Good enough to click?
The relationship between chef and food critic has always been a tricky one. Since the advent of social media, the food blogger, influencer, and KOL (Key Opinion Leader) have made things downright explosive; with chefs at the mercy of critiques that have been captured and captioned on social media.
Any seasoned chef will fondly recall the glory days of fine dining reviews, where visiting inspectors either dined undercover or were infamously recognisable. The chef and team were stuck in an excruciating hell-on-earth waiting for the papers to come out, at a time when people actually read them en masse. Would the make-or-break review be glowing or damning? Worse still, what if there was no review at all?
Now, chefs receive live updates on what their diners are experiencing as it happens. The sad truth is that I’ve often witnessed chefs and F&B managers checking their phones during service, insearch of immediate approval. Chefs rightly gripe that many so-called food reviewers couldn’t differentiate foie gras from their face, but the power of social media today far outstrips that of print in its heyday, potentially reaching thousands within seconds.
Chefs are a passionate and impulsive bunch by nature, but it never looks good for one to turn publicly on some pseudo-blogger like “@TastyGirl89”, who thought the chef’s parmesan mousse arancini rice balls with air-dried basil were too salty and cold. Never mind that @TastyGirl89 had dumped the artisanal salt flakes on top of herself, or killed five minutes taking pictures from every angle brandishing a compact-but-blinding portable spotlight—guilty as charged!
Still, chefs forget that social media is a source of valuable content, digital gold for any establishment. From the restaurant’s point of view, positive reviews with artful (and perfectly lit) pictures cost nothing and can have more impact than any advertising money could buy. But not everyone wants to play the social media publicity game. Michel Roux, co-founder of the Michelin three-star Waterside Inn in Bray in the UK was bold enough to place a sign at the door that reads “No photos, please” yet it’s pretty unlikely that any chef in this part of the world will risk vexing snap-happy diners, or forego the free exposure. It’s a double edged-knife conundrum, damned if you do or damned if you don’t. I know of at least one case where a talented chef was recruited by a high-profile hotel, only to be dropped unceremoniously months later, because his delicious meals were deemed un-Instagrammable.
Indeed, many young-gun chefs have taken it in their stride, creating extravagantly photogenic dishes that are just waiting to go viral. It’s a sure-fire way to attract new customers and influencers, giving a real boost to business. The only problem with the aesthetic obsession on social media is the look of a dish may take precedence over quality and taste, and that is really at the heart of the matter.