About The New York Times…and No Reservations: Two Views on Food Blogging

If you follow us already, either here or on Facebook (or both), then you probably already know this.

And, if you just found us based on a very recent article you read in a well-known newspaper, you already know this as well.

For the rest of you, whomever that leaves, we were one of six different Jersey-based food blogs to be featured in an article in the New York Times about the food blogging scene in New Jersey. And as much as I could try to downplay it, let’s face it – it’s pretty friggin’ cool. Recent incidents over the last few years may have hurt its reputation, but it’s still the New York Times, it’s still The Paper of Record, and it’s still read by an awful lot of people. Have we seen an increase in traffic on our site due to the article? Oh yeah.

And what of the article itself? We’re pretty happy with it. It’s a positive look at the ‘vibrant culture’ of food blogging we have in Jersey, and it’s very true. There are a lot of food bloggers here, and whether they are recipe-based, restaurant-based, or a bit of both, you won’t run out of good things to read. Even just looking at the six blogs that were mentioned shows a nice variety: Alex and Brandon’s A Food Coma has lots of great recipes and fun reviews covering Philly and South Jersey – told from a young college kid’s POV (and at my age, I can say ‘young college kid’); Deb’s Jersey Bites blog is shaping up to be a wonderful state-wide showcase of restaurant reviews and recipes; F Scott and Zelda are lovers of fine food and great wines and are constantly giving you updates on wineries that are not in the mainstream; our kindred spirit Robin does her best to keep things local and green on her South Jersey Locavore blog; and, of course, there’s our little corner of the blogosphere.

For me, it was quite an honor to also be mentioned alongside Jason Perlow’s Off The Broiler blog. When we were kicking around the idea of starting a food blog, one of our friends told us to check out his blog to get an idea of how it works. Off The Broiler, for my money, is the gold standard of what a food blog should look and read like.

Now I purposely mentioned Jason’s blog last to segue into what I watched tonight on “No Reservations” about people with food obsessions – which, of course, had to include food bloggers. This was not as nice a view of bloggers as the Times article; in fact, it was a pretty terrible view of bloggers.

The blogger portion of the show focused on the men who founded eGullet, Jason and Steven Shaw, along with Steve Plotnicki, who was on the board of eGullet and now runs Opinionated About Dining. And what is clear from hearing these guys, as well as reading some articles online, is that there was (and still is) some bad blood between them. OK, fine – it sounded very real and legit. But do we need to brush all food bloggers with such a broad stroke?

Look – I know it’s television; they need to tell a story quickly and make it grab you right away, so portraying bloggers as an angry and feisty lot was probably seen as being more attractive than trying to present a more balanced view. Watching Steven Shaw respond to Tony Bourdain’s questions and comments, and every other comment seemed to be tainted with some angry overtones, made for good television (I guess). It also made me feel kind of bad for Steven. It seems like he has some real issues in his life, and I hope someday down the road he figures things out. In the meantime, though, he seems to be eating well, so I guess there’s that going for him.

I also felt bad for poor Jason in the episode. He has had to cut many things out of his diet for health reasons, and yet there they were, him and Tony, at White Manna in Hackensack. And to make matters worse, they give Jason a salad to eat while Tony chomps down on a burger. Nice, Tony…very nice.

So, in order for me to really succeed as a food blogger, does this mean that I need to a) be angry, b) be geeky, c) have this gaping hole in my life that needs to be filled, or d) all of the above?

Oh dear.

OK, I am geeky to an extent. I can’t deny that. I mean – I’ve been doing fantasy baseball since 1986 for God’s sake, so there’s a geek side to me. Angry? Why? If you allow yourself to be angry over something, that ‘something’ is renting space in your head, space that could be used for better purposes. And as far as gaping holes in my life, I’m lucky to have a wonderful woman as a wife and two beautiful kids as children, not to mention friends and family that love and care about me. What gaping hole?

The one aspect in the piece that I did agree with Bourdain, to a certain extent, was the picture-taking of food at a restaurant. Clearly Tony is not a big fan of it, and it’s an issue with which I still wrestle. There are restaurants that we have gone to where we left the camera at home – on purpose. If we’re going to a really nice place to enjoy a quiet evening, the blogging portion comes after the meal, when we sit in the car and talk about things and take notes. During the meal, it’s not only about enjoying the food but enjoying each other’s company.

But again and again, the piece on bloggers came back to the angry in-fighting aspect. And while there seemed to be (and still is) a lot of that surrounding eGullet, it by no means represents the food blogging culture as a whole. Most of the bloggers I have met are really good people that enjoy food as much as I do and love to talk shop and trade stories of great meals in their lives.

So Tony, if you really think all of us food bloggers are angry geeks that are desperate to fill a vacuum in their lives, why not take a trip down the Turnpike to Tortilla Press Cantina on Tuesday night and we can chat during the SJ TweetUp. Maybe I can offer a different perspective.

– John

PS: I can’t help adding my two cents on this, too, since we both blog here. As much as I love watching Tony Bourdain (I totally agree with his philosophy of food being as “close to a hug as you can get”), I think he missed an important blogging purpose: filling the hole that is frequently left by the mainstream media. We chose to write about South Jersey food because there is stuff going on down here not covered by the Philadelphia Inquirer or even the North Jersey-centric New Jersey Monthly; and we want people to know about it. I would even point out that when No Reservations did their “New Jersey” show, it was all about North Jersey, with a mere nod to Asbury Park (and no mention of the burgeoning food scene there); while the cast and crew were salivating over Hiram’s dogs in Fort Lee, there was no mention of its long-time rival next door, Callahan’s, or the history of Palasades Park (the reason these stands were there in the first place). There is always an alternative point of view, because we all have our own passions and agendas. To represent only the angry bloggers who are out to prove something and smash all opposition creates drama worthy of ratings but ignores the real reason most people read blogs : to follow their passion using another source not available anywhere else- for that moment, anyway.
-Lisa

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7 thoughts on “About The New York Times…and No Reservations: Two Views on Food Blogging

  1. That broad generalization of food bloggers does sound pretty lame. I have no anger. In fact, I'm pretty happy 99 percent of the time.I will definitely need to check this out. Hopefully, it will air on On Demand or Travel Network will rebroadcast it. Love Bourdain.

  2. A couple of things to clarify.The "Salad" bit in the segment was my idea. I wanted it in there for humorous effect. I actually did eat one burger after the interview. It was also taped 10 months ago, in May of 2009. We spoke for well over an hour and like any TV show it was edited down to just a few minutes. The DVD will have extended material on it.It should also be noted that Steven Plotnicki was never at any time a "Board Member" of eGullet. eGullet.com was a private company solely owned by me in 2003-2004 when Plotnicki, who was a member of the site just like any other regular poster, went off to do his own thing.eGullet became a Not for Profit in 2005. At that time a Board of Directors was established, which included Steven Shaw, Paula Wolfert, Jonathan Day and myself. I resigned from the board of directors in 2006 when I dedicated my efforts to Off The Broiler.

  3. Jason,Hmmm, when I read what John wrote this morning, I did caution him that it might not have been Bourdain's (or his crew's)idea about the salad (pretty funny-and it did earn you a lot of sympathy votes 🙂 I'm glad you at least had ONE White Manna burger: I mean the Dr. didn't say never, never, ever, did he? Thanks for taking the time to correct things- bloggers have enough to worry about without spreading around the wrong facts.Also, congrats on the segment!-Lisa

  4. yes, I am disappointed not being included in the NYTimes article. I've only been writing since July, but over 100 carefully written articles later, plus 3/4 of a page in Saveur Magazine, plus several reviews for NJ Monthly and the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America ed.,2,Edible Jersey, NJmyway.com, NJ Savvy Living,NJ Life, Chutzpah, Wild River Review (Editor) and many, many other magazines and newspapers… you would think that would deserve a mention? The world is a big place. I think I'll focus on someplace other than New Jersey, maybe I'll write about Spain.

  5. Warren – You've done so many wonderful things so far in your young writing career, and yet you seem more concerned about not getting mentioned in the NYT. I dunno – maybe you should be focused more on the good stuff that's happening. Just a thought. – John

  6. agreed. You're very right, John. Just a bit raw about it. That's all. yes it is a young career. I guess at 48 I expect the stars and immediate gratification that comes with it. Ah, the internet age. 10 years ago I'd be thrilled just to have one reader.

  7. Hey John and Lisa,I was able to catch No Reservations tonight, and I agree with you 100 percent about the segment on food bloggers.I particularly found it interesting that Bourdain was all cranky-pants about the blogger taking photos of food, and yet his TV show has TV camera, lights and sound equipment all up in the joint at restaurants all over the world when filming for his show, including the one in which his blogger snarkiness was going down. Pot kettle black, anyone?Anyway, Lisa, we've subscribed to the Inquirer for a bazillion years and I always look forward to the food section and I'm 90-percent of the time disappointed in its contents. Thank you so much for your awesome blog!

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