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A food critic nowadays is akin to how a fashion designer was perceived in the ’90s


By Anoothi Vishal

Wineymona (her hashtag, not ours) is “partial to love and wine”. That’s what she says on her “personal blog”— though we have yet to come across an impersonal one on the www. On the same blog or in her social media posts, she also occasionally tells you how to open a bottle of wine, or attempts to describe a meal she’s partaken in a fancy restaurant; the Ice wine is “fresh”, the “lovely” duck is “pecking” (nah, no pun intended).

More frequently, however, even this pretence at words is abandoned: #Wineymona simply does what she perhaps does best: pose with celebrated chefs or “foodies” at launch parties, events and dinners that restaurants now host with alarming regularity and post these pretty pictures online for instant consumption. She is the medium, model and message all rolled into one. She is hardly an exception.

If you’ve been living under a rock these last few months, it is time to crawl out and show up at a typical restaurant party. You’d be surprised at the number of bekar “bloggers”, Insta influencers and Facebook faces that show up at these shows, bolstering numbers, sipping sponsored wine, oohing and aahing at the tattooed chef or yet another disastrous deconstruction attempt (both interchangeable), recording these moments methodically as a measure of their social ascendency.

For the restaurants, this spells free publicity. Well, not quite free because if your guest list runs into hundreds, that can be a fair bit in food cost. Yet, it is cheap, this social media exposure. Besides who exactly is counting the number of conversions of the social media blitz into legit paying guests eventually? It may or may not make for a sound marketing strategy for restaurants but the tamasha around the pretty (though you don’t necessarily have to qualify as such either) people does make for a seemingly jolly time had by all.

Being a food blogger, influencer (people introduce themselves as such; no we are not joking), or “critique” (we’ll come to that in a bit) today is what being a fashion designer was like in the ’90s. Everyone is one or wants to be one.

It’s the most desired career option of the moment and it has the least barriers to entry. You don’t need to be particularly intelligent, educated or even well travelled. You don’ t need much good taste and you certainly don’t require any writing skills. All you need to do is eat, or be seen to, post and boast. There are of course all kinds of “influencers”.

Some are genuine and good. But regardless of that judgement, this is a career choice that confers on you instant tinsel. Announce your “profession” and doors open to a much more glamorous world than you could have perhaps imagined. It’s a profession to elevate you socially if you are at a lose end. It brings with it prospects of many free fine meals and more depending on your networking ability.

However, once you’ve gained a foothold in this merry world of food, it may be time to upgrade your skills. Talent, imagination and hard work may be what separate, say, Shah Rukh Khan from the artless, deluded struggler on the bench, Manish Arora from a Hauz Khas darzee and so on. But the will to better yourself is equally a criterion to success. In that spirit, and because the most frequently asked question these days is “how to be a food critic”, here are a few pointers:

You are a critic, not a critique!
They may not teach grammar in school, but say it again with us: “I am a critic, not a critique”: A person, not an assessment — though others could be assessing your ability.

Tasty & yummy are unpalatable
Ban those adjectives. Food needs to be more than tasty, yummy or plain nice. And while at it, that Insta hashtag #foodporn is jaded. It excites no one. Open up your senses — see, smell, taste. Channel it, so that the audience really knows what is going on.

Break it down
Why is the “best dosa” in the world that you just consumed or the “best dim sum” or the “best baguette” exactly that? Yes, we know taste is subjective and yours is superior to the rest of mankind’s but details do make a dish. Is the dosa batter fermented right, the dim sum wrap translucent, how many wrinkles does it have? Is the bread crisp outside, soft inside? Has the dal been tempered with anything other than garlic? Is there methi dana in the potato curry? Ask.

The chef is not a dish
Er, however much he would like to be… Unless you want to be a groupie in the rock band, try focus on his food too.

Writing is not that hard
Food writing is about two things, don’t be intimidated by the latter. It’s just a little harder than posing for a selfie. You may just enjoy stringing together a few sentences of your own that don’t come from the press release.

Source: Economic Times

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