Interview with 730 ABC

Now I’m not exactly a shrinking violet or a wall flower (as many of my friends will attest) but it was with a little trepidation recently, that I agreed to be interviewed for a story on food blogging to be screened ON TV. What to wear ? How do I do my hair ? How to stop from sounding like an idiot or offending someone ? It was a tricky prospect.

Of course I’ve always got plenty to say when it comes to food blogging and media, and the changing face of the industry in our fair little city of Perth, so It really didn’t take long to settle into the swing of things.

The piece was put together by Claire Nichols for the ABC’s WA edition of 730, and she did a great job. Along with myself she talked to Mei of Libertine Eats and Liz from Breakfast in Perth about their food blogging endeavours and experiences, and how they got into this crazy game. She also got some mainstream media opinion from Rob Broadfield who was actually rather friendly for once (I’m looking forward to reading his future blog).

He talked about the need for transparency in blogging and his dislike for anonymous bloggers who have nobody to hold them to account. I tend to agree with him on certain points. Good content comes from being informed and doing your research. Uninformed opinion is a slap in the face to restauranteurs and the industry and doesn’t do your reputation or your readers any good. Having said that though, the gist of his comments were towards things said on Urbanspoon, whose “reviews” at times, can be about as helpful as reading the comments on an Andrew Bolt article when it comes to informed and reasonable opinion.

I’d also take issue with his remarks that restauranteurs hate bloggers. I’ve always had rather positive experiences when I’ve chatted to restauranteurs and most of them have been very appreciative of the exposure they’ve had online. Smart owners and chefs should realise that bloggers can be very good for business when dealt with properly (which does not include banning photos or writing spiteful comments in response to unfavourable reviews). I’m also going to take a stab and say that in terms of popularity – the owners of places he’s panned in the past aren’t going to be sending him Christmas cards anytime soon.

In the end I think good content is good content. I’m just as happy to get my information from a blogger I trust, as I am a well known newspaper or magazine critic. If someone makes the effort to know their stuff, has a love of food and a way with words, that’s all I really need. That I write a blog is simply the medium I most often choose to get my words out there, and the one that suits me the best.

And what can I say, blogging has been very good to me. It’s given me the opportunity to write for professional publications, it’s led to my photography appearing in exhibitions and magazines, and it inadvertently led me to meet my wife, which are all what I’d call fairly significantly moments.

So here’s the interview, I hope you enjoy it, and keep your eye out for a quick glimpse of the wonderful Jerry Fraser who joined Marcela and I for a quick lunch at the excellent Five Bar in Mt Lawley (post on them coming soon).

Not so Tiny Bites


The world of blogging is indeed a marvellously serendipitous place. I am constantly amazed by the number of interesting and special people I come across, and am privileged to be able to get to know. The virtual links I’ve established over the years have not only taught me a lot about the way other people live, and eat, but they’ve also made me firm friends around the globe.

One such friend is Karen of Tiny Bites. Back when I met Karen she was a food crazy, salsa dancing, photo snapping, Vancouverite. Merrily uploading her photos to Flickr, blogging about food and life and translating Spanish salsa songs into English.

Every time I’d talk to Karen the subject of food, wine, and restaurants would inevitably arise. We’d discuss the reasons why dining in Vancouver is better than dining in Perth (many) and the reasons why Australian wine (Shiraz especially) is better than BC wine (also many :) ) Seeing all of this effort though, it seemed to me that Karen would be an ideal candidate to start up her own food blog, where she could properly explore and have her own place for all her food thoughts and ideas.

So with a little prompting from myself and a few others, Tiny Bites was born, and Karen has yet to look back. It’s been a year now since she started it, and has just launched a new version of her site, where her popularity and success has led her to move into food consulting full time. She now photographs, writes, and develops web sites for Vancouver restaurants and businesses. She’s been heard on radio, written about in news papers, and surely television appearances can’t be far off :)

So this is just a little note to say, well done Karen, I always knew you had it in you, and I will never miss your birthday :)

The Serendipity of Perth

Kervella Little Creatures

Perth is a funny little town. One minute you’re sitting in a restaurant enjoying some excellent cheese and wine with some friends, and the next you’re chatting to one of the worlds premier food bloggers.

Such was my experience last Wednesday night.

Our dear friends Alex and Linda had invited us to join them at Must Wine Bar, to once and for all time farewell the wonderful Kervella goats cheese (pictured above on the left), which is no longer being produced. Russell Blaikie, head chef at Must, has been an avid supporter of Gabrielle Kervella and her goats since the early days, and saw it only fit to farewell them in style with a week long expose of special dishes featuring the cheeses.

Now I was aware that Clotilde was coming to Perth. I (along with a hundred or so other people) had given her a few recommendations of places to try and things to do. But I should have known that the beauty of Perth being a big country town would come to the fore once again.

Sitting in the restaurant enjoying a fresh goats cheese souffle and a shallot tart tatin with Kervellas famous ‘rondolet’, musing as to whether or not I liked the glass of Marsanne I’d ordered, I turned around and who should be sitting at the table next to us, but the one and only Clotilde.

So after some umm’ing and ahh’ing reminiscent of a pimply teenager plucking up the courage to ask a date to the school ball, I went over and introduced myself. Of course I needn’t have been nervous, Clotilde was perfectly lovely and accommodating. We chatted a little about the meal and her first taste of sparkling Shiraz (which I think was well received). Then made plans to have dinner later next week.

So then on Friday the first events of the Perth Writers Festival were held. Clotilde spoke of life and food in Paris and pursuing your writing dreams, along side Carmen Michael, a writer from Sydney who jumped ship and lived in Rio de Janeiro for 4 years. A great talk and very inspiring to anyone thinking of packing in their day jobs and living the romantic life of a wandering writer.

After the talk I got the chance to get Clotilde to sign her book for me, and attend another session with Lucy Malouf and Stephen Downes about food writing in general, chaired by the magnanimous Verity James. Then it was lunch time. I took the liberty of offering to show Clotilde a little of the city, and she graciously accepted. So off we went down to Fremantle and the effortless cool that is Little Creatures.

Now this place really deserves a post on it’s own. The high ceiling industrial setting of the brewery, mixed with the long bar, funky wait staff, and fantastic beer and food, sets this place apart from the majority of Perth pubs as far as I’m concerned. Clotilde was keen to try some local seafood and of course kangaroo, so we jumped straight into the ordering. Kangaroo skewers with bush tomato chutney, prosciutto wrapped prawns, a spinach, avocado and gruyere salad, and a serve of chilli mussels. Washed down with a pint of Pipsqueak cider. An ambitious amount of food according to our waitress, who asked if we were ‘wagging’ work or something, which I had to explain to Clotilde was Australia’s favourite passtime :)

Kangaroo and Bush Tomato Chutney

Little did she know that she was dealing with not one, but two determined food bloggers. One who can quote the entire menu by heart, and the other who has a lot of catching up to do in a new country. So a few short minutes later, and nothing but a sad bowl of chilli sauce with no bread left, it was all over. All seemed to go down well, and then it was off to the next spot.

Ice cream and sorbet at Il Gelato in Fremantle, and then a trek back to the city for a coffee at Tiger, Tiger. Getting back just in time to drop Clotilde at one of the afternoon writers festival sessions, while I snuck back to work for a few hours.

I can’t think of many nicer ways to spend your afternoon. In the company of lovely, down to earth people, who love food, and are happy to explore the finer points of this often overlooked city :)

Celebrity Spam

It’s happened to you before. You’re browsing away happily, surfing from one blog to the next, enjoying content that a thousand monkeys typing for a thousand years would have no hope of recreating, when all of a sudden it happens. You come across a site that looks like a blog, calls itself a blog, is for all intents and purposes blog-like in nature… but reads like a paid advertorial on page 3 of your local gossip rag. Something that one monkey could knock up in a casual afternoon quite happily, and still have time for banana or two.

I’m not generally one to bag other people out, but it’s got to a point where I think something needs to be said, because it annoys me when the spirit of blogging and the organic dissemination of information is treated with such calculating disdain.

Such is the world of “Celebrity” Chef, Benjamin Christie, and his attempts to boost his own celebrity status by manufacturing hype. This takes the form of his blog, his Wikipedia entry about himself and his tv show, written by himself, and his frequent unsolicited emails asking me and others in the food blogging community for links and to visit his website, complete with web bugs and statistics tracking links built in (note the actual link address in image).

email scam

It’s no surprise why these kinds of sites exist. The Internet is an important part of our social consciousness these days. People rely on it for news, entertainment, and community, with blogs forming a large chunk of that world. It makes sense that where the people go…so the advertisers go. Everyone knows that you have to be online now if you want to capture that highly prized share of the market.

So why does this grate me so much ? Benjamin Christie has done a number of things. He’s appeared in a TV series and published a book (or had a hand it at some point), and from what I can gather (from reading his own publicity material) travels around the world as an ambassador for Australian native food. These are all good things… but that doesn’t make him a celebrity…

The blogging community is not stupid. We are normal people, with normal lives, who choose to congregate around each other websites in order to share ideas and receive inspiration. If you want to join in, feel free… Just don’t use your blog as a thinly veiled marketing ploy for all of your other products. If you do so, don’t call it a blog, call it a marketing portal. A self contained world where you are the most famous person in the world and everything else thinks so too.

Doing a number of searches online, you find it really difficult to find anything about him, that wasn’t either written directly by him (or one of his “team”), or posted as an advertisement for his various wares. Now I have no problem with commercialism. I have no problem with people getting paid for what they do. What I have a problem with are advertisements disguised as journalism, and with someone trying to hijack the food blogging community for their own marketing purposes.

The beauty of blogs is that they are written by real people. Ideas are shared freely and the comments you receive are taken on board and evolved into a new understanding of food, wine, or whatever you happen to be writing about. The best blogs have evolved over time through the authors writing great content that people want to read, and through actively commenting and encouraging others.

As soon as you start to try and change the course of public opinion through surreptitious ways, you start treading a very fine line between raising awareness and outright spam, and the nature of blogging itself takes a sharp and painful twist back to the days of media companies telling us what we should think.

To me it all seems like the emperors new clothes in blog form:

Yes there’s great content, because I say there’s great content !
Yes I’m a celebrity, because I say I’m a celebrity !

I think it’s time for Benjamin Christie to put his pants back on… because no-one wants to see it.

** Update **
Another article by Ed from Tomato about Mr Christie and his advice.
Responses to Ed’s post on Food Blog S’cool
A bit of history on the situation as pointed out by Sam from Becks & Posh

*** Update II ***
After some creative but accurate editions to BC’s wikipedia entry by Ed, the page was promptly reverted to it’s original glowing praise version. The IP address used to make that change, was incidentally used to visit my website recently, referred via one of his stats pages. The world is full of strange coincidences it seems…