Tonight I attended a panel discussion between some pretty well known food bloggers, community managers, and all around food lovers as part of Social Media Week in Paris. In a crowded room, social media and food loving fans came to hear the opinions and thoughts of David Lebovitz, Elodie Fagan, Ann Mah, and Lindsey. Three of them collectively are some of the most trusted voices in the food blogging world, and Elodie the community manager for Yelp Paris. Topics ranged from what’s the difference between blogs and community sites (like Yelp), how is the French food industry changing, do you look at analytics and statistics on your blog, and what is the difference between a food critic (or culinary journalist) and a food blogger…
Elodie shared a really interesting story of a food critic she knows who posts on Yelp under a fake name so she can post honest comments, things she really thinks, that she can’t post in her glossy magazine. It’s this perception of writing about food that is so under scrutiny today- who to trust when looking for the ‘best’ food in Paris? Should we follow in the path of history, only trusting restaurants that are old, established, and therefore expensive? Or should we go down the new path, carved by food bloggers and plain old food lovers, exploring new restaurants and creating our own community of food critics?
Hot off the trails of my interview with Guy Martin at his famous restaurant (and the oldest in France), Le Grand Véfour, I have had food, and French food specifically, on my brain non-stop. Living in a culture that revolves around food, it’s easy to do. But what has got me thinking is the fact that France is such a traditional, old rooted country, that food concepts that have existed for so long in the US are just now trickling over to France. For example, the idea of ‘fast food’ (apart from McDo and other chains) is non existent. If you are in a rush and want to get something to eat, your options are generally limited to a crêpe or a baguette sandwich. But as of late, this is changing, and food (good food) is becoming more accessible.
There are several directions I could go with this discussion- either to the debate between whether the Michelin star rating system is as important as is once was, or to the debate of food becoming more accessible, but is it losing its quality?
Since I have just interviewed Guy Martin, a chef who was once the youngest chef to earn three Michelin stars, and also since I have become a regular of THE restaurant that began putting this star system into question (Frenchie) I am going to go down the path of the first…
For me, an American, food is abundant where I come from. And good food, at that. Sure there’s a lot of crap out there, a lot of processed and packaged junk food, but there’s also a lot of good food. Good food that is accessible to pretty much every level of society, at every price range. You don’t have to shell out $60 for a quality meal in America. But in France, this idea of making good food available to all, is rather new. The young chefs like Grégory Marchand, who was trained at the Grammercy Tavern in NYC, are out there offering incredible food at insanely affordable prices (compared to other restaurants with equal caliber eats). This kind of availability of good food is putting the traditional French rating system (the Michelin star) into serious question. People are starting to see that you don’t have to eat at a starred restaurant in order to eat star-quality food. (Cue Anthony Bourdain’s 100th episode in Paris…)
When I asked Guy Martin about this shift in the perception of French food and the downfall of the Michelin star, he paused for a while. He thought hard about his response. And his reply was, “I think we [the grand chefs, the starred restaurants of Paris] have forgotten about the client, and what the client wants and needs should always be the priority. But we have forgotten it.” THIS coming from one of the most important French chefs was shocking. In a country where the client is usually last, it was refreshing to hear someone like him admit that perhaps that was the wrong philosophy. What the client wants to day is good food, in a good setting, that they can share with good people, at a good price.
And the way that people today are finding out about these restaurants that are offering up “anti-michelin-star-system” type ‘good’ food is through Social Media! It’s incredible. People don’t read up on places like Le Grand Véfour before coming to Paris anymore- they read up on places like Frenchie- and they read about them in food blogs, not fancy magazines or newspapers. Embarrassingly enough, I, being a self declared gourmande, didn’t even know what Le Grand Véfour was when I was invited there- But Frenchie has been on my list of MUST eats for three years! My generation couldn’t fathom paying €350 for dinner at L’Atelier when they can pay €35 at Le Pantruche, and eat arguably as well. It’s a shift that is changing, fundamentally, the cultural tradition of food. In fact, it’s changing so drastically, that UNESCO just inaugurated French Cuisine into their list of “world intangible heritages,” probably in the hopes that they could historically preserve the old sense of French cuisine in light of the fact that its stronghold on French culture probably won’t endure this generation’s culinary revolution.
To be continued…This is a series of thoughts I ponder daily.