Lee Schrager (CENTER) with (FROM LEFT) Johnny Todd, Cari Garcia, Giovanny Gutierrez, Shari Grunspan, and Ryan Roman vying for seafood at Edge Steak & Bar at the Four Seasons Miami
Restaurant patrons have always had word-of-mouth ammunition to laud or condemn an establishment, but today’s technology has turned that layman’s whisper into a megaphone. When we’re weighing the evening’s restaurant options (Prime One Twelve or Meat Market?), everybody has an opinion, and—these days—every voice can be heard. Five of Miami’s most followed foodies offer their takes on the business of online opining.
What led you to the food blogging business, and what gave you the credentials to do so? CARI GARCÍA: My blog is written purely as a hobby. In regard to credentials, I don’t feel that I have any. I share my opinions and I keep it simple; whether people agree or disagree, it’s there.
GIOVANNY GUTIERREZ: I saw Michael Schwartz doing a [book] signing. People were asking where he buys his produce, what’s in his fridge. I loved that experience, so I made an [online] show out of it.
JOHNNY TODD: I think Yelp is a little bit different than the rest of the sites here. You can come in and write a review. You can go on and see everyone’s opinion about [a restaurant].
SHARI GRUNSPAN: I think that we do have credentials: It’s our passion. I think that all of us are obsessed with food. I spend every waking moment I can learning about food. I spent a night at Tudor House with [executive chef] Jamie DeRosa and his team in the kitchen, and spent the day shopping with chef Giorgio [Rapicavoli] of Eating House, and try to learn as much as I can.
RYAN ROMAN: Absolutely. I agree that passion replaces credentials when it comes to blogging.
Johnny, do you feel that bloggers have diminished the role of a restaurant critic today? JT:No, I don’t. It’s all part of the discussion.
So what’s your take on the role of the traditional print restaurant critic today? GG: Let’s say The Miami Herald is gone tomorrow. [Journalists] can do a great job on their own blogs, but the problem with that is how do you monetize it?
SG: I do try to check out The Herald and Sun Sentinel online. The role of the traditional print restaurant critic is also evolving—more and more print critics have started their own blogs or websites to stay relevant.
RR: Well, take Sam Sifton at The New York Times. I read every single review he writes. I think there’s room for really great writers, but it doesn’t necessarily have to involve print media.
Lee Schrager moderates the discussion at Edge Steak & Bar
How do your blogs differ from one another? SG: We [Assault & Pepper] are not anonymous. Half the fun is getting to know the chefs, seeing their food inspirations, and talking to them about it—spending the day with chefs at farmers’ markets.
CG: I go in and nobody knows me, nobody recognizes me. I just stick to my dining experiences.
RR: If Yelp is a democracy, my blog is an oligarchy—four different food bloggers who get together and compile what they think are the 20 best restaurants that month and rank them. Most of the content on my blog falls under chef and restaurant news.
How do you judge a post on Yelp? What throws up a red flag? JT: I mean, it’s pretty clear when there’s a vendetta. It’s why we have our Elite Squad and our trusted users, people who review a lot. I know that it’s their voices and opinions, which makes me more likely to care about what they have to say.
And if somebody is particularly cruel, is there a way to monitor that on Yelp? JT:Yes and no. If there’s a review that breaks our terms of service—say, offensive language—yes, of course I can take it down. Yelpers can flag a review that might have disparaging comments, but just because someone disagrees with what they might have to say, you can’t necessarily take it down.
What advice do you have for those who want to start a food blog? CG: Be honest. JT: Be authentic, because people pick up on that. RR: Don’t take a dollar from anybody. Don’t put up ads. Do it because you care about it. SG: Learn. Just learn about food and the chefs. GG: I want something unique—I want to hear a unique voice.