dodgy, slightly sinister behaviour, is indicative of the wider issues I have with the company and its stores.

Whilst I'm on the topic of shops getting it wrong, I feel the need to unleash my wrath on Waitrose's redesigned store in Marylebone High Street. The place is hideous. The first thing I noticed on walking in are the copious quantities of pre-packaged fruit and vegetable in homely wicker baskets. I find it very odd, that in the heart of food obsessed London, so much of the food is wrapped in plastic, especially when they've got The Natural Kitchen breathing down their neck, a few doors up the street. If their harping on about all the market research is true, I fear for the way my fellow shoppers shop.