Blogger Not a Fighter

Good morning ladies and gentlemen!

First of all, I’d like to thank the organizers for inviting me over today to give this talk. Once again I find myself surrounded by such illustrious company. People I really look up to in the food world. It is such an honor to be here.

I’m going to keep this light and breezy today. I’m going to talk about something that was a bit tricky to write about, for the simple reason that it doesn’t really exist: blogging standards.

Allow me, then, to open myself up to all of you – para close na tayo (by the end of the talk sana MU na tayo at pwede na mag holding hands). I don’t really read many local food blogs. In fact, I wince when I’m addressed as JJ Yulo, the food blogger, for the simple reason that my personal perception of the local food blogging scene is not a very pretty one, and I choose to distance myself from it. Why? Well, I’ve talked to many restaurateurs who have all told me all sorts of horror stories…of misplaced demands, and misguided complaints; of being approached for a mention on their blogs, or a good review, in exchange for a major discount or a free meal. When blogging became a form of extortion, I’ll never know, but it goes against the spirit of blogging in the first place. And who wants to be a part of that? Not me. But sadly, such is the reality of our food blogging scene. Not that everyone is in on it, but there are those who choose to abuse it, a testament to the power of the pen, or in this case, the keyboard. Blogs have become so influential, far more than I personally think they should become, that those with a large readership have the power to make or break (or at least maim) an establishment with one bad review.

Funnily enough, blogging really started as way to keep an online diary, of sorts – a very 21st century way of archiving your life. You could write anything you wanted – anything at all. It was about the time when the power of the internet was going more mainstream and more democratic.

I remember reading blogs about such mundane things – “today I washed my puppy for the first time. Then I had lunch . Then I played Angry Birds. It was so much fun!” – and the majority of blogs were just like it. Eventually this evolved, of course, into more specialist topics, and now you have all sorts of things going on online. Practically anything you want, literally at your fingertips: politics, pop culture, fashion, and yes, food. 

Food blogs, in particular, branched out like vines into numerous directions. Some talked about the cuisine of their homeland, others talked about the importance of the hamburger, some just wanted to show pictures of food (or as people call it nowadays, food porn), some showed off their cooking skills, or lack thereof, or their relationships with certain cookbook authors, and some just blasted away nasty criticisms at the restaurant scene.

Let me show you a few examples of blogs that in my opinion have made an imprint on the way I view food blogs. Do look them up when you get a chance and see what I’m talking about.

}1.     Dos Hermanos  – Authored by two Majumdar brotheres, anchored by the more infamous Simon. Well, this guy just has IT, and has become so famous he even has his own dedicated website. He’s self-deprecating, and really funny in a dry Englishman sort of way. He wrote a book called “Eat My Globe”, chronicling his adventures of literally eating his way around the world (and yes, he’s been to the Philippines!). His writing style is just plain fun, which is ultimately what you really want to be.

2.     Matt Bites – This is one of my go to sites for the best food porn. Why do his pictures just pop? Because he’s both a graphic designer AND a photographer – thinking visually is something that comes naturally. Combine that with a love for food, and a food stylist boyfriend, and you have amazing images of the delicious.

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2.     Matt Bites – This is one of my go to sites for the best food porn. Why do his pictures just pop? Because he’s both a graphic designer AND a photographer – thinking visually is something that comes naturally. Combine that with a love for food, and a food stylist boyfriend, and you have amazing images of the delicious.

3.     Yelp - I lump this site together with it’s Asian cousin, Openrice, because they are prime examples of sites allowing participation from everyone. Though they are not food blogs per se, I know some people who use this as a platform for food reviews. For the most part, take sites like this with a grain of salt, because it can get tricky sifting for the entries that make sense and those written haphazardly.

4.     Marketman  – the original “suplado” local blogger and now successful lechonero. I don’t read him all the time, but I’ve read him enough to know that he’s obviously a food nerd and has a wealth of knowledge in his head. Sure, he has his detractors who just don’t like his digital “voice”, but you can’t please everyone, right?

5.     Serious Eats – especially the portions written by J Lopez Kenji-Alt – this guy I really like because he’s also an ex-chef. He knows the drill and then some, and uses his cooking chops to dissect dishes and explain them in both practical and scientific terms. He seems to treat every post as an experiment, cooking things in different ways and documenting which gets the best results. Now THAT is dedication for you!

6.     Jun Blog  – A relatively new discovery of mine, Bay Area based Jun Belen is the author of this blog, nominated by Saveur magazine as one of the best regional cuisine blogs of 2011. He’s an excellent writer AND a photographer as well. His writing style is personal, mellow, and wistful, and very much a window into his life. To me, he brings the best of the spirit of blogging together with awesome images and writing. Be proud he is one of our ranks. 


Blogging, to me, the idealist, can become a very empowering way of keeping everyone in the food biz on their toes. If restaurants know people care about what they’re putting on your table, at least enough to take time and write about it and tell others, then they will certainly bring their A game night after night. Blogging allows discussions to flow, and gives you a peek into the mindset of people and what they want. Imagine the kind of scene we would have if restaurants took cues from the dining public, got more inspiration and flashes of creativity, served the best food possible, and brought out their best all the time? In no time at all we would have one of the most vibrant food scenes in the world, restaurants will be humming and buzzing and packed, we will eat very well, and everyone wins.

By now I think it’s safe to say that blogging is here to stay, at least for now, and it is a very powerful force that we must all reckon with. But how do we harness something that by its very purpose for existing prevents us from putting any rules to it? It’s clear as day – we just have to be better WRITERS.

As I was working on this, I realized I had to embrace that part of me that I have sort of turned away from and be the best I can be, and hopefully be a good example. Yes, I am a food blogger, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t abide by any rules. I have my own set, as well as an informal code of ethics, which I will share with you today. They’re very simple things to live and write and blog by, and I think is a sure path to better blogging.

It begins by acknowledging that, as I said earlier, there are no standards! Considering the phenomenon of food blogging hasn’t been alive for very long, we’re still in the honeymoon stage – and it’s supposed to be exciting! Still lots of kissing and more!

But as all lovers know, in this stage we’re very much best foot forward, and hopefully we stay that way for the rest of the relationship. You still have to comb your hair, dress up a bit, use tawas, and gargle with Listerine! 

So how do we keep the beautiful music playing on? 

First thing’s first. This may sound really basic, but I’ve come across it (and have been guilty of it) too many times. Get the general information down of the place you’re writing about and be sure to put it on your post. This is the first connection to your reading public: address, telephone number, if the place you’re writing about has a URL or not, and maybe even prices of their food. Putting it there makes you look like you mean business.

Next  -- realize that people nowadays, especially with all our internet usage, and cameras, cell phones, and other digital paraphernalia, are very visual. They want to see things, and be there right along with you, eating what you’re eating, even if it’s purely in their imaginations. So it’s a natural step – learn to take better pictures by learning more about your camera. No, you don’t have to be a photographic virtuoso. No, you don’t have to bust out giant cameras everywhere you go  (unless that’s what you want, of course, or unless that’s the only thing you have on you). And no, you don’t have to go so close to your food that it kisses your lens. And if you’re eating family style with other people, remember them when you’re busy snapping away – it’s their food too. No one wants to eat cold food. Learn to use angles, and more importantly, use good light. If it’s too dark, I myself won’t bother. I don’t care how good your camera supposedly does in low light – at some point it will look crappy. It really should take a few seconds. Be creative, and don’t stress so much over it.

If you’re intentions are for many people to read it, do use spell check as you write, and please be careful with your grammar as well, as you have no editor to back you up. You don’t have to be perfect, but at least try to be. It is, after all, a bit painful to read grammatically incorrect pieces. Of course, if the only audience you intend to write for are your 3 brothers, your mom, a scattering of distant cousins and your best friend’s girl friend – then you can toss the grammar out the window.

Now that you’ve gotten all that out of the way, there are always a few things that we should all keep in mind. The restaurant biz is a very tricky, treacherous one. It is difficult to start a business, and even more so to sustain. It takes guts and very deep pockets to enter the fray, so as a blogger, I say cut them some slacks. Respect the business and the effort that went into it. Keep that in perspective when you start writing your entries. If you eventually get a whole load of readers, and they hang on to your every word and opinion, then keeping all this in mind is the first step to becoming a responsible writer. It is an undeniable truth - blogs have a certain amount of power, perhaps too much and too soon, in my opinion.

Restaurants are not perfect, but they try their hardest to be, because that is their job. They are never truly perfect, of course, especially in that dreaded “soft opening” phase. Though technically it would be great to be running on all cylinders at the get go, such is rarely the case around here, so for me at least – a “soft opening” merits a peek, for sure, and perhaps a note on your blog, but not quite a full on post. Give them room to get their bearings. Play fair. No one likes a bully. In that situation, I would state that its on soft opening from the very beginning of the post, and that it may not be indicative of the things they will churn out in the next month or so.

When ordering, I always bring with me a sense of adventure. Sure, try some of their “best sellers”. Nibble on some “greatest hits”. But try to sniff out those lonely little dishes that seem out of place, or are hiding beneath all the popular items, way beyond Cesar salad and spaghetti carbonara. Quite often, these wallflowers are the interesting ones. They are there for a reason. Sometimes I catch dishes like this and it turns out to be the best thing I’ve ordered. I recently stepped into a Japanese restaurant and the most satisfying thing I ate was a bite of my dad’s pork with ampalaya dish.  Be open-minded --- you will be rewarded deliciously, and have interesting tales to tell in your writing.

Do read other blogs, and books, and whatever you can get your hands on. Expand not just your palates, but your minds as well. Notice the nuances of how others write, and take what you can from it. Revel and enjoy it. There are the technical writers who will not only write but teach you a lesson in minute details; the snobs who scoff at plebian fare and will discuss the merits of different caviar variations; the ones who write with acerbic wit as they craft tales of their latest culinary adventures. Some take you on journeys, evoke beautiful memories, and some write poignantly about foods long gone. All of them have something to offer you.

From all that, we come to the heart of all food blogging matters – arguably the most important thing of them all: do your research. The food universe is so vast, so immense, and it varies from country to country, from culture to culture, sometimes even from town to town. There is so much to learn about. When you are writing and you start entering unchartered territory, and you come to a point where you’re not sure of what you’re saying anymore.. go search for your answers. This may seem like such an obvious thing to do, but you will be surprised at how many won’t do it. The web is such a wondrous invention that has changed the way we live more than we probably realize it. Harness its power and wealth of information. It is a blogger’s friend.

If you must criticize a restaurant, do yourself a favor and don’t shoot from the hip, because that just makes you look silly or worse, a jerk (unless of course, once again, that is what you’re after). Get your facts straight. Certain foods are prepared in a certain way, and not always in the most obvious manner – KNOW IT. If you’ve got something a bit negative to say, find out the “why” behind it, so when you do offer your (hopefully) constructive criticism and give the basis behind your observation, you will sound credible. “The chicken wasn’t crispy that day, and was not up to par with their reputation as an excellent restaurant, a place that I’ve constantly returned to with my barkada because we have always had great times here. I have a feeling that it was because the kitchen ran out of time to properly bring their oil up to temperature before frying, thus resulting in a soggy exterior.” In my humble opinion, doesn’t that sound better than “damn, their chicken really sucks. I really hated it, and so did my syota. As in gross. KFC forever!”

As in all things we do, it goes without saying that as go on blogging and writing, we must remain ever humble. No one is a true expert on EVERYTHING the food world has to offer, not even those celebrity chefs on TV with restaurant empires and wealth untold. Food will also always be subjective – what you like might not be what your seatmate likes. Accept that, and be moderate about it. We all have our own opinions and tastes, and though it may all be different at some point, it doesn’t mean we all can’t get along nicely.

I can go on and on about food and writing, and I’m pretty sure so can a lot of people in the audience today but doing so would just bore you to tears.

The easiest way to put all this into perspective is this: write from the heart, with all honesty and integrity, and don’t write anything you wouldn’t say in person. Say kind words, and help whomever you’re writing about with words of encouragement, and not harsh criticism.

After all, this should be the start of a long and passionate romance with the art of food writing.