Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What Comes Next?

I got away to Vermont (the source of the photos) for our first summer trip this past weekend. The best lazy days at the house in VT involve, walks along the nearby wooded dirt roads and hours sitting in the shade catching up on magazines and books I’ve been socking away.

Interlacing all-of-the nothing with new & interesting beverages and effortless meals provided lots of time to consider menus, new drinks and recent food and beverage experiences. It was clearly fate that two pieces I read over the weekend got me thinking about a next evolution in wine and food evangelism, i.e. wine and food blogging.

I have always believed that at the core of every successful and inspiring food and beverage professional is a salesman for the product and the bandleader for the buzz all around it. Having that, the creativity of these chefs, designers, sommeliers, growers, producers and the others around them can create magnetism for ravenous consumers. These actors CAN be magnetic, but only if their creativity and personality show up.

The first piece was the editorial opener for Beer Advocate Issue #65 penned by Jason & Todd Alstrom who founded and edit Beer Advocate for the ranks of the beer geeks everywhere. In “Does Your Local Support Its Locale” Jason and Todd make it clear that local isn’t separate from quality and the “coolness” of the people involved, and only when it has those two things is local beer worthy of unconditional support. Yes, I agree on this point as well. I further expand the point to wine and food too, and yes this means there are rules. No kidding, there always have been rules. For those of us who write about our culinary adventures as fans, we need to take notice. We can’t cheerlead for empty products or ideas and expect to be taken seriously or garner support. We too need to be authentic and bring something interesting to the party!

The second piece was “Is Seasonal Eating Overrated?” in the August 2012 issue of Food & Wine Magazine.

In the article writer Katherine Wheelock pokes at the issue of what to make of seasonal menus; how ingredients get trotted out their respective season and the dearth of creativity many restaurants and chefs bring along with the season’s bounty. Again with the rules. She and the chefs she interviewed state that nobody should be breaking their arm trying to say “good job” to themselves just because their menu tracks the seasons like a sundial. It’s about the creativity exercised on the ingredients and not just because they are in season. Again, authenticity and creativity matter.

So where the hell I am going with this? Authenticity matters. Make it personal. Dig deeper. Be creative. Doing so will net rewards in the relationships you create and the opportunities you find in front of you. That’s where I’m going.

None of us should be writing about boring seasonal lineups of food and wine just because they are seasonal. Why praise chefs who aren’t being all that creative? Do you write about restaurants? Share the ones that really show you something, eat at the others. Wine? Scrap boring reviews and write about the people, the food or the setting. Beer? Same thing. The who and why trumps the what. Wine-making or beer-making? Ask about the why, you can learn the how.

“But I want to share and participate in the community!” Of course, we all do. When you don’t have something interesting to share be a cheerleader for other worthy individuals who do. They get feedback, you learn and the community gets bigger and stronger when we all do this.

I began writing this post soon after I got home from Vermont. The next day I came across a similarly themed post by friend and fellow blogger Richard Auffrey. In “Rant: No More Burgers & Cupcakes” Auffrey opens with the question “Whatever happened to originality?” Read the rest of his post for his thoughts on folks pig piling on food trends and the glut of trendy food that is neither original or interesting. This confirms I am not alone in my feelings and that the game is on.




Joe said...

I like authenticity. I like creativity. But can "creativity" with seasonal ingredients be acceptably replaced with "execution" when it comes to those ingredients?

I'd rather see a simple, "boring" presentation of something done really well on my plate over a wacky concept that doesn't taste very good.

I like to cook and eat in the style of the Italians: get the best ingredients, prepare them simply, and let the ingredients speak...

Jason Phelps said...

Joe, that's a fair concern. The Food & Wine article actually touches on that. The simple prep is no doubt the historically consistent and most common way people eat seasonally or eat fresh. That's how I do it.

In the restaurant realm from the article the issue is how much praise is bestowed for simply being seasonal. If the naked presentation is good and people enjoy it, then he restaurant should be happy. When they do take some inspiration in creating a "new" seasonal dish, that both tastes good AND includes the seasonal ingredients, then they should be proud and want to create some buzz.

Where I took this is in the evangelism part, bloggers doing to the buzz generation. Eating simple at home or at a restaurant is expected, but something more inspired is what will make for interesting reading.

I see the same thing with the wine review game. Boring! How did the wine pair with food and friends? What does the wine make you think of and what adventures does it have you revisiting? Did you meet the person who made the wine? If so, why and how did they end up where they are at. That is all interesting and worth reading.

I kept the post simple more like a directive hoping to create just this conversation.



Richard Auffrey said...

Jason, some great thoughts here. Some people think the buzzwords, such as local and seasonal, are sufficient alone to be interesting and compelling. But that is not the case. Other aspects are necessary, such as originality, execution and more. Let us read fascinating stories, and not just the same old buzzwords.

Jason Phelps said...

Thanks Richard! When I was reading your rant I felt better about my being direct about the issue.

We definitely need more original and more interesting to inspire us to go out and do the same!


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