Image by BBC
Preface: last week, I received a rather pointed and effacing comment regarding a snide Korean food diatribe. After reading this NYT piece on Bel Kaufman, it is clear the response needs to be a bit Jewish, ie. “‘We’re going to talk about ourselves in a more damaging way than you could.”
Zach Brooks is one of the highest monetizing restaurant bloggers in America. There is no need to link links, if it isn’t conventional wisdom, it’s hardly difficult to deduce. From recollection, he’s been featured in several newspapers and he was recently listed as one of the “most influential food personalities under 30,” – or was it under 40? One may go so far as to say Mr. Brooks is famous. After all, amongst his circle walk the most heeded of East Coast food writing types: Serious Eats founders, Eater.com EIC, F&W senior editors, etc. Wherever he goes, he supplants the ubiquitous “Yelp Loves Us” window stickers with the “Midtownlunch Ate Here” vinyls. Yes, ladies and gentleman, Mr. Brooks is a Yelp-fighting, dinner-denouncing super hero, Saveur’s Best Food Blog contest be damned.
Though The Delicious has a much sexier image, the cash Mr. Brooks rakes in from his bi-coastal website (which employs several writers) should be much more attractive, yet much less obvious, to casual observers. While the young enterpreneur may not be pulling in income at the level of Pioneer Woman, Mr. Brooks was able to move his family to the West Coast and live rather sportingly off his website’s advertising, click-thrus, affiliations, etc. All this from 300-word blurbs and a couple of pictures about wieners and sandwiches at lunchtime. Though rich Hollywood-types speak of the awesome irony of constantly getting free shit, Mr. Brooks doesn’t play that. He has never accepted a freebie since the inception of the site. He’s not a shill and he doesn’t flog, ever. No matter his palate, this is one (ex) New Yorker who simply cannot be bought. With this infallible dogma, he ranks higher than any food critic in virtuousness. After all, restaurant critics participate in tie-ins, stupid cookware, cat food commercials, etc. Not Mr. Brooks. The tens of thousands in ad/site revenue is conflict-free. With this righteousness comes rather interesting powers.
Despite the originally lauded (and exceedingly utilitarian) mantra of “Food over $10, or unavailable at lunch, is pointless” becoming rather contrived, he marches with enpointe conviction. You will always see Mr. Brooks get excited about an $8 lunch buffet, always first tackling a new dejeuner menu, be it Spice Table or Freebirds. The persona is so complete one may even worry whether Mr. Brooks goes hungry at dinner (he doesn’t – you can always find himf at the most enviable of edgy pop-up restaurants in LA). Either way, we definitely know he never sits down to eat. And that’s all part of this man’s genius. Midtownlunch, a site built by one dude, delivers a message so convincing, yet so absolutely morally flawless that the entire enterprise is completely and utterly beyond reproach. It’s all rather brilliant.
But where does that leave the rest of “us”, ie, vacillating food blog types? If you ask Mr. Brooks, he may suggest we’re worse than shams. We’re lying shams. We take PR meals, we disguise ho-hum food by mentioning the faaaabulous bar; or, we speak of the great companionship at yesternight’s dinner. Mr. Brooks doesn’t do that. And Mr. Brooks doesn’t like people who do that. Things get even worse when the “shill” actually dares to enjoy a comped meal. After all, where’s the benchmark? Where’s the “journalistic” standard? How dare the amateur (by definition, those not making a living from blogging) abuse the privilege & still claim impartiality? Over a year ago, a proper food-journo type reminded me of my once-longstanding disdain of free meals. Of course being Mr. Loose Morals, I can’t remember when I made the claim. Must be before all the PR invites started rolling into the mailbox. Being honorable, Mr. Brooks does not have this problem. He doesn’t have to remember when he switched parties because he’s ethical. I, OTOH, ride a motorcycle way the hell too fast, don’t tip the barista, click on that NSFW link every time at work, lied about not reading amateur food blogs, said yes when some bat-shit crazy hot chick asked me if I loved her and apparently told people I’m the “Mayor of SGV Restaurants” before Foursquare was even invented. In the distant future, Mr. Brooks will be taking his Midtownlunches above and while I will for sure be fressing Korean food down below for eternity.
Kudos, and we bow.
*most morally righteous
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