In 1999, at the height of his fame, Marco Pierre White retired and returned his Michelin stars. He is the youngest British chef ever to win three Michelin Stars.
Upon being interviewed by Lynn Barber, he said this.
“I was being judged by people who had less knowledge than me, so what was it truly worth?”
The “people” in the above line are those responsible for making or breaking a chef, his food, and his restaurant’s overall outcome. The dreaded Food Reviewer. The reviewers in question were the famous Michelin Inspectors, who would dine in complete anonymity and then decide whether the restaurant would be good enough to be awarded a star in the prestigious Michelin Food Guide. Luckily for Marco, he made this statement only after he was awarded the maximum of three stars, at the age of 33, making him the youngest ever British chef to win all three.
This mutual animosity between a person who produces food and the person who reviews or judges is apparent and very well known. Whatever the reasons may be in whatever context, disagreements occur because of what is ultimately on the line: Credibility of both parties.
Indian Accent has an average rating of 4.7/5 on TripAdvisor.com, making it #1 in the country. Reviews are mostly positive, however, very few don’t leave quite as happy. From the restaurant’s point of view, only these few reviews are the ones worth looking into. Keeping a customer happy is always the management’s foremost priority and great measures are taken to ensure this happens. I’ve seen many food critics and food personalities eat at the restaurant. To make sure we knew who they were, photos of them were displayed at the back. These guys are known all over the country because doing this is part of their job. Like us, they’re professionals, as we’d like to believe. We also believe they know their food, because if they don’t, they shouldn’t be in a position to judge ours.
On forums like personal blogs and food websites, which usually don’t involve well-known names and professionals in the food industry, word of mouth plays a huge role. People might try out a restaurant if it has a good review. Someone will read this review based on his/her experience at the restaurant in question. These reviewers aren’t professional like the ones mentioned above, yet they end up doing the same thing, for kicks, unlike those who work at these eateries whose livelihood is on the line. Problems occur when the reviewer gives the restaurant a negative review. The reviewer’s credibility is then questioned. If the reviewer is not prominent, the other party gets offended and things turn ugly as egos are hurt. This is the relationship between both parties. Realistically, everyone’s opinion matters, especially if someone’s paid good money for their food.
Things usually go awry whenever money is involved. All these things sadly reflect on the most important thing in the equation. Food which, ironically, to a select few, is actually the purest thing to make money off. These people are called chefs. Being a chef in this country is quite an uphill battle. High stakes, high risks — this job description precedes itself, and it’s all true. This, combined with the lack of information and rampant mediocrity, is why most people decide to keep cooking simply as a hobby. Here, most do it out of desperation. Only about a handful of “well off”/educated people actually pursue their passion. Even fewer make it out as chefs after their respective culinary education. Those who do, go abroad. Those who remain or return are the ones who’ve fought it out and done something to help India grow into a culinary superpower that she is capable of. You see them at five star hotels and those who lead restaurants, like Chef Manish himself. Information on food is available literally at your fingertips nowadays. Those who read about food regularly are blessed with information which the average chef in this country isn’t aware of. But they more than make up for it. Practical and professional experience is different from theory and certainly a lack of professional experience, and in this profession, considerably more relevant. A chef’s life involves being repetitive. After a point, life gets interesting. This is when intuition kicks in. Also at this point, “traditional” recipes get thrown out the window. It is possible for good chefs to find multiple ways to recreate one recipe. So the next time you are confronted with something you ordered that “looked nothing like <enter name of expected dish>, but it tasted quite good, was cooked correctly and was, ultimately, worth it“, it is understood that the chef did his job well, in fact, better. Also, typically, the chef charges you less than 40% of whatever you’re paying. You pay more for alcohol and overheads, like rent, electricity, taxes, ambiance, staff wages and other costs which the restaurant incurs. Of course, it’s a whole other story if you order truffles.
Anyway, most people are probably aware of this information. At the end of the day, a person goes to a restaurant to eat. If the food truly delivers and is value for money, everything else can be forgiven. At the end of the day, a chef is nothing without people, his “guests”.
These people sit at home and type their experiences in great detail, covering food, service, and almost everything else worth covering, and then some. They love talking about food and trying out new places even though they’re not part of this industry.
They are true food lovers. These days, they’re better known as Foodies.
So, while in Mumbai, I decided to confront my classic ideological opposite, the Food Blogger.
Kalyan Karmakar is very well known in Mumbai, he is the guy behind the very popular food blog, www.finelychopped.net. I follow his blog and consider it to be one of those to be taken seriously, because Kalyan is, after all, a credible source. He also knows his city very well. I met him because I wanted to understand Mumbai from a local’s point of view. He explained Mumbai food and advised me to go to a few off-beat places of culinary significance, invaluable in every way since Mumbai confounded me at first. We also discussed an article he wrote in his blog, the topic similar to this one. He explained his point of view and I explained mine. We ended up agreeing on most things. At the end, it all came down to one thing. Food.
I believe a Foodie is a person who loves food. Specifically, eating different kinds of food. They think food provides a common ground on which conversions can be made, in general or about food itself. A professional food critic isn’t any different. Food unites us, but certain liberties cannot be taken for granted. Everyone has a role to play. We, the “producers”, earn a living by cooking food and selling it at the establishment where we work. The “professional” reviewers usually work for magazines, sites or other channels of media, reviewing these restaurants and awarding a certain rating which is considered a credible kind of validation. Then the “non-professionals” are usually the consumers who pay for their meal and talk about their experience in detail on sites such as Zomato or Tripadvisor. Then, there are also those, who, like Kalyan, enjoy eating and maintain a personal blog or site. This also acts as added publicity for the restaurant in the long run. People like him only talk about the food, describing it through photos and well-written prose. These sites are a blessing because this kind of information, of firsthand accounts, is very useful and relatively new these days. Kalyan, however, does not like to rate food. Rating food is taking a step towards being a food critic. Online food blogging/discussions are a new trend these days because writing about food isn’t complicated, photographing it is the easiest thing to do, and the resultant descriptions and pictures invariably make everyone hungry.
It’s only fair that information shared on a public forum is accurate and unbiased. Inaccuracy and bias causes issues, not the freedom to express your views. Food reviews, like everything else, should be treated as information. So it is very important to know what you’re talking about before telling someone else, from a strictly neutral perspective. Kalyan certainly knows what he blogs about. With a job unrelated to food and a family, he passionately writes about something he believes in, hoping it would help other foodies in understanding their food better. He creates awareness as well, making consumers more aware about trends and new restaurants worth trying out. He also gives old establishments the respect they deserve, and asked me to visit city institutions such as Candies and Britannia. Although we met only briefly, he helped me understand this great city. We spoke extensively only about food, our mutually favourite topic of conversation, over coffee and marble cake. I came closer to understanding what a Foodie was really all about and satisfying myself as to why I decided to become a professional chef in the first place.
Just like you, we’re foodies too, I suppose. The most obsessive breed of adrenaline-charged foodies around.