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5 posts from August 2009

28 August 2009

Preparing for Rosh Hashanah 2009

As August draws to a close, the temperature begins to dip and the nights draw in, I get excited.  Autumn isn't far off - and that means good food - more particularly though, Rosh Hashanah is around the corner and that means good cooking. 

And why the excitement?  The High Holidays are a time for reflection on the year before and what is to come in the year ahead.  It is also a time that is traditionally spent with the family.  And as with any Jewish get together, that means food is present and abundant.

In our family it has become the norm that my wife and I cook lunch on the second of the two days of Rosh Hashanah for the rest of the family - about 14 people.  This year, we'll likely be cooking on both days, although the first day will be a smaller gathering with just the in-laws.

For me, the anticipation of the meal starts about now as I begin to give thought to what I might cook. 

Because it's a festival, which means a longish stretch in shul, it's lunch and there are lots of people, food needs to be ready soon after they sit down.  Usually this means that starters are cold or at least well prepared before I leave for synagogue in the morning. 

The main course is almost always something slow-cooked.  In the past I've made pot-au-feu or bollito misto.  I quite like both of these as they include tongue, which I love and which reminds me of growing up when my mother always made tongue for Rosh Hashanah.

I'm undecided on what to do this year.  Both of these champions have a lot going for them, they're delicious and they have the requisite wow factor for a feast - because let's be honest, when you're cooking for a lot of people, you might as well show off a bit.  Bollito misto lends itself well to big meals because you can use the broth as a starter - I could replace the traditional tortellini with kreplach. Then again the pot-au-feu leftovers are just so good and the definition of chef's treat.

Maybe I should do something different.  I'm loathed to not have tongue somewhere on the table.  But I am tempted to brine my own salt beef this year, ahead of a mooted salt-beef taste-off with Dan Young of Young and Foodish - a man versed in the way of salt-beef.

Tongue and salt-beef could be a goer, but it just feels a little too prosaic.  We'll have to see, maybe I could do the salt beef for another Yom Tov meal.

Starter will most certainly include chopped liver and depending on how generous I'm feeling, my guests may get some leftover gribenes.

Dessert will definitely include my apple and black pepper sorbet.  Sounds weird, but tastes great.  I'll have a recipe up in the next few days.

Time to start plotting, rereading books, recipes and mining the deepest crevices of my mind.  I'll update once I've made a decision.  I'll also be sure to write-up the sorbet recipe.  It's seriously tasty, refreshing and light after a big meal.  But sounds nasty, I know.

19 August 2009

Do it for the kreplach

I've been thoroughly impressed by David Sax's single-mindedness in his attempt to Save the Deli in the US.

Deli, read Ashkenazi, food is a phenomena in the US, but has never reached the same vaulted position in the UK.  If David thinks things are getting bad in the US, he should look at the UK.  Well he did, and he liked what he saw.  But can there be any doubt that what we have pales in significance to the US experience.

This video is the preview for the US edition of his forthcoming book.  Having just watched it I'm hungry and drooling at all that pickled meat.

As the video reminds us, what the world needs now is schmaltz, sweet schmaltz, it's the only thing that there's just too little of.  Other than gribenes, of course.

12 August 2009

Shaun Hill interview & podcast

I had intended that I'd record my interview with Shaun, write it up and just put snippets of our chat as recordings on the site.

However, I enjoyed the call so much, and he's so brilliantly frank about himself and other chefs, that I've decided instead to leave it in his voice, not mediated by me at the keyboard and let you listen to our chat in its entirety.  

A couple of apologies up front: the sound at my end is a bit rubbish and I waffle at the start, but I think I pick up the pace eventually.

I was intrigued to learn about the history of the iconic Walnut Tree.  I hadn't realised that Corbin and King were once involved, nor the truly dire consequences of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. I was sadly oblivious until tonight of Bill Baker, However, I was heartened to hear Shaun is keen to continue writing.  (Although The Merchant House Cookbook is sadly out of print, you can get it from the ever excellent Gardener & Cook.) 

I was also particularly pleased to hear that he hasn't changed his guiding principle that restraint and simplicity of execution are essential and his views on the science of food.

He lays into the odd person as well, which makes for entertaining listening if nothing else.

I haven't done a podcast for a while, so as a quick reminder, you can listen to it either on the site or in iTunes, where you can subscribe to this and previous podcasts.

I just hope it lives up to expectations.

Link to mp3 of Shaun Hill podcast
Link to Silverbrow on Food on iTunes

11 August 2009

Food bloggers vs food PRs - the smackdown, or not

When Tim Hayward asked me if I'd say a few words at last night's Bloggers & PR Summit, I thought I'd just be one of the audience talking for 30 seconds.  The truth unfolded over the course of last weekend with a series of tweets and emails from Tim and Sarah Canet, owner of Spoon PR, and Tim's co-organiser. 

So last night I wasn't in the audience but sitting on a table with Sarah, Tim, fellow food blogger, Oliver Thring and a three-strong contingent from Lutchford.

The premise of the evening was that bloggers and food PRs don't understand each other, so we should sit down, look in the whites of each others' eyes and sort out our differences. 

It was clear from last night that a large swathe of bloggers and PRs simply don't get each other.  I think it comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding of the others' motives.

PRs are there to represent their clients, de facto they are looking out for their client's best interests.  They are used to working with journalists, who are not only trained but do what they do in return for a pay-cheque, as do the PRs themselves.

Bloggers are largely untrained and unpaid.  However they are fanatical and passionate about what they do.

Some bloggers assume their ability to logon to their blog software of choice, gives them carte blanche to demand attention from the food industry.

Equally, some PRs assume that because they represent the best chefs/restaurants/products they deserve to be able to be part of the discussion with bloggers.  I think perhaps this is the biggest change they're having to deal with. 

This sense of entitlement, coming from both sides is wrong, but it's understandable.

Bloggers often are not from a communications background and with a misplaced sense of 'their ethics' they think either they don't need PRs or PRs are downright dirty.

PRs are not used to not being part of the conversation and believe they have a lot to add.

In both cases there are those who are on the sides of right and wrong.

PRs are a fantastic resource and are gatekeepers.  Bloggers as fanatics are desperate to say good things about what they're writing.  The two should get on like the proverbial burning house. 

Speaking for myself, I am an amateur and revel in that status.  I love food (and am growing to love writing) so any help I can receive to enhance my experience is very gratefully received.

But that's not to say I want to be spammed by PRs and I'm not a panting puppy waiting for any scrap thrown my way.  I spend a lot of time and some money putting effort into this site and although I write primarily for myself, I appreciate that I have built up a certain level of credibility.  I'm not going to sully it - the consequences when you do are painful.  But wouldn't any journalist who values their credibility as independent arbiters say the same?  Most I'm sure would.  Although, as an aside, I am flummoxed how Fay Maschler manages to be both a critic and run a consultancy, despite her disclosure.  There must be some sort of conflict there that would freak out many bloggers.

Nonetheless, working with PRs is not eating with the enemy.  It is, when working with good PRs, getting good information and access.

One of the most fascinating things for me that came out of last night was the dynamic between the PRs and their clients.  Two aspects were particularly interesting. 

First, they said that in order to get paid they needed to demonstrate a value next to all relevant coverage.  I assume therefore they have some sort of rate card so that if a client is mentioned by AA Gill, the PR firm is paid £x and by Fay Maschler they are paid £y.

I find this bizarre.  This is PR not advertising.  As such it is about influencing decision makers, not measuring the number of eyeballs that see a poster campaign.   How does one ever measure influence? 

Nonetheless that is the industry norm so nearly everyone in the room last night seemed to stick to it.  The consequence is that this very false measure of success entrenches the old guard: it is more valuable for a PR to focus their attention on a print journalist (happily ignoring the multifarious problems the print industry is facing) because they earn more money doing so, and that will be true next time they're promoting something and so on.

Which brings me onto the second thing I noticed, the dynamic between PRs and their clients.  Clearly by sitting in the room, the PRs felt us bloggers had some value but repeatedly speakers said that their clients refused to believe bloggers are relevant. 

As hard as it is to measure the success of PR it is equally hard to measure the readership of blogs.  Although there are ways of measuring readership of pages, it doesn't include those who subscribe to RSS feeds, follow on Twitter or through Facebook.  Nor does it take into account the quality of one's readership or the quality of the blogger themselves. But this lack of measurement means, in this slightly warped fee structure, that there is no value attached to any of our content.

So it seems that the food PR industry is in a bind.  They clearly know some bloggers are relevant, they just can't prove it. 

Now possibly the luddite chefs are right and bloggers are a complete irrelevance.  It has to be a possibility, but lets face it, it is unlikely that there are no bloggers worth engaging with.  I don't think anyone would argue the Dos Hermanos aren't important voices in UK food and their theoretical reach is much wider than that of any print copy journalist.

So why don't PRs convince their clients that they're wrong.  They are hired as advisors in how to deal with communications.  They should be advising their clients that (some) bloggers are very relevant and influential.  They also should be doing the groundwork in figuring out who the relevant bloggers are.  And remember, as with print journalists, the relevant bloggers will depend on the product being flogged.  We are not a homogenous group.  But then again, neither are PRs.

Finally, the corollary of the focus on the rate card and the inability to value (financially or emotionally) bloggers means interestingly that PRs and their clients must attribute zero value to the online coverage of the print journalists.  So what are the implications for PRs, chefs and print journalists if the doom-mongers are right and print journalism declines rapidly?  Who gets paid then?

05 August 2009

Shaun Hill interview postponed

Unfortunately I've had to postpone my interview with Shaun until next Wednesday - I've had a real life/non-blog issue cause a clash.  All being well, it will definitely be next week.