Friday, 3 May 2013

Why I like Giles Coren and why he hates me


I like Giles Coren.

Partly because his daughter is around LO's age and I can totally relate to him when he wrote about how being a dad is the best job in the world. It's partly also because Wife loves Recipe Rifle - Coren's better half's food recipe blog. She just baked me some madeleines using a recipe from there and they were marvellous. Heck, I even manage to finish reading Coren's How to Eat Out within a week, which is a feat by my standard.

But what I really like about Coren is his restaurant reviews. His reviews are never about the food. They are about everything else be it the nonchalant staff, the man on the next table and the woman whom he is trying desperately to impress, gaudy lights on the ceiling, how his day went, how the chef tries to charm him - everything else other than the food.

That is precisely what I like about his reviews. Seriously, think of your best dining experience and I do mean your most unforgettable one. Now, try to recall what create such a deep impression. Was it the food? Was it the sudden burst of sunshine, a fresh breeze, the pretty waitress, that someone special sitting across the table? Or did it bring back fond memories of a meal out with your loved ones or of a dish that your mum use to make? It's almost never about the food itself because you can never quite recall how it really tasted like. A simple burger can be the most memorable meal if you are out with your best mate. The 50 course tasting menu at El Bulli can be an excruciating experience if you are having it with someone who insists on snapping a photo of every single dish.

Why the heck are you photographing your food for?

Now that we are on the topic about photographing food before tucking in, I admit I'm guilty as charged. It didn't use to be like that. My Nokia 6150 was turning out rubbish pictures. The iPhone is fine but not brilliant either. Then somehow I got the idea that I should "invest" in a DSLR. Even then, the photos still turn out to be rubbish.

The irony is that I never realise how ridiculous it looks trying to photograph one's dinner until I lunched with another photographer and both of us whipped out our Nikons simultaneously. That was when I lost my appetite.

If you think that is bad, I once ate beside a table full of (presumably) food bloggers. When the main courses were served, the flurry of flashes nearly blinded everyone in the restaurant.

I still photograph my food every now and then, just so that I can vaguely describe how it looks like. Never with a flash and never with a fellow photographer. And never ever with another food blogger.

You are really just looking for free food, aren't you?

Food critics love to deride food bloggers on hankering for free food. First things first, I don't see the critics forking out for their chow; it certainly doesn't count if it involves filing an expense form after the meal. People would kill to dine out on company's expense and with the chefs fawning over them knowing that the next day's reviews can make or break their restaurants. Fine, they're just doing their jobs just so they can put food on the table.

Yes, I've accepted invitations if they sound interesting and I can reach home by ten (age is really catching up). I can assure you that the meals don't come free. It's understood that I have to provide a review after that and I do find it tiresome to take notes in the middle of a meal. I'm not one who can recall what I ate two days back. It's exhausting and takes the joy out of eating. I can empathise with the critics. Well, their jobs depend on their reviews. At least mine don't.

Writing about food? Who do you think you are? 

There is a loss of exclusivity for food critics these days especially with the advent camera phones and the Internet. All of a sudden, everyone is able to churn out food reviews and distribute it to the whole wide world with a click of a button.

It's like one moment you are sharing a huge club for the uber-rich with a few others whom you know on a first name basis, the next moment a horde of flip-flops totting strangers, in all shapes and sizes, wading in nonchalantly, all claiming to be members. You are bound to be bitter.

But the genie is out of the bottle and there will be more flashes and clicking in restaurants, with every Tom, Dick and Harry compiling their top ten restaurants. At the end of the day, every experience is unqiue and the best judge of a restaurant is none other than you yourself.

But guess what? Wife and I still look forward to reading Giles Coren's pieces on the Times every week despite loading up our rss readers with too many food blogs. He'll continue to be my top read, provided he carries on not to write about food. Well, not solely, that is.

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