Really? Aren’t there rather a lot of those around, especially ones about food? Or are food blogs the only thing that there’s just too little of?
Well yes, and no. Because there are food blogs and there are food blogs and it is my sincere hope that this one will stand out from the crowd. If I am doing my job correctly, RichardMcComb.com will inform, entertain, highlight outstanding places to eat, stimulate debate and, sometimes, infuriate.
Obviously, I love food, but a love of food is not enough to write an informed newspaper article, a magazine feature, a restaurant review and, therefore, a blog. You also have to hate food, by which I mean bad food. You can throw bad chefs, bad restaurateurs and bad producers into the festering stock pot.
Some people appear to value my views and insights and it is this that has spurred me to set up this blog. When I took voluntary redundancy from The Birmingham Post in April 2013, I was surprised by the number of people, many of them strangers, who noticed. Some of them were even sad to see me go.
At that point I had spent the last five years covering the Birmingham and wider Midlands’ dining and food scene. I was fortunate to eat at some very fine places, as well as some duffers. I thought if I was to continue writing in the same way then I had to abide by some of the same principles – in particular, impartiality.
This blog will feature restaurant reviews. The meals will be paid for out of my pocket, which worries me and terrifies my accountant. I am not independently wealthy. However, I can see no way around this fiscal conundrum if this blog is to be independent and retain credibility.
A friend, who happens to be a restaurateur, told me I should get the restaurants to pay for the meals I will be reviewing. “All the bloggers do it,” he said. “None of them pay.”
I have no idea if my friend is correct, but I warmed to the idea, for a couple of minutes. Then the journalist in me took over. I have been a hack for nearly 25 years. I used to be a crime reporter and a news editor. I have made a career out of asking awkward questions and I started asking myself if it was right to take so-called “comp” meals for critical reviews.
And the fact I asked the question meant it effectively answered itself. If I wasn’t going to pay for my meals – whether good, bad or indifferent – then I wasn’t going to blog.
I know, from experience, that it generally makes little difference to the standard of food and service you receive if the establishment knows you are a reviewer. I have been “spotted” in the past. I strongly believe that chefs and front of house teams cannot up their game for a single “VIP” table. Muppets are muppets.
It is also worth saying that “free” food is not attractive to me. When I announced I was leaving The Post, people kept saying: “Ahh, but you’ll miss all the free meals.”
Not so. You see the food used to be “free” because my former employer footed the bill for the meals. But free does not equate with good, still less with pleasure. I won’t miss “free” meals because a significant proportion of those that I have eaten have been rubbish.
So, I will pay for restaurant reviews. Should a sponsor come forward and agree to help with the costs, in a manner that does not conflict with this blog’s aims, then my accountant will be jolly happy. And this blog may well survive beyond a couple of months. That is my sincere hope.
The facts of the matter are these: I cannot afford for this food and dining blog to be a vanity project. Eventually, it will have to pay its way. Despite working in newspapers, I remain optimistic.
RichardMcComb.com will also carry reports on hotels – some very nice hotels, in fact – but you should think of these articles as lifestyle features, with reflections on food and opulence, rather than reviews. When I am staying at an hotel as an invited guest, I will make this clear. If things go wrong during the visit, I will tell you. I will also tell the hotels, in advance, that I will tell you. No cash will exchange hands for favourable write ups.
Similarly, I get invited on food-based overseas trips to report on gastronomy. It’s wonderful to be asked to try food in places like Lyon, Gothenburg, Queensland and the Caribbean. I could not afford such pleasures as part of my daily grind. It is right that you know this, too.
The blog will also carry food features. Some of these may involve invitations to try food and drinks. I will not use such occasions to write restaurant reviews; they may provide the backdrop for features.
Things will become clearer as we bed in. We are still very much at base camp. The foot-hills lie ahead. The summit is swathed in mist.
I should also point out that there are a number of things you won’t find on this food blog, most importantly recipes and “How to create a Heston special in your own barn conversion.” I am not a chef, or a particularly keen, or good, amateur cook. I always overcook beef and I hate myself for it. Others are far better qualified than me and I leave the food alchemy to them.
That’s really about it. Feel free to get in touch. I’d love to hear from you. It can get lonely out here.
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