Blogging and its effects on the Boston food community

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Kristen Fenton, who writes Indulge Inspire Imbibe, began her food blog on a whim.

“I lived in the North End and I was constantly being asked for restaurant recommendations … I just decided to put it online if everyone was asking. It is a nice place to also document the photos I was taking, Fenton said.

Fenton had been reading a few other blogs for inspiration and still follows local blogs, such as Delicious Dishing, Confessions of a Chocoholic, Travel Wine Dine, and Beantown Baker.  Her blog, while focusing on food, also has aspects of travel and lifestyle, thus the “Inspire” portion of her blog’s title.

“When I named it I wanted to keep it open ended because I didn’t want the focus to just be about food,” she said. “I wanted it to be about whatever I wanted.”

Indulge Inspire Imbibe, which has been running for three years, gets about 500 visitors a day. Not bad for a woman who works in the healthcare sector.

Katie Barszcz, of The Small Boston Kitchen, began her blog because she wanted to get involved in the food industry and out of her then job in human relations.

“I started a blog to give me a format to explore food more and see where it would take me,” she said.

The plan worked.  Her blog receives about 10,000 viewers a month and led to The Skinny Beet, a personal chef and catering service (with a blog of course!) she began with her fiancé.  The couple cooks for clients during the week, do private dinner parties, and teach at the Boston Center for Adult Education.

“I think food is something so many people are so passionate about. I think it’s great people have a platform to talk about it,” Barszcz said of the blogging experience. “I think it’s the constant search and staying true to yourself to finding what the purpose of your blog actually is.”

For food bloggers, eating is more than just providing a body with sustenance, but a way of life, a hobby, or a favored pastime.  Not all who love food can be in the restaurant industry, however (and not all in the industry love food, but that is a discussion for another time). This group of people, coined “foodies,” write about food, make food, or simply look at pictures of food on the Internet, feeding their passion after the normal work day is done.  Blogging has emerged as an outlet where foodies can express their love of food with other like–minded individuals, whether or not food is part of their daily life.

Bloggers like Rachel Blumenthal, who has been blogging about food and restaurants for years.

“I think that one of the most important things about blogging is that you’re on your own schedule you’re not on a newspaper’s schedule where there might be something interesting to cover but there are so many other things that need to be covered first,” said Rachel Blumenthal, who runs the site Fork it over, Boston. Blumenthal started the blog almost five years ago and it has helped her get a part–time gig with Eater Boston, a restaurant news site.

Blumenthal, while not posting a great deal this year, thinks that doing restaurant reviews on a blog is easier to beat formal reviewers to the figurative punch, because writers answer only to their free time.

“You’re not answering to an editor or anything like that, so you can do whatever you want and put whatever you want out there … it’s a really nice way to let people express themselves without jumping through all the hoops of legitimate publishing,” she said.

Her site, which she says is about 80 percent restaurant reviews and the rest recipes she attempts at home, has a following of about 400 viewers per day, and more when she posts new material, she says.

“I think that individual bloggers who work hard and are honest and open with their readers can build up a reputation over time that’s on the same level of respect as a Boston Globe reviewer can command,” Blumenthal said.

A noble thought, but not all would agree with that statement, most of all

Sheryl Julian, food critic for the Boston Globe.

“I don’t think they know the rules of the road,” Julian said.

Julian, who in addition to her 27 years at the Globe also teaches food writing in the master’s program at Boston University, believes many bloggers today are getting perks from restaurants and are thus writing biased reviews.

“I’m passionately interested in food journalism,” she said. “If you’re going to become a blogger and teach yourself to do it all, then you have to be serious.  You can’t decide on day that you’re a blogger.”

Julian believes there are two types of bloggers, people who are making food at home for their families and taking photos and food news bloggers who go to restaurants in order for a free meal and then blog about the experience.   She believes the ladder is not journalism and unethical.

For the latter, becoming a well–known blogger in a small city can have its perks, which are enjoyed by bloggers like Fenton, who says although she enjoys some occasional perks, she has no plans to make her blog anything more than a hobby.

The former, Julian believes, have a great deal of potential and many are becoming cookbook authors.

“These first time authors are great authors because they have been writing [on their blogs] for years,” Julian said.

Bloggers like Chelsea Monroe–Cassel, who began the site Inn At The Croassroads with then roommate Sariann Lehrer; their blog includes recipes inspired by the “Game of Thrones” books by George R.R. Martin. The blog started by the two women deciding what to make for dinner, and they thought lemon cakes from the Game of Thrones books would be a good idea.  Already having an interest in the books, they tried searching for a recipe online, but to no avail.

“We couldn’t find anything online that matched what we thought lemon cakes should be,” Monroe–Cassel said.

Monroe–Cassel already collected medieval cookbooks and used them as a jumping off point for the site’s recipes.

“It gives an idea about how recipes and flavor profiles have evolved over time.”

The blog, started in March 2011, soon became an Internet sensation.  The two filled a much–needed niche in the cooking world, and soon a book option was in sight.

“It went from cookbook to blog,” she said, “when I emailed George Martin to let him know that we were doing this … I said jokingly, ‘If you ever think of doing a cookbook think of us.’”

Martin responded a few weeks later saying he liked the blog and would pass it along to his publisher, and in May 2012 “A Feast of Ice and Fire was released to the public.  The book uses quotations from the books describing food to inspire each recipe, and the book features medieval and modern interpretations on food described in the book.

“We’re first and foremost fans and I think that makes a difference too,” she said.

TV shows, types of food, or even the love of some of Boston’s best restaurants can hold Blogging communities together.  Lisa Flores, director of sales and marketing for Columbus Hospitality, has seen blogging come a long way, especially in the past three years.

“I invite a blogger in once a month to come in and have dinner with us … I find it to be relevant press,” Flores said.

Columbus Hospitality Group owns popular spots Sorellina , Mooo…, and the original and most favored fine dining spot among Boston foodies, Mistral.

“People really pay attention to what bloggers are saying, they have become more prominent,” Flores said. “They [bloggers] could become at the same level as a food critic eventually.”

Flores says over her 13 years with Columbus Hospitality and more specifically Mistral, she has seen the age of regular customers decline, from mid 40s to mid 20s, and can attribute some of that to the recent emergence of foodies and related blogs.

Flores follows a few blogs herself, like Boston’s Just Add Cheese and The Perfect Bite, and likes to find bloggers more researched on the restaurant that people visit once and write reviews on sites like Yelp! Flores, like many other bloggers, also states that good photos are key to a great blog.

“I like the pictures of food that are taken well … if the photos are dark the food can look terrible,” Flores said.

Monroe–Cassel agrees.

“Photos are crucial,” she said. “No one can taste or smell the food online but they can see.”

Since perfecting her photos on her blog and in her book,  Monroe–Cassel is working on a brewing site inspired by the series, and says she would not be opposed to writing another cookbook if the opportunity arises. Either way, she is looking forward to the future of blogging with optimism.

“Throughout my research I’ve seen different approaches, like communal sites or cookbooks, but its never taken off…I’d like to see more of that, Monroe–Cassel said. “I’d like to see how food blogging evolves with cookbooks or self publishing cause I think they would go hand in hand together.”

Whatever the future may hold for bloggers, is important to stay passionate, according to Monroe–Cassel.

“Do whatever it is you love,” she said. “You’ll be hard pressed to keep up enthusiasm if you do it just to make a buck or get views, I think you will get those anyways if you have the passion behind it.”

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