Sunday, 7 December 2008

Joanna Savills' thoughts on food reviews

I was rung yesterday morning by a friend listening to ABC Radio National (which I have to guiltily admit I have never listened to before), specifically to a programme called By Design. The program is aired every Wednesday night and repeated on Saturday mornings.

What he was alerting me to was an interview with Joanna Savill, Deputy Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide, and one half of the SBS Food and Cooking shows couple (with Maeve O’Meara).

The talk was about food and restaurant reviewing, and her thoughts on same. It was very interesting, what I heard of it. Below is the ABC’s description on their web site of it:

“This week in the latest in our series of conversations -- in which we find out what's on the mind of people in the world of architecture, design and food -- we're joined by the food writer and broadcaster Joanna Savill.
Joanna is deputy editor of the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide, and she joins us for a talk about food guides and restaurant reviewing.

We ask whether a restaurant review is a guide to food rather than a review of an experience. Is a restaurant review a consumer guide or a piece of entertainment?

Typically, the best of the American reviewers will make several visits and often go in disguise. Why are restaurant reviewers so keen to preserve their anonymity and not accept freebies, given that book reviewers get free books and theatre reviewers get free tickets?

A lot of reviews end with an awarding of stars or of points out of twenty or whatever: are they what matter, or is it the prose?”

I realise we’ve discussed this quite a few times here on the blog, but it was good to hear someone who does this for a living discussing it. You can download a podcast of it from their website if you want to hear it for yourself.
Posted on by Rita


Steve Cumper said...

Hi Rita,
I heard it & she talked about the rise of food blogging.
She recalled eating recently with a noted sydney food blogger who photograhed absolutely everything, wrote copious notes & studied every detail. It seemed that this person did not make the ideal dinner companion.
She went on to say that she is very much from the old school, preferring to be discreet about how & when she takes notes & trys not to draw attention to herself. She implied generally that bloggers seem to be more bolshie than print media reviewers.
Alan Saunders who hosts By Design is amongst other things, a noted food critic & food author himself. More recently he was the food critic on that awful show 'The Chopping Block'.
It is only a matter of time before food blogging will become more mainstream & perhaps eventually overtake print media as the preffered vehicle for the public to get restaurant info.
The sharper operators of print media will probably launch their own blogs in response to keep up reader interest or face becoming less rellevent to the public.
Already some popular bloggers in Europe & the states have released books or write copy for various publications.
Here in OZ, the Breakfast blog person will release a book next year.
So keep it up Rita, you might end up getting a book deal!

Ed said...

I saw Alan Saunders on The Chopping Block. He's a pompous arse from what I saw. I think the main difference is that bloggers give a personal experience and the main media reviews are toned down are too soft. Is the Breakfast Blog really doing a book next year? He's going to be in Boston for two years after a VC invested in his company.

Steve Cumper said...

Stickyfingrs told me a while back about brekkie bloggers book

Keen Listener said...

Find the podcast here.

Anonymous said...

Never Rita ......?

Rita said...

Hey Steve - thanks for that, and I'm looking forward to the book deal!!
Ed - great to see you popping in.
Keen Listener - thankns for adding the link for us. I should have done that myself. My bad.
Anon - not sure what the 'never' refers to, but I'll stick my neck out and say no.

C. Lawrence said...

Wow! What about ABC local?

Anonymous said...

knowing joanna personally. one, she isn't a reviewer,two,neither is alan saunders. here we have a situation where people use there media clout to talk about things they are remotely interested in and the listener is convinced the information carries weight.they are journalists and their work takes them to many fields. remember that for media companies to make a profit they must commission work to "bankable" identities and all that follows is gospel. listen,but always question, believe me the journalists that you listen to always do. these "celebrities" have many incarnations and they have many guises. take it as it comes and question.


Rita said...

C Lawrence - ABC local = a must.
Anon 11.04 (Insider) - thanks for alerting us to that salient fact. I assume anyone in the media can sway a talk, or article, to reflect whatever message it is that they want to convey (just the same as the govt can skew stats to do likewise) but it is good to have someone such as yourself to actually say the words, and name it up for what it is.

Anonymous said...

Anon, you may know her personally & I guess you are insinuating that she is not credentialled enough to do food reviews. Yet she is the editor of the Syd Morn Heralds good food guide, a book devoted to restaurant reviews, surely this alone entitles her to be called a reviewer.
Who is a reviewer anyway. You, me a journalist, whats the difference?
We all have opinions just some of them get printed & are paid to do them.
I'm sure there are many readers like myself who can read between the lines & not always take any opinion, printed or blogged, as the last word on a subject.

sir grumpy said...

I find ABC local dull, Rita.
News Radio and The BBC feed are best.
I can't stand those local people twittering on about....well, not much really.
(Are you there, Silv...this is where you say ``twittering on, faux knight....well it takes one to know one..'')
Or Anon....``I'm sorry, Rita but I won't read your blog because bloody Grumpy has dissed something again...'')
However, I always wonder why they call it restaurant review rather than just VIEW.
And that'sall it is, one view.

the silver fairy said...

ah, my tweedy want to be! we've all known more than one.

Ed said...

Rita, yes I've been holed up in my cave doing the devils work but am on the loose again now. I listened to it.It's funny her comments about going out with a blogger who kept taking photos and notes. Quite a few mainstream reviewers also take photos and you can't have a proper conversation because they are concentrating on the food and distracted by what's happening in the restaurant.The problem that all ABC local has is the budget and they do a pretty good job considering what they get by on.

sir grumpy said...

Why bother's either good or bad radio. You don't listen thinking...``that's not bad on three bob''.
You judge it on whether it's interesting or not.

Ed said...

What I mean Grumpy is that there is wheat amongst the chaff but just more chaff than the BBC perhaps. Thank Allah for podcasts. Radio that really is run on three bob...

sir grumpy said...

Yes, Ed I generalise a bit. (!) But I do really only listen to ABC, (with 1 per cent channel hunting and 1 per cent local Hobart FM.
The yodelling and nostalgia music on the latter is great fun and gets the dog howling and me joining in.
Charming picture, eh?

Ed said...

Grumpy I should add 1% community radio TripleRRR - mostly bearded men pondering for hours what could be accomplished in minutes on regional radio. Call it the Slow Radio movement if you will. More of that for the slow (economically) new year.

anon2 said...

As a reviewer myself (not food), I thought I'd add my tuppence worth!
Generally I think reviewers are given the opportunity to go to print because someone in authority considers that they they sufficient KNOWLEDGE and EXPERIENCE of their subject to have some CREDIBILITY plus adequate language skills to be able to express their opinions in a professional way. The subsequent opinions expressed will always be personal and, as one point of view, should not be taken too seriously. If they provoke debate on the subject it might have been useful.

Chips Rafferty said...

Review this(an ad for a restaurant).

Teenage Dirtbag said...

LOL. For some (amusing?) BAD reviews go here.