Category Archives: blogging

Mainstream and new media incompatible? (or: Does The Age Epicure censor bloggers?)

[This article will be updated if further information comes to hand. I can be contacted privately via the contact page, or comments can be left below.]

The relationship between mainstream media publications and the online world is strange in Australia. A new media of blogs, independent commentators, expert forums and the like has burgeoned in cyberspace. Meanwhile, attempts to integrate new media into the online presence of existing old media entities have been late to the stage and range from tokenistic to populist. Online resources are used freely by journalists and the mainstream media, but a willingness to incorporate these resources into old media offerings is lacking, seemingly to the point of wilful neglect.

Bloggers, the major part of the new media spectrum, get a bad run in much mainstream press. Howls of outrage emanate from desks and laps around the world quite regularly. Print editors huff back at the howls, pointing out that bloggers are illiterate, opinionated, unmoderated, attention seeking gits who need another hobby. Neither side has the highground in this argument.

There are many successful bloggers who do exactly what print media opinion writers are paid to churn out. Some blogging domains (subjects) work well for a mainstream audience and are readily incorporated into mainstream publications. Tech-blogging is the obvious example. There are many successful, well paid tech-bloggers with their finger on the pulse of an incredibly fast-moving area. Some media organisations have recognised their value. Political blogging also works well for some people and has created names both locally and overseas (Crikey and it’s contributors are an early crossover media format). I don’t know that political bloggers earn much from their sites, but I expect that other lucrative opportunities arise for the more credible writers.

There are domains other than tech and politics that lend themselves to high-interest blogging, of course, though without the money. The number of bloggers in Australia and almost everywhere else who want to communicate something about what they cook or eat is enormous, though hardly surprising. Cookbooks sell well. Restaurants do a roaring trade. People like to communicate about food. As with anything, it’s not all done well. Passion doesn’t always translate into perfect prose. For many people, the warmth of the experience and (probably) photographic evidence is a higher priority. Each to their own. Most food bloggers aren’t seeking renown. They want to share their enthusiasm. And of those who do find renown, not many successfully move from online enthusiasm to gripping commissioned prose.

I’ve always found the vehemence of the print media response to bloggers a bit perplexing. Yes, bloggers mostly present unedited text, often longwinded or self-indulgent, but take a look at a range of professional writers’ raw text and you’d quickly realise that some of those writers produce copy which is little better than middling blog content. It gets polished by others.

Certainly, far too many foodblogs rely on other people’s recipes or derived content, too often without attribution, to gain a following. However, I’m often surprised at how obviously nicked some recipes in mainstream magazines are. Loosely derived content is often the meat in the lifestyle feature sandwich. Plagiarism isn’t the preserve of poor bloggers.

Thank god for the editors, eh?! Yep, the editors who are meant to act as gatekeepers for quality and, um, quality? No. Not quite. The writers are generally relied on to check their own facts or not to nick others’ material. Ironically, food isn’t treated as enough of a specialist area to always warrant editors (or, sometimes, writers) who actually know about their subject matter. There are exceptions, naturally, but not enough of them. Neither writing nor editing pay enough to retain many people who really know. And neither job is much fun. Editors have an unenviable position between readers, advertisers, writers and management. Writers have to work really hard to make a living. As Ed Charles mentioned on Tomato recently, even big names like Jill Dupleix and Terry Durack aren’t necessarily raking in the moolah.

I’m trying really hard to keep some balance here, as discussion of these topics so often deteriorates into one-sided rants. I’ve been reworking some old ground in talking about the problems between blogs and the media. As recently as March this year, it was made clear, yet again, just how blindly prejudiced mainstream media editors can be about bloggers [1][2][3]. So why do I raise it again?

Yesterday, in the aftermath of my annoyance at an article in The Age Epicure — probably once Australia’s most interesting wide-circulation food publication — I was told some disturbing information. It was suggested to me by a source who I would usually trust that Epicure will not, as a matter of policy, write about or make reference to bloggers. (Let’s ignore John Lethlean’s mention of Stephanie Wood’s blog late last year, cos, you know, she’s not just a blogger. She’s also a stunningly opinionated editor. Who blogs.)

Just in case you missed it the first time: it is suggested that Epicure will not, as a matter of policy, write about or make reference to bloggers. Leanne Tolra at Epicure responded to an enquiry about why an interview with me was omitted from an article yesterday saying, plausibly, that the article needed to be shorter and there had been a number of bloggers interviewed, but in the end they had to be cut. Sounds reasonable. If you are a blogger who was interviewed, please leave a note in the comments section. A follow-up to Tolra asking about the issue of deliberate omission hasn’t yet seen a reply.

Could Epicure (or perhaps Fairfax as a whole?) be so stupid as to have a policy that wilfully deprives any (external) bloggers of media exposure? If it’s true, what could be the reasons?

Let me see…

  1. Financial. Readership numbers are important for advertising revenues. Mentioning bloggers might mean readers would switch to reading hundreds of colourful food sites. But wait, aren’t bloggers crap? Why would readers switch? The primary fear is probably of restaurant reviews. A newspaper’s reviewer profile is the biggest drawcard for the majority of readers. That’s right, Epicure could churn out the same stuff every week, use foreign syndicated material, and ignore informed debate, just as long as John Lethlean and Matt Preston remain popular with the readers. (It’s notable that blogs that review restaurants bear the brunt of the animosity from the mainstream media.)
  2. Company brand strength. Tie readers into an internal blog setup so that they lose sight of the rest of the blog world. I suspect only a small subset of online newspaper readers are drawn into their blogs, not least because of the mess of comments that follows. It also means paying more writers or pissing off existing staff writers by making them produce even more content.
  3. Ideological. We already know that at least one Fairfax editor holds foodbloggers in such low regard that she’s happy to throw uninformed insults at a knowledgeable audience. Could this malady be more widespread? It’s easier to paint a whole cohort of people with one disdainful brush than to spare a moment to read or (heavens!) participate. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any Australian foodwriters or foodmag editors who openly participate in the shadowy, mysterious community of foodbloggers in Australia (I’m completely ignoring Ms Wood here, but I’m sure I’ll have missed someone somewhere!). Has anyone had a comment on their site? A majority of the foodwriters I know admit to rarely if ever reading foodblogs. Not just that, they don’t read dynamic forums like eGullet or Chowhound, which is kinda strange, given that many overseas foodwriters worth their salt are active contributors.

So, let’s think for a moment. I can’t for the life of me recall a mention of a blog in the pages of Epicure, but my reading of it has become less and less enthusiastic in the last two years, so I might have missed something. More broadly, The Age and other print media rarely mention external blogs, except in the technology pages or when a prominent person has one. For the moment, I’m quite willing to believe that Epicure and perhaps its master, Fairfax, are deliberately obscuring the contribution of external new media to Australia’s information landscape.

If we assume that points (1) and (2) are valid, then I guess we have to resign ourselves to an enduring real-blogs-vs-media-companies existence. However, if point (3) forms part of the picture then the online community must proselytise and chastise in equal measure. The diverse character and depth of new media participants’ contributions to the world of food and eating is substantial. To obscure this from old media readerships would be to pretend the world is flat. There’s little excuse for wilful ignorance.

[This article will be updated if further information comes to hand. I can be contacted privately via the contact page, or comments can be left below.]

All I want for my birthday is …

All I want for my birthday is one of these:



Pierre Hermé: Tarte au café

and one of these:


Pierre Hermé: Ispahan

Actually, make it two of each. Burp.

Now, if any reader can point me in the direction of someone in Australia making pâtisserie of this quality, I’d be much obliged. I wonder if I’ll be deafened by silence. 🙁

Those Melbourne bloggers met again, ate again, left again

Bloggers aren’t always quick off the mark. Heavens! It took Melbourne’s community a whole evening and maybe a night to put up the first post about yesterday’s second Bloggers’ Banquet. And to think we had been joking about everyone running home to post about it first!

The two-and-a-half-hour trek on public transport from Melbourne to Dromana was worth it. Ella and Furry had a lovely venue for a bayside gathering and we listened to the parrots, breathed sea air and, um, cried through the wood-fired oven smoke. Call me smoked sausage. The gathering was more modest than the first banquet, but it was great to be able to sit around in the garden and stand around in the kitchen with many conversations flowing.

Jon of Melbourne Foodie is the first-post winner and has a number of captioned photos, so you might want to pop over there for a little more info. Here are my photos. I’m afraid this isn’t a comprehensive catalogue as some photos weren’t good enough.

The Where’s the Beef? soy bombs (frightening name) saved the day when hungry hordes needed immediate feeding! Where’s the recipe? Here. Delish.

Agnes and Alistair from Off the Spork brought these tasty treats:

Jon of Melbourne Foodie filled tarts with an excellent choc-orange ganache:

And viviacious Vida had us groaning with condensed milk delight at these oblatne filled with walnut and chocolate dulce de leche:

There is a slight obsession with photographic documentation of food:

And last but not least, my contribution… Two flavours of macarons. Rose/lemon and Violet. I had contemplated doing an entirely different dish, but anticipated a wave of ‘no macarons?!’ exclamations. 😉

In addition to the people mentioned above, it was also good to see Thanh and Claire and to meet Ella’s Québecois friends Marc and Lilian. Another great Melbourne Bloggers’ Banquet!

A few news items

Busy, busy, busy. That’s been the past few months. Some of the activity has been on a new site, some on a few tweaks to Syrup & Tang, and a whole pile of unfoodieness has been keeping me away from food and cookbooks. This must stop! Here’s a small update for the curious.

1. A little while ago I became Commissioning Editor for a new website, I eat I drink I work. Sounds fancy! My role is not to run the site or the business, but to look for writers and bloggers who have something to say. Content includes industry news, commissioned articles, hospitality job classifieds and authorised feeds from featured bloggers. The site launched recently and is currently featuring the feeds of Eating with Jack, At My Table and Where’s the Beef? There have been a few teething problems on the technical side but many have been ironed out in the last day or two (you wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to process an RSS feed!). I believe the remaining tweaks will be done over the next few weeks.

There are a few feature articles showing and coming. We aim to have a range of styles and content to keep readers stimulated and/or entertained. At the time of writing, an article about obesity by me has just appeared, with some content that might surprise you. Whatever your interest in food, whether inside or outside the food and hospitality areas, I hope that people find something to stimulate them. Take a look at the site, or if you have suggestions for content, visit the content and submissions page to contact me there.

Part of the philosophy behind the site is to create an interface between different areas of the food and wine world. There will be events for a range of people. We have a number of tasting and educational get-togethers planned (think wine, mushrooms, and more…) and you’ll see more news about them over at I eat I drink I work in due course. If you have feedback about the site, want more information, or have suggestions for events you should contact Cameron Russell (big boss).

2. I’ve recently listed as a ‘featured publisher’ over at a US venture (aiming to be international) called Foodbuzz. You’ll see a button in the sidebar which links to that site.

3. I’ve just added a ‘recent comments’ element to the sidebar of Syrup & Tang (under the category index). This helps readers keep track of bits and pieces which they might have missed. A few other tweaks will be noticed by some regular visitors. (And, as always, if you’ve got suggestions for functionality on this site, I’m interested to hear them.)

4. Stay tuned for chocolate cake, alcohol, carrots, exotic fragrances and some travel news in the next few weeks.

Happy reading wherever you surf!

Food conference: Out of the Frying Pan

The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival held its first ‘Out of the Frying Pan’ talkfest last year and has repeated the event in 2008. It’s goal is to bring together industry and media to talk about issues (which can be interpreted in many ways). This sort of thing can be a mixed bag when there are so many not-quite-overlapping points of interest and last year’s was an odd mix of industry discussion and wannabe cookbook writers. This year there seemed to be more media representatives but less industry (chefs, producers, PR people) and though the focus was better, perhaps, the format rather undid it.

‘Global Food Trends’ was the opening session, moderated by prominent food media personage Joanna Savill, with panellists Bénédict Beaugé (, William Sitwell (Editor, Waitrose Food Illustrated magazine), Gabrielle Hamilton (, and Oriol Balaguer (stunning Spanish pastry chef,

After a very long opening by Tourism Minister, Jacinta Allen (welcome to our Fantastic state where everything is Fantastic and especially in Fantastic Melbourne which is Fantastic just like the Fantastic Food and Fantastic producers and oh-my-god-shut-up-already), the panel was asked to start talking about the trends they could see. William Sitwell promptly established that his strongest card seems to be strong, pompous generalisations about anything he doesn’t like, taking cynical sneering to a level beyond Hugh-Grant-character-knobbishness. It started okay (ubiquity of food experiences, London as gastronomic capital of the world (ho, ho), exhausting rise in ethical issues facing consumers), but once he got onto hire-in home chefs, molecular gastronomy, seasonality, dégustation menus, and — watch out — the utter stupidity of bloggers… Tiresome.

Gabrielle Hamilton was a refreshingly grounded voice, honest and clear, but not afraid of stating her (often enjoyable) opinions. It was interesting to hear her concerns about the extreme casualisation of the dining experience in New York, with stemless glassware, placemats and a multitude of small dishes (‘the tasting menu is the chef’s most timid foot forward’) replacing the traditional dining format. And we mustn’t forget the ‘servers who you can’t tell from the customers’ as the staff become ever more casual too. Refreshingly honest about her own cooking too, she freely admitted that the idea of buying high-quality, prepped basic ingredients at a store is attractive to her as a tired working mother.

Bénédict Beaugé talked about the French perspective, where choice is also becoming a problem and people are seeking more comfortable dining options — the drawcard of the traditional.

Finally, one of my food idols, Oriol Balaguer, was asked about the concept of ‘tecnoemoción’, coined or implied by a Spanish journalist Pau Arenós to refer to the artistry-formerly-known-as molecular gastronomy. I’m sure Balaguer gets asked this stuff very frequently, especially as he spent time at El Bulli earlier in his career. Putting the concept to one side for the moment, he mentioned (in Spanish, with interpreter) that there is a growing interest in Spain in traditional products and cuisine, perhaps with an emphasis on higher quality. But there is also an increased incorporation of quality or artisanal produce into processed foods. He also described an increase in ambition in the types and styles of tapas, with new ingredients and techniques. He didn’t seem to have much time for the term tecnoemoción, but it was unclear to me whether this was terminological or conceptual. (The idea is, in essence, that technology can be a vehicle for creating food which evokes emotion/excitement.)

Other snippets from this session: wine can often spoil a dégustation because it interferes with tasting dishes and matching wines to every dish overburdens the senses and disturbs the meal (Beaugé, Balaguer). Farmers around New York are forming supplier consortia to make sourcing a range of ingredients easier for chefs. Chefs aren’t necessarily exploiting this resource (Hamilton). The enduring intellectual animosity towards molecular gastronomy (Sitwell, audience members) is sad. I feel the chefs in this movement lost control of the message so long ago and it’s a pity. (Note: no rants against mol-gastro/tecnoemoción in the comments please unless you’ve actually tried some and thought about it.)

The second session I attended was called ‘Future Food, Future Food Media’, focusing on how industry professionals (chefs, publishers) use the internet to promote themselves or provide a service. Panellists were Luc Dubanchet (, Bénédict Beaugé again, Gilles Choukroun (, and the Spanish-speaking Balaguer. A very mixed range of issues, including monetising content, creating an image, using a site as an interface with visitors, online and offline publishing and more. What was becoming clear, however, was that chefs are not strongly in touch with the internet as a concept or tool, relying on others to act as their agents, protectors, promoters online.

The third session for me was ‘Web 2.0. How to blog and how not to blog’. I was there out of curiosity really, to see who would turn up and to be part of the Melbourne blogging contingent. The panel was Jackie Middleton (, Ed Charles (, Simon Johanson (The Age online), and Stephanie Wood ( It was a bit unfocused and I don’t think it addressed either part of the title well. The choice of ‘Web 2.0’ was almost guaranteed to scare the uninitiated off. The audience was very thin and included people who weren’t clear about what a blog was, let alone how to do it. Comments by Stephanie Wood riled some members of the audience, in particular the presumption that bloggers (in toto) don’t write well, are ignorant, can spread falsehoods and so much more. Indeed, as a follow-up, she has already posted on her own site, restating even more strongly her position. I’ll let it speak for itself. There are too many points to be teased apart for an intelligent discussion here.

It’s a great pity that so many sessions of strong interest were scheduled in parallel. Almost everyone seemed to agree that they were having to miss two or even three other interesting discussions. I would much rather not have wasted time in the Web 2.0 session (no reflection on the panel really), but it’s that toss up between hope, solidarity and guesswork. I hope others will write about other sessions.

The final session of the day, curiously without any parallel sessions, was ‘The Future of Drinking’. Clearly, many people weren’t so thrilled and left before it began. It was a relaxed and surprisingly interesting affair, looking at products, markets, importation vs local production, drinking habits and licensing issues. I’m glad I stayed for half of it.

Money well spent? No, not really. Although last year felt less diverse, this year’s schedule made it much harder to extract value from what was on offer. A real pity.

UPDATE: Other bloggers are commenting on Tomato, Confessions of a Food Nazi and Deep Dish Dreams.

The new black — Syrup & Tang has new clothes


Gourmands and gourmets, look at me! After a month of rest and relaxation slaving over CSS and HTML and swearing at Photoshop, Syrup & Tang has a very new look. Less pastel and more Melbourne-style black. {For aliens, Melbourne is often said in Australia to be the home of people dressed in black all year round.}

As you’ll have noticed from the front page, a number of things have been reorganised. Here’s a list of the major changes:

  • I wanted to have a slightly more magazine-style layout and increase the visibility of older posts. Recent items are now shown in a ‘Ripe’ column, while popular or interesting older items are in a ‘Preserved’ column. The most recent article has a larger feature box.
  • The sidebar now contains a special section called ‘World News, Views, Chews’. Here you’ll see a diversity of morsels that I gather from my readings and surfings, including interesting or amusing news items, products or other stimulants of discussion. You can click through to read and discuss as normal — they are normal posts that will be part of the RSS/Email feed and can be viewed as normal articles, but they will not appear in the main part of the front page.
  • A tighter banner design was necessary to permit a little more open space on the front page.

You’ll notice a number of other aesthetic modifications. I hope most people like the new look!

If you have any problems with the display of pages or notice any malfunctions, please leave a comment or contact me directly. As always, I must nag people who use Internet Explorer 6 to upgrade/defect/do something!


After all this hard work, I think I need a little bit of chocolate to help me sleep at night. I blame all the IE6 users who cause me so much sleeplessness 😛