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The term food paparazzi has arrived. It refers to people (let’s be honest – bloggers) who storm restaurants, often arriving in groups with fellow food documentarians, snapping photos of their meals. Tales of setting up tripods and flash-pops going off in sedate dining rooms give bloggers with cameras a bad name. Some fine restaurants have even forbidden picture-taking.

Photographing in restaurants always makes me self-conscious. And so seldom do the images turn out well. You could be about to enjoy the most delicious meal you’ve ever put in your mouth but the photo of the meal will, invariably, not do it justice. It isn’t easy to take great photos of food, especially in a dark restaurant where every dish ends up looking like brown lumps of some amorphous substance. Not a good look. And not fair to the chef.

I’ve hesitated from blogging about restaurant visits because I lacked pictures that I deemed good enough to accompany the post. Plus, snapping photos while sitting down to a great meal isn’t exactly relishing the moment, which is supposed to be the whole point, right?

If I believe that my experience is one that others might find interesting or enlightening or helpful I should be able to find another way of sharing my culinary adventure. Taking pictures of meals may be, at times, desirable, but the photos do not necessarily have to be of the food and not necessarily taken in the midst of an intimate dinner with my companions. Literal pictures cannot always translate an experience accurately. So, I aim to find ways to share my experiences without joining the paparazzi.

I don’t want to be that blogger when a live sweet shrimp scampers across my plate and throws my camera back in my face.

Here are some of my best/worst photos from my brief former life as a food paparazzo:

This was a succulent beyond succulent cassoulet that I enjoyed in the Bordeaux region of France. A family restaurant with long-cooked deliciously complex and heart-warming food in an old rustic space, serving fabulous wine. Would you want to go there based on this photo?

Same restaurant below. I guess I am glad to have this reminder of the barely-cooked tomatoes with mild grilled chiles – I like the idea of this dish. Maybe I’ll try it at home. But it was so much better than this lame picture.

I don’t know what this next one is or where it was taken but based on this photo I wouldn’t want to go back.

Ok, this one isn’t TOO bad; However, I felt stupid taking it because I was in Paris at a lovely sandwich shop and everyone else was just enjoying their meal with elegance and I was busy worrying about getting a good shot.

This is next one represents one of the best food experiences of my life. My husband and I arrived at this little inn, Auberge Basque, in the Basque region of France starving and exhausted. This is a highly regarded food inn run by chef star Cedric Bechade. We had a room reserved in the inn but no reservation that night for the restaurant. We sat in the bar and the chef INVENTED (!) this soup to warm our bellies. We had no idea how lucky we were. You can’t just show up without a reservation and be served anything at this place. We wept with our good fortune and the most remarkable soup we’ve ever enjoyed. But this picture, while I am glad to have it, is not going to give you even an inkling of our experience there. And I think the sommelier was giving us the hairy eyeball while I “subtly” readied my camera phone.

I like this one better. I clearly have a yen for pastry.

This is another amazing meal we had in the Basque region – this time in San Sebastian, Spain. Looks like a giant mess to me. I am sure it was lovely.

This risotto looks dirty:

I like this one of me perusing the tapas selection better. ¬†I am thinking, “Chorizo… cheese…smoked fish. Ok, five of each!”

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So, say you were thinking about starting a food blog, like a couple people I know did last year.
You may begin first to discuss at length with the people you dine with. Beware of advice from those that you cook for: their words will likely be self-serving. If the advice giver thinks that by joining the food blogosphere that you will cook more (quantitatively) or better (qualitatively) you are likely to receive bountiful compliments and reinforcements. If the advice giver silently surmises that what time you would then be dedicating to the blog may detract from the energy and focus you spend on their meals, they may encourage you to consider your motives or to develop the concept more before diving in. These conversations will likely get you thinking about what it is that you want to say? Do you have a theme? And (most glaringly) what do you have to contribute to the already saturated realm of everyone-in-the-world-already-has-a-blog?

You will likely begin composing short bits in your head when you’re cooking something, inevitably you may say little things out loud. Before long you will be muttering to yourself and thinking almost completely in third person or in your bog voice. Putting an egg into batter suddenly becomes “stir swiftly the egg into the batter” and you’re thinking about the greater meaning of what you’re putting on the table. You will write notes to yourself on bits of paper and leave them all over your desk at work. Beware: you will have to call your boss when you’re out of the office to go and look for a tidbit of work related data on your desk. When he picks up the paper with the address you need on it he will read to you “27948 3rd Street, dates, arugula, pomegranate seeds” and you will then be very embarrassed.

If having the people you live and work with think that you’ve completely (and finally) lost it has not swayed your focus on the idea of the blog, by all means, please proceed.

The next logical step would be to set up the software, get your domain name, etc. Since this may be a significant source for distraction and procrastination, I would recommend outsourcing the task to, say, your husband. Once everything is in place begins the easy part. Just a little contemplation of your personal identity, the look of the blog and then think really, really far in advance about things that will likely never happen to you. If you run out of information, please do not, I repeat DO NOT google “top food blogs” and click on the link to the Times Online article of the World’s Best Food Blogs because you will not be able to resist clicking on every single one.

This is where things can really go awry. You will find people like Molly Wizenberg who have been sharing their intimate food moments for years before you even knew what a blog was. Then, you’ll run across Matt Armendariz who is so perfect with his stunning site that you will then spend the next three months lamenting the fact that you don’t have the Martha Stewart seal of perfect approval and super graphic design skills and are hosting a food blogging retreat in Mexico and have a partner who is a professional food stylist… or any of that. If you continue down the list looking for low hanging fruit, you will likely only find more perfectionists and big-name foodies on the rest of the list. This will take the full three aforementioned months to recover from. But, if you do. If you still feel that you have something to say and that, most importantly that you would enjoy the process, I’d say go for it.

Take your time and get your confidence up too because next it’s “food styling on the fly”, “self-taught food photography”, “you mean people are actually going to read this?” and “finding the time to self sabotage”.

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