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Hate Mail: “The Donald Trump of Vancouver Food Bloggers”

Surprisingly, I don’t get a lot of hate mail or trolls commenting in the 2+ years I’ve had this blog and Instagram account. When I started, I knew that that would be a possibility — when you put out “strong opinions” on food, beer, and restaurants, not everyone is going to agree with you. And they might let you know about it, in interesting ways:

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Yes, on February 3, 2016 someone created this Instagram account and started following a lot of the same Vancouver breweries, bars, restaurants, chefs, bakers, and other food people that I follow. That single follower that they had? That was me. I was genuinely curious about what they had to say. Sadly, this account was shut down within 12 hours. I did appreciate the profile picture they used though, referencing the South Park episode (S19E04 – “Your’e Not Yelping”) where they make fun of self-entitled Yelpers. Too bad they didn’t notice that I posted this on Instagram on October 12, 2015 when the actual episode aired:

This #repost is for @dennisthefoodieisadouche 👍. #famousorinfamous

A post shared by Dennis the Foodie (@dennisthefoodie) on

 

Yes, the character’s name in the actual episode was Dennis. I got a huge kick out of that.

I have no problem with people disagreeing with me. If I’m entitled to an opinion, everyone else is. That’s how it works in a democratic society (for better or for worse). So, in that spirit of open discussion, here’s the email in full (email addresses obfuscated):

Name: Me

Email: sublime.********@gmail.com

Website:

Comment: You need to stop writing about food!

Your diatribes do not contribute to a constructive conversation about what people ingest. You are the Donald Trump of Vancouver food bloggers. You crap on people because you have online anonymity and you want to come across like you know more than the rest of us.

If you are proud of that moniker, then by all means, carry on.

I am a trained and successful chef. Anyone who uses a modifier like “foodie” for self description is, in kitchen parlance, an “asshole!”

Anyone who eats is a “foodie,” whether you eat Kraft Dinner or VJ’s or Hawkworths.

For us in the profession, “foodie” is a ridiculous term. And nobody.,,except your few friends who might follow you because you SEEM to know what you are talking about…really care what you say.

Stop crapping on food professionals. If you were a food professional, you would never have created such a silly and useless site, and you would never crap on your piers.

You are a “foodie,” you want to seem more “food-smart” than the rest of us. You have never diced 25 pounds of onions into perfect sizes. You have never minced 10 pounds of carrots into a perfect mince, lest chef toss it. You have never cooked for 400 people a day.

The most common kitchen saying about people like you is, “go fuck yourself.”

Post THAT review of yourself on your review sites.

A few days after this email, I received another message that weirdly and coincidentally brings up a similar issue:

Name: Jimmy

Email: ppqqllaa*****@gmail.com

Foodie? Do you have any certificates, diplomas or any education at all in culinary and/or food service? Any work experience in the service industry?

“Jimmy” wasn’t done yet. He wrote me a second time:

Did you try cooking for a career choice and fail at it? There are thousands of food bloggers who judge restaurants and their food, many have no experience with food and it shows in their “reviews” Many come across as bitter and angry, saying malicious and hurtful things about restaurants and their food. Most of these words are unnecessary, and they show a lack of maturity and expertise that legitimate food reviewers possess. What are your qualifications? What have you accomplished on this industry to afford you the right to judge hard working people? Probably nothing… So….your words mean nothing.

Seems like everyone in the industry read the article in the Edmonton Sun (“Edmonton critics, time [to] put your money where your mouth is”) where a chef called out 10 local food critics (some are paid staff critics, some are amateur bloggers like myself) to a cooking challenge where four chefs would be on the judging panel, in essence turning the tables on the food critics. About six days after that article came out, a CBC article came out where the chef rolled it back a bit, saying that, “I understand that it would come across as a little bit of an attack on them, but that was not my intention…”

So it seems like the industry is in an attack-the-bloggers mode. Which is completely fine. We all have a voice in this common discussion about our Canadian food scene. The main question that this email raises is, what place do amateur bloggers have in our food scene? What about Instagrammers and Yelpers? Are customers entitled to their opinion and should they share it with others?

Instead of harping on what I think, I put the question out to Instagram:

O P E N Q U E S T I O N // Do you need "qualifications" to talk about food? With the huge number of food bloggers, Instagrammers, and Yelpers in Vancouver, it's a situation that's been simmering the past few years and boiled over into my face last week when someone in the industry messaged me directly asking (edited to remove copious profanities), "What gives you the right to criticize our hard work? Do you have any qualifications, certification, or industry experience?" Fair question. . So I'm putting this question out there. What do you think? I'm also interested in industry opinions too, so DM me and I'll post them here anonymously. . My take: the only qualification a person needs is to love food. Being able to cook certainly helps, and will give you a deeper understanding and appreciation of food. Industry experience is nice, but certainly not a prerequisite. You don't need to have written a book to be able to critique a book. You don't need to have played professional hockey in order to critique the Canucks. Have you ever directed a movie before? No? Well, stop dissing Uwe Boll's movies! (In an ironic twist, Uwe Boll — one of the most hated and piled-on directors ever — opened up the well-loved Bauhaus in Gastown.) Restaurants enjoy the benefits of free social media promotion and good reviews but don't like the criticism (whether justified or not, whether delivered respectfully or not). So I realize that restaurants are in a tough place. My blog and Instagram account is basically an extended answer to the question, "How was that restaurant? How is that beer?", and *also* an extended answer to when servers ask, "How is everything?" . Extra reading: "Edmonton critics, time put your money where your mouth is" – Edmonton Sun article by Paul Shufelt (@workshopeatery) is the most recent, widely publicized article about this topic "The Pot Gets Hotter" – great response by Chris Falconer (Eating Is The Hard Part) "Tourists" – colourful post by Daniel Huber (@theburlychef) also expressing frustration at armchair (dining chair) critics . #food #yvr #vancouver #dtfstirsshitup Beers on me once this is all over. thx. // "We're all just trying to fill holes."

A post shared by Dennis the Foodie (@dennisthefoodie) on

 

I received more than 3500 words in response, mostly from “foodies” but also a few from actual industry people. Here’s a few choice comments anonymized and presented verbatim:

I think experience (aka eating a variety of foods at many different places…both traditional and non-traditional) is definitely a nice to have to openly critique. In my opinion, taste is subjective. We’re talking about simply being able to talk about food yeah? Everyone is entitled to an opinion. As long as there’s a valid reason, I can respect it. To your incident, I’d say those ppl can’t handle criticism…living in a box. I remember my experience at L’Abattoir where I told the waiter the food wasn’t good for this and that reason, they were very understanding and accepting of it.

You see hints of how the FOH (front-of-house) can portray a very different attitude towards customers than the BOH…if we take the unhinged ranting from “Jimmy” as being representative of how kitchen staff genuinely feel.

I’m glad you started a discussion about this! As a blogger, I’m obviously of the opinion that, well, everyone deserves to have one. I agree that having experience in the kitchen and with trying an array of different cuisines can deepen your appreciation for food, but they are certainly not mandatory. I also think that when any person wants to restrict the opinions of someone else after any single bad review, they’re not giving credit to the readers of that review. People aren’t all sheep that read a single review and are immediately swayed. They’ll read multiple reviews and judge for themselves.

Good point raised above where this blogger points out that readers aren’t sheep and judge from multiple reviews before coming to a conclusion.

I’ve been food blogging for a number of years (I remember when there were only about 100 food bloggers in Vancouver). I don’t profess to have any special knowledge about food or cooking. But I know what I like and I know what I don’t like. The reason why I do it is partly because I have a poor memory and I want to remember the restaurants that I’ve liked and the dishes that I’ve liked (as well as the restaurants to avoid). The proliferation of food bloggers, yelpers, instagrammers, etc… seems to especially noticeable in the Vancouver area – perhaps due to our demographics and shared culture. The problem that I find is that it’s not always easy to find an unbiased opinion. Truth be told, there probably isn’t such a thing since we all bring our own past experiences into how we judge others. But with social media the way it has progressed, it’s easier for any “joe” to go on a rant about a restaurant or a dish with very little consequence. As in the case of any other product or service, I’m very cautious about the reviews that I hear and have a healthy sense of skepticism unless I’ve previously vetted the reviewer. I tend to stay away from reviewers that always have “glowing” reviews or always have “negative” reviews since I find it difficult to trust those reviews on a consistent basis. But, that being said, sometimes I just want to look at pretty pictures on Instagram 🙂

I myself write for myself and journal my experience in my blog. I don’t think anyone can fault you on my own opinions and thoughts. There is not one right way to taste or try when everyone is so different and comes with their own preferences. When another person uses your perception as their reality, and they disagree, that is when they get upset. They need to be comfortable with what they think and feel, and let you have your own opinions. There is no right and wrong in the world of food opinions. Like beauty, it is each in the eyes of the beholder. (Thanks for the funn debate @dennisthefoodie)

I agree with your thoughts and opinions on this topic. And it’s nice to see this topic brought up here on IG because everybody and their dog has an account posting food pics. The only qualification a person needs is to have a love for food. And like you mentioned, to have a good knowledge of it and to be able to cook also helps. But at the end of the day, it’s one’s palate versus another’s. It’s one’s dining experience versus another’s. For example, one may like spicy foods and can take the heat and their definition of heat may be to feel the burn on their tongue and sweat on their forehead as opposed to another person who likes spicy but at a minimal. Taste is very subjective. When dining out, two parties can have two different servers with the outcome of two different experiences. People who read reviews also need to remember this.

It’s a bit upsetting to ear that you have been DMed about your opinions. I totally agree with you, all you need is to love food and love eating. Most people who go to places for meals aren’t qualified in the field but it doesn’t stop them from knowing what is good food. Critic is needed to help improve and elevate!

Regarding “qualifications”, where does the line end?

Freedom of speech! Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. If you share/sell something to the public, you are opening yourself to all the positive and negative reviews. I dont think it matters who you are, what it is, as long as you have a voice then you are entitled to use it. If there were qualifications needed to provide an opinion, what would be the standards? Do I have to be a chef, well what kind of chef then, how many years of experience would I need? Really surprised someone would ask about your qualifications to provide a review. Its not a job interview

A lot of people mentioned “opinions”:

At the end of the day it’s all just someone’s opinion and you know what they say about opinions right?

…and along the same lines:

What’s the saying..opinions are like assholes, everyone has one. Some just look better 😉

Chefs that aspire to be artists need to accept critiques:

To me, as long as the opinion is justified, then it’s all good. Chefs are pretty much artists, and food is their creation. Being an artist myself, that’s the risk you take when you put yourself out into the public. But all good artists take critique back to the lab to learn and better themselves. It sucks when it’s really nasty feedback, but they’re giving it for a reason. Re: qualifications, everyone grows and learns. As we eat more food, we develop and expand our palate. A newbie will eventually turn into a pro if they have a passion for it. And like, what if you did have credentials and you are a superstar food critic? People are sometimes just quick to judge. But, most of the time they are just really passionate about their craft as well. They just want to be acknowledged and make good food that everyone enjoys. Of course, you can’t please everyone.

What qualifications? I think all of us are qualified to talk about food cause we all learn & are still learning about it eversince since we can all start remembering it. Food is such a conversation starter and all of us at one point atleast in our life have critique a dish or particular food one way or the other. My partner & I recently just started our own IG food account just to share our experience & yes, like you Dennis, our love and sometimes hate relationship with it. Our take is to keep our page light, same as just like talking to a friend in a restaurant. We feel that in that manner, pictures are more relatable and we are hoping people that will read it would be able to not only “see” the food but have the “feeling” of it as well. Being able to cook can be helpful but then again, I know a lot of people (myself included) that doesn’t really know much about cooking but have the same love for food. If somebody from the industry were unable to understand a criticism then they are probably chose the wrong path. Everybody knows being in a food industry is one of the hardest jobs out there. Besides, how will they learn & evolve if they can take it. I remembered watching food network & One of the chefs mentioned that he was critique by somebody well-known when he was just starting and he used that as an inspiration to get better ( sorry forgot the name of the chef) and now he is famous. In the end, people will eat & try whenever they want to no matter how bad, good or mediocre the reviews are. We are just lucky that we have social media to air our take on it. Whether people will take our reviews or not into consideration will be up to them, besides any publicity can be a good publicity right?

Now for some actual industry opinions:

In terms of sharing opinions, my mom is the kind of person who will hold her tongue (or more likely make comments to those at the table but not to the server) when she’s unhappy with something and then takes to tripadvisor or yelp after to complain. As someone who works in food service I’ve been encouraging her to give her feedback (politely and respectfully) to her server or a manager in the moment. I think it’s better to let mistakes be fixed or explanations made rather than passive aggressively ranting on some website after the fact.

Not to denigrate blogs as just somewhere people rant! I love your feed Dennis, and appreciate your reviews of places you’ve been. I just think that direct feedback to the server, manager, restaurant is super valuable and helpful. If something isn’t to your liking, let someone know so it can be fixed! And if they do fix it (or don’t and are rude) tell your friends!

As a person that had his first job as a banquet prep and consession stand cook, then eventually over many years worked back and front line cook at a highly respected 3 turns of the house per night independent bistro (not haute cuisine), I have some thoughts. If you pay for the food, and are not satisfied, you are entitled to say so. ‘That hotdog was amazing. That brioche was dry and underwhelming’ Food is so basic to life and taken to such heights that the underlying idea of paying someone else to prepare your meal is forgotten. A person pays for food to be satisfied, filled and satiated. some restaurants fail and others succeed, but sadly it may have more to do with hype from social media(scout mag) gender and timing of concept execution, instead of the quality of the food in front of the person. A corollary is if you reduce the “experience” to just the food some providers may get a bit upset, because they have a vision of how it all should be.

Loving this topic! From an “industry” standpoint, no. We’ve had “chefs” come in to order poke, and say they wouldn’t return (it stung). When we probed further to find out why.. they told us they had it in the fridge and ate it the next day. That’s a HUGE no-no , and you would think that a “qualified chef” would know better…same concept as “next day fridge sushi”. Then there’s a student that comes in, with no “qualifications” other than the fact that she’s had poke in Hawaii. Tells us it tastes just like Hawaii but a bit salty. We adjusted our “salting process” and we actually enjoyed our recipe a lot better. In this scenario, we feel that the student was “more qualified” – but either way we learn from everyone, and ALL feedback is valuable, theres always room for improvements. Qualifications or not, we have learned to educate our customers on ‘when’ they need to eat their poke, and have improved on our recipe with feedback. It’s unfortunate that some take it personally instead of a learning experience. You can’t please everyone- but it doesn’t hurt to try

Nah, he/she was way out of line. And I’m coming from a world where folks will rip apart and critique my product based on a picture or its specs, without even trying or buying it. As professionals who create stuff, we can all relate to that scene in Chef where Favreau lays into Oliver Platt. The words are accurate (IT HURTS!), but that’s what separates the pros from the rest…they absorb, process and deal with it.

Cool that this last person mentioned Chef: The Movie because I think everybody on both sides of the counter watched that movie and could find lots of laugh about, criticize, or discuss.

For now, that’s all I want to say about this topic. Thanks for reading! I would LOVE if Jimmy responded in the comments below.


Extra reading:

Something to lighten the mood:

Want to add to the conversation? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Taishoken Revisited: New Owners…Same Ramen?

There’s been rumours of a change in ownership of Taishoken, the tsukemen place near Tinseltown that just opened in June this year (so only 6 months ago as of this writing). I’ve read and heard both good and bad about the place in recent weeks, so I thought I’d personally check it out to see if they still have the best tsukemen I’ve ever had so far. (See previous posts about Taishoken here and here.)

Continue reading Taishoken Revisited: New Owners…Same Ramen?

First Look: Gyoza Bar + Ramen

DISCLAIMER: Please take this review with a grain of shio. I wouldn’t even consider it a real review because it was Gyoza Bar’s grand opening and things there will definitely change and get tweaked and hopefully improved as time goes on and they develop their rhythm. Take this as a snapshot of the night and their food at that particular point in time. All opinions are still my brutally honest opinions of what we were served though, so read on and come to your own conclusions.

Gyoza Bar + Ramen is the latest “concept” from the Aburi line of restaurants which include Miku and Minami. In a nutshell, elevated food with a twist and a price tag to match. They’ve done sushi, now Gyoza Bar is their take on gyoza and ramen.

Continue reading First Look: Gyoza Bar + Ramen

Meh, Bleh, Blah: Ramen Koika on Davie St.

Ramen Koika is the latest entrant in the Vancouver ramen sweepstakes. They had their soft-opening in late June featuring all ramen bowls for $6 but now they’re on their regularly-priced menu. Not much web presence except for a Facebook page. Apparently people behind Ramen Koika are the same people behind the Korean-owned 3-location mini-chain Sushi Bella.

Continue reading Meh, Bleh, Blah: Ramen Koika on Davie St.

Missing the Mark: Postmark Brewing (Plus Make-Up Sex at Main Street Brewing & Brassneck)

Too bad…I was really looking forward to the opening of Postmark Brewing. Their beers aren’t terrible but they don’t stand out either, which in this increasingly crowded craft beer market in Vancouver just doesn’t cut it. I made up for the lackluster experience by dropping by Main Street Brewing and Brassneck afterwards 😉 Continue reading Missing the Mark: Postmark Brewing (Plus Make-Up Sex at Main Street Brewing & Brassneck)