Dinner is the theater as food paparazzi converge
Serious foodies and casual diners are bringing restaurant creations home in photos. They are also causing problems that some chefs find hard to swallow.
The paparazzi target wasn’t hard to find: The star smelled distinctly of fish.
Camera flashes cut across the softly lighted downtown Los Angeles restaurant, as the crowd at Ludo Bites jostles for the coveted photo — of the Columbian River king salmon confit.
A few minutes later, as a server walked past with a plate of foie gras terrine, 18 food bloggers aimed their cameras and prepared to fire anew.”This is the game we all now play,” chef and owner Ludo Lefebvre said through gritted teeth. “We cook, we smile — and the people, they don’t eat. They get their cameras.”
Not so long ago, diners, hungry for a memento of special meals, would pull out a point-and-shoot at a restaurant for a quick picture of sliced birthday cake.
No more. Taking a cue from Twitter and Facebook cultures, serious foodies and casual consumers alike are using digital technology to document each bite, then sharing or swapping the pictures online.
Chefs call them the food paparazzi, and these days, no morsel is too minor.
Flickr, the photo-sharing website, has seen the number of pictures tagged as “food” jump from about half a million in 2008 to more than 6 million today, according to company officials. In the group “I Ate This” on Flickr’s site, nearly 20,000 people have uploaded more than 307,000 images of their latest meals, from a 7-Eleven hot dog smeared with mustard to the butter dish at the Michelin three-star restaurant French Laundry in Yountville, Calif.
Camera manufacturers are joining the trend. Nikon, Olympus and Sony sell cameras that offer “cuisine” or “food” settings, which adjust to enhance colors and textures on close-ups.
“I’m sharing my experiences with my friends,” said Hong Pham, 33, a Los Angeles radiologist who runs the food blog Ravenous Couple. “Why shouldn’t I share what inspires me?”
But what is documentary fun for people such as Pham is souring the gastronomic set.
Maitre d’s regularly face diners demanding to be moved away from camera flashes and the sound of firing shutters. Waiters find themselves tongue-tied as customers thrust voice recorders at them to capture a recitation of each course. Some chefs have had enough.
Chef Grant Achatz allows only non-flash photography in his tony Chicago restaurant, Alinea. He, like many chefs, finds himself torn between being flattered by the public’s enthusiasm and aggravated over the effect the picture-taking is having on the restaurant’s operations.
I’m guilty of this when I want to blog about a restaurant.
Thanks to Jeric for the heads up!