Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Why are you taking pictures of my food?"


I suppose it was bound to happen eventually.

I headed out last night with John the Irishman to have a look at a couple of pubs which have opened in the past few months here in the neighborhood. We started at the Morrison Hotel, which in addition to nearly 100 different beers, offers a menu of "Mediterranean street food" which skews heavily Spanish. The tortilla espaƱola wasn't on the menu last night, so I ordered the special, a seafood stew of monkfish, scallops, prawns, squid and octopus. The bartender granted me permission to take a few photos, and thanked me for asking (always ask first, people!). I took my camera and mini-tripod out of my bag, set up my shot, and got a few images. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder...

The protocol which surrounds photographing food in a restaurant is still a little cloudy, it would seem. Now, don't get me wrong. Charles Trester, the Morrison Hotel's executive chef, is quite a personable guy. My only previous experience with him was a very positive one (back about a year ago, when he was running the Terra Sol wine shop on Hawthorne, he helped me through a particularly tricky pairing. The dish was a maple butternut stratta. What he came up with for me was a mildly sparkling spanish white called Blanc Pescador, crisp and dry, and with just enough acidity to stand up to the mapley richness of the custard. It was a hit with my dinner guests that evening). I explained my situation to him, and he eventually nodded his approval. But I sensed that he couldn't help but view what I was doing with a little bit of suspicion, which I can understand. Chefs and restauranteurs at the top of the game pour a considerable amount of expertise, dedication and sacrifice into their work. They endure incredible financial pressures, crazy hours, outsized egos, substance abuse issues, fickle and often cranky patrons, and now... bloggers. To suddenly find yourself confronted with a roomful of potential amateur food critics night after night must be, as I can only imagine, un-nerving at best. As Mario Batali rather infamously illustrated a few months ago, the relationship between food professionals and food bloggers can be an uneasy one from time to time. But it needn't be.

I do this as a hobby, and I try to do it as responsibly and respectfully as I can. My background is in neither the culinary arts nor journalism, and as such I tend to tread lightly when it comes to offering my opinion of what I encounter in any given restaurant on any given night. I don't review so much as describe. But there are certainly those in the food blogging world who don't exercise as much caution as they could.

The stew, by the way, which was somewhat akin to a cioppino, was excellent. The prawns stole a little bit of thunder away from the monkfish, which I felt should have been at the fore, but hell, it was the special. I guess if enduring a few prawns is the sacrifice I have to make, well so be it...

5 comments:

Julie Ann said...

I got in trouble just this week for taking pictures at the library's storytime, so go figure.

tommy said...

Those librarians... what a bunch of tyrranical control freaks!

The Guilty Carnivore said...

Tommy, you've done a good job of encapsulating the fine line that is the struggle of documenting the source of future bowl movements and acting like a jackass in public. There are times when I sheepishly put away my camera because I feel too idiotic. And why I rarely attempt to document any meals I have had at "nicer" places (i.e. with tablecloths).

tommy said...

Some chefs are actually pretty cool with the whole blog thing. Naomi Pomeroy even let me get a shot of her plating desserts once at clarklewis. But yeah, it's still something of a minefield out there. I think that as long as permission is granted and a flash is never used, it falls just short of qualifying as public jackassery. I mean really, it's street level PR, isn't it?

Also, I imagine it's probably a little bit less of an intrusion from the restaurant's point of view if you're shooting during lunch, happy hour or a time when it's fairly slow.

Trisha said...

So I've fallen down on reading the blogs here what with being back to work and all but I can see a chef's concern. Maybe you need a sneaky but good camera phone and you can become a culinary Maxwell Smart