Monday, April 26, 2010

Food Paparazzi

We've noticed a steady stream of news articles geared toward the "food paparazzi" trend and its impact on restaurants, their chefs, and their patrons. This article in the LA Times moved us to write this post. Not only was the article focused on food bloggers, it also featured a chef that we're familiar with (I worked with Chef Ludo Lefebvre's wife at a law firm in LA before moving to DC).

If you're reading this, you probably know that we photograph our meals. To me, a food post without a photo is like an ice cream sundae without the toppings. Photos enhance the reading experience for you (we hope) and the writing experience for us. The photos are incredibly useful tools when we can't remember what sauce was served on our entree or what we ate last weekend. I don't think too many people would debate the fact that photos make blogs more fun.

The debate ensues when the cameras come out at restaurants to take those pretty little photos. We've blogged about over 100 restaurants and have taken photos at almost every one. B is in charge of the photography partly because he's much better at it than I am, but also because I'm shy. B is great at capturing a photo of the dining room or perching the camera on a water-glass-turned-tripod to avoid blurry photos.

We are well aware that some chefs despise photography in their restaurants. At Komi, Chef Johnny Monis has forbidden photos of the food, and the waiters and waitresses enforce this rule nightly. Komi is the only place we've been asked not to take photos (see post here). In fact, Komi is the only restaurant where anyone has ever said anything about the camera. B has developed such a discreet style of restaurant photography that people at our own table ask "When are you going to take a picture?" and B always replies "I already did."

You see, we understand that the people sitting at the table next to us don't want to be distracted by a flash (groan) or a giant camera (to each their own). We also understand that the chef has worked his or her butt off to ensure that the food we're eating is served at the proper temperature and shouldn't sit on the table while the next Annie Leibovitz finds the perfect angle. We get it. That's why we go to great lengths to be discreet and quick when taking photos. We could bring our DSLR to restaurants and we'd get better photos. We could bring a tripod or request tables by windows. We don't because, at the end of the day, going to a restaurant should be about the food and the company, and not the blog. This blog is the product of our life in DC. We don't live our lives for the blog, our lives are lived out and reported on through this blog. We just happen to have a (tiny) camera along to document the ride.

We would love to hear from you. What do you think about cameras in restaurants???

Second Thoughts from B

J and I, like most Washingtonians, enjoy observing tourists wander through our fair city. There's always the matching t-shirts with the American eagle superimposed over a flag and the rampant spread of misinformation, usually masked behind an oversized foldout map. But the thing that really gets me is the overuse of the video camera. Maybe I'm missing out on some great family vacation memories, but I don't think I've ever had a desire to watch a home movie that contains a 30 second panorama of a Metro escalator or a random signpost. I sometimes wonder if this dedicated camera operator will have to sit at home in front of the TV just to realize what city they just returned from...

The point is that when documenting an event gets in the way of experiencing it, you may need to reevaluate your priorities. As J said, the purpose of our blog isn't to kick start a new career, pad our egos, get special treatment, or garner free swag. It isn't a professional review site. It is essentially an online diary and if people get something out of it, all that much better. Some people live to blog and some people blog to live. We do neither. We live and we blog, and we try not to let one get in the way of the other. So it isn't that we don't love you, dear reader, it is just that we believe in giving you a taste of what we do without the manufactured facade of studio lighting.

Despite the praise from my adoring wife, I'm hardly a great photographer. However, I am a bit of a perfectionist and would like to think I have some artistic ability. Therefore, it can be difficult to settle for a blurry, dimly lit photo. On the other hand, I refuse to set up a studio in the middle of a restaurant just to make sure that I capture a garnish in a flattering manner.

On the other hand, we don't exactly side with those chefs who have declared that the emergence of the blogging culture has completely "dumbed down" the dining experience. Short of those people who make a big production out of it, the ends definitely justify the means. Because of the internet, the general population seems far more savvy about food and increasingly willing to experience fine dining because of it.

So like almost anything in life, balance is key. Keep the conversation going by embracing new media but don't let the phone/email/camera keep you from living your life. Let us not lose sight of the fact that some things are best experienced in real time.


iEatDC said...

Agree. We have a DSLR to document awesome vacations, maybe a family newborn, but I keep a pink point & shoot in my purse most of the time. The P&S & iPhone camera are all I use in a restaurant. Sometimes I'm having such a good time, I forget to take a picture.

Ansel Adams said...

I stand with B + J on this one. Moderation is key -- let technology and new media enhance your life, but don't let them overrun it. I look forward to more great photos and reviews.

blunoz said...

Thanks for sharing that article.

I, too, like to take pictures at restaurants (much to my family's chagrin). I don't focus specifically on the food, but the atmosphere of the restaurant, too. I used to do more restaurant reviews on my blog, but lately have just been posting my restaurant reviews to Yelp.

I take pictures at restaurants just to get an overall feel for the restauarant and the style of food. As a Yelp user, when I am going to be driving through a city and want to try a local restaurant, it's VERY helpful to just have a couple of snapshots of the front of the restaurant and what the dining room looks like. A table shot showing paper plates and styrofoam cups at a local burger spot or fine china and linen napkins at a fancier place help get a feel for what type of restaurant to expect in a quick glimpse instead of reading non-descript reviews that say, "This place is great. Love the onion rings."

Like you, I generally use a small point-and-shoot or my cell phone, and I turn the flash off. My fairly new Olympus Stylus camera has a "cuisine" mode, and in the super-macro setting has a very small spotlight for lighting up small objects directly in front of it. It's great for providing light for the photo but not annoying other customers with the sudden flash of the camera.

From the article, "One customer recently booked a reservation for two, but requested a table for four to accommodate the tripod for his camera." That's just outrageous! I suppose if it was some famous reviewer, maybe, but still, that's taking away space and impacting the restaurant's revenues for the night.

Karena said...

I agree about photos enhancing the blog - I always feel bad when I don't have enough pictures! I'm all about sneaking a quick and discreet shot at nicer restaurants because I don't want to distract the people I'm with (or even strangers). I'm also a little freaked out about getting yelled at haha. A friend of mine in NYC once mentioned that a chef angrily kicked someone out for snapping a photo of food. Yeaaahh...I like blogging, but not enough to sacrifice a restaurant trip.

Maris (In Good Taste) said...

I think like just about everything else in life, there is a time and a place.

On the other hand, if you're dining out, that experience is yours to enjoy however you want. If a chef is kicking you out of a restaurant because you weren't enjoying the food the way HE/SHE wanted you to, well, I think that's a little ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Love your guys blog! I live in Hawaii now and you guys make me miss DC...