Recently, yet another restaurant owner told me that she had been approached by a “blogger” who told them that her Instagram account had thousands of followers and, with nary an eyelash batted, offered to post a review in exchange for 200 euro.
Of course, the restaurant owner declined, and so the (douche)blogger walked away, depriving readers and the small business owners of an honest review. A real shame, because this year-old restaurant has lately been Barrio Chamberí’s shining new star at the epicentre of Madrid’s active word-of-mouth marketing. (In fact, I’ve eaten at this place more than ten times because it’s right by my flat and well, because their spicey-meets-homey comfort cuisine is just beyond excellent – watch out for an honest review here v soon!)
Anyway, this incident of blogger bribery / influencer insincerity is just the latest in a long and extremely uncomfortable list of gripes relayed to me by several restaurant owners in Madrid. In my opinion, it derails the blogging community’s professional reputation and further feeds the Fake News sewage we live in today. As a reader, how the heck would I know if a positive review was a sincere opinion or basically a paid advertorial?
This is why, as someone who has been doing restaurant marketing for a few years now, I continue to strongly advocate for a more ethical industry by insisting on a few simple rules: one, bloggers/influencers should at least do their part and research about the food and take time to talk to the restaurant owners, take their own photos and not just copy paste photos that have been rehashed twenty times without permission (I know this because my own photo has been reused countless times without my permission), or at least credit the food photographers for their work.
I think it’s also good practice for food bloggers to explicitly write if they had been invited by the restaurant – it’s an accepted practice for restaurants to invite bloggers and food journalists to try their food, but mentioning that keeps everything above board and does a big service to readers.
And most importantly – food bloggers mustn’t bribe restaurants for fuck’s sake.
On a more positive note…
Now to take away that bitter taste – I’d like to tell a little tale of heartbreak and gastronomic redemption, about an anonymous food critic that you’ll probably never meet: one of my best friends whom I’ve known since we were seven years old.
E. was visiting Europe to embark on his yearly pilgrimage to some of the best restaurants in the world. He had arrived in Madrid with his boyfriend, but as fate would have it, he found himself alone on Day 2 of his two-week eatventure, sans compagnon, with an itinerary that included reservations for two in restaurants inhabiting the Michelin-starred galaxy.
And that was how I found myself in Paris last weekend on a spur-of-the-moment gastro getaway, comforting my heartbroken friend whilst feasting on melt-in-your-mouth beef bourguignon and Bordeaux at Chez Dumonet.
During our lunch, my friend took out his little black notebook and showed me his handwritten entries throughout the years – meticulous notes of his experiences in culinary temples around the world, from Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo (of the famed “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”), to Arzak in San Sebastián, to L’Atelier of Joël Robuchon in Paris Saint-Germain. This was a chronicle of his personal passion, the end-product of years of research and dreaming and patience that culminated in two big trips each year to eat like a king.
I asked him if he had ever considered writing a food blog. He said no, he was not a professional food critic, he was “just a big food lover” and that his food diary was purely personal, for him to whet his memories and relive his appetite.
Two days later, as the winner of Lady Luck’s golden ticket, I found myself occupying the empty seat across E. in his latest conquest: La Table d’Eugene in Montmartre.
Chef Geoffroy Maillard catapulted this quaint little restaurant to the Michelin firmament in 2015. And wow did it leave me starry-eyed with these celestial plates from the chef’s degustación for the day:
During our sublime meal, we cracked inside jokes that were still funny to us even after 30+ years. By then, I had also realized that my friend was the quintessential French Whisperer – I should mention that E’s greatest asset is his infectious, supergay sense of humor that got the French customers in the nearby tables chuckling each time he would belt out his Pinoy-inflected comments from the French lexicon:
“Ooh la la!!”
“Je suis aux anges!”
Soon, our table neighbours started talking to us to give us travel tips around Paris – completely banishing the snobby French stereotype. Even the stiff waiters couldn’t help themselves and by the end of the meal were just cracking up completely.
As we sipped the last vestiges of our Chablis, I wondered how my friend would scribble this day’s entry in his food diary which, had I not come, would have been a feast in a table for one in the most romantic city in the world.
Seeing my friend’s face as he talked (and flirted) animatedly with the French waiter after our meal, however, assured me that his heartbreak was banished to the distant past.
For some reason, I remembered a line from Hemingway:
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”