In other parts of the world, there have been tensions between food bloggers, established food writers and even celebrity chefs. Bloggers are said to have democratised food criticism and writing, and have also provided direct competition for traditional food writers in the mainstream media. But for Koo, there are fundamental differences between the two groups. “If you want someone to comment on Korean fried chicken, you’re not going to seek out Chua Lam(蔡瀾), you’ll look for me,” he says.
Renowned columnist, food critic and restaurateur Lau Kin-wai also thinks such worries are unnecessary. Sitting in his Michelin-starred restaurant, Kin’s Kitchen, Lau says food bloggers and traditional food critics cater to different audiences.
“They [food bloggers] are more mass-oriented, while we traditional food critics who write in newspapers and magazines talk about different aspects of experiences,” Lau explains.
“If you ask me about egg waffles or cart noodles, I can’t answer you. But I travel around the globe to try the best [food]…and try to bring food writing to a cultural level, not just commenting on the taste or price of the food.”
When everyone and anyone can be a food critic, the independence and credibility of food bloggers comes into question, especially as more and more restaurants latch onto them as a means of promotion. Through public relations companies, restaurants invite food bloggers to free tastings and subsequently require bloggers to give them positive reviews online.
However, gourmet writer and restaurateur Lau Chun, who happens to be Lau Kin-wai’s son, reveals that traditional food writers also face the dilemma of free meals. The younger Lau says it is almost impossible to be free from the influence of advertisements and other vested interests. In order to uphold the independence of food criticism, he thinks it is important for all food writers to declare their interests.
“Foreign critics put much emphasis on this [declaring interests] — whether the meal is self-paid and is there any collaboration between [food critics] and restaurants,” Lau says. He cites the example of prominent overseas food critics, like the American food writer Ruth Reichl, who make anonymous visits to restaurants and pay for their own meals to ensure their reviews are more objective.
Acclaimed gourmet, food critic and consultant in Hong Kong, 78-year-old Willie Mark Yiu-tong, says the spirit of food writing is truthfulness and honesty to oneself. Ultimately, whether a food review contains good photos or whether it is timely or trend-setting enough are not the fundamental elements that differentiate good food writing from bad. Mark says all good food writing begins with a deep-rooted love for food and the reviewer’s own truthfulness. Good food writing should not pander to the restaurants or to chefs but give them real food for thought.
“Like any commentary pieces, what matters the most is truthfulness,” Mark says. “Food reviews should serve as a mirror for the food industry, allowing them to see the real side of themselves.”
Edited by Frances Sit