If you found this blog by Googling my name or by following sundry noxious links (you know where), please note that all claims that I was fired from my job are 100% false, as are most of the other things written about me. I don't know the people who are libeling me, but it's clear they have some imaginary axe to grind and way too much time.

Monday, June 29, 2009

In Pity of Joe Dobias

I'm currently following a developing story I came across on Eater.

While most commenters are quick to deride Joe Dobias's grasp of grammar, his attitude, and his food, I see a chef painfully lost as the roles within the little theater of dining - chefs, customers, and critics - shift around him, thanks to this thing called "the internet."

In Hong Kong, I briefly interned for a time at HK Magazine, a free weekly magazine read by the expat population. I had the opportunity to review a few restaurants there. I was unpaid, but the reach of the publication was considerable, and no reader could have known that I was a 20-year-old with zero experience in the food industry.

I had a lot of fun, and the fact that I saw it as fun didn't strike me as problematic until after my internship ended. I decided that I would no longer write reviews until I gained a level of food knowledge I was comfortable with. I didn't want people's livelihoods on my conscience. Not that it mattered - it's not like the Times, or any other publication, was banging down my doors.

And then I started this silly little blog on a whim. I'd received a deluge of responses to my Craigslist ad and thought it would be funny to post about the food and the conversations with strangers. I know my friends found it amusing enough.

But I've gotten a significant bump in hits since the Top Chef Masters liveblog and the recent Bunnette ridiculousness, and this morning I saw in my stat tracker that someone at Jean-Georges Management had chanced upon this blog. That all makes me very nervous, because I still haven't learned a thing in the two years since my last "formal" review for HK Magazine, and I really hope to God no one takes me seriously.

I hope that even after I go to cooking school, or get whatever cred I need (which is probably none, in this democratic age of critics), that no one will take me too seriously. As Marc Shepherd at New York Journal astutely pointed out, even Frank Bruni's data point is but one of many. And what is Frank Bruni but a man who gets the technical facts right, and forms an opinion on the rest based on his own collection of sensory data points? He has the weight and resources of the Times, which is not to be confused with extra taste buds.

As a customer in today's restaurant world, you have many choices - not only in the restaurant you frequent but the reviews you read. When I read Yelp reviews of Chinese food, I roll my eyes at many people who don't seem to know what they're talking about, but that's the snooty foodie in me. Ultimately, people just have different standards, and the only thing you can do is decide whose opinion to trust and whose to ignore - be it Bruni, a friend, or some uppity blogger.

You don't need knowledge to enjoy a meal; that's why I love food. As a chef/owner, the only thing you can do is decide where your audience should fall on the foodie spectrum and hope that the right people come. Joe Dobias simply does not understand that there is no All-Powerful Critic anymore, and that in the deeply subjective world of food, there were never any "credible sources." I wonder what he'll say if certain rumors are true and the Times hires a blogger to replace Bruni in the fall. Yet panic rings beneath his nasty personal attacks, and for this reason it worries me to see so many people declaring that they'll never visit JoeDoe based on his comments. It's always a sad day when a restaurant fails.

Let's face it, the role of "food blogger" is self-appointed and therefore inescapably self-important. As a blogger, I get to decide what degree of integrity I hold myself to when I write, and I think about it quite a lot because Google can always find me, and someone might actually care. We the masses may be entitled to opinions and free websites on Blogger, but if that means we're also entitled to some small determination in another person's success or failure, I hope we don't forget it. Entitlement should come with ownership of one's words, however sparsely read they may be.

I still write for fun, while others still cook for a living. Thus, I don't think I can ever be as careful with my words as I should be. The formula is a work-in-progress. Generally, I've shied away from giving typical reviews here, and I try to say everything equally irreverently. A friend commented the other day that he'd take me more seriously if I didn't pepper my posts with variations of "fuck," but that's exactly the point. I'm a random girl on a lark; don't take me more seriously than I take myself.

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