Sunday, 12 July 2015

Movie Review Foodies: The Culinary Jetset - Reflections from a Singapore/ Malaysia Street Food Blogger JK1182



As an avid food blogger (since 2011), I was extremely eager to watch the movie Foodies: The Culinary Jetset (Singapore release on 16 Jul 2015).

The hour-plus long movie featured four elite jet setting foodies - two Europeans (a Londoner and a Paris based Lithuanian), one American (New York City resident), a Thai (London based) and a Hong Konger. They are:
All the foodies featured are fine or finest dining enthusiasts. They travel the world to dine at the best restaurants and their movements are closely tracked by their fans and chefs alike. Ears Eyes are peeled to their opinions on social media as it can supposedly make a restaurant go boom or bust.

All four are at least very well off or wealthy individuals. Andy and Steve are successful professionals/ entrepreneurs. Aiste has a good income as a top fashion model. Katie saves up for her culinary adventures. Perm is sponsored by his parents who are in the gold industry.

This is not a movie review because I don't know what that is exactly.

So, here are just my random thoughts from watching the movie from the perspective of a hobbyist blogger of mostly street food of Johor (Malaysia) and Singapore.

Foodies-The-Culinary-Jetset
Credit: Still from official trailer

Britisher Andy Hayler of the Restaurant Guide prides himself as the only person in the world who has eaten in every 3-Michelin-Star restaurant in the world. (Actually, he has eaten in each of them at least three times.)

I won't want to emulate what Andy is doing but I think one 3-Michelin-Star restaurant experience a year is doable financially for me and is educationally useful. It will give me an idea about what the supposed epitome of fine dining is like and I think that can help make my blogging about everyday food better.

The four qualities that Andy looks for in evaluating a fine meal are quality of ingredients, cooking technique, attractive presentation, and harmony of flavours. I am also doing this when reviewing street food for my blog. I also include aromas and textures (mouth feel or 口感 in Chinese) when assessing a meal.

Foodies-The-Culinary-Jetset
Credit: Still from official trailer

American Steve Plotnicki (Opinionated About Dining) wants to create a food grading system to displace the Michelin guide itself. He has created his own grading system which grades restaurants on a scale from 1 to 20 points. In the movie, Steve said that he has dined in over 1,200 restaurants.

A food grading system is something that I have been grappling with since I started blogging in 2011. I have difficulty with a general grading system that can be used across the board on all types of food from steak to sushi to curries, from Western to Arabian to Chinese.

My approach now is grading systems customised specifically for each type of food. I have developed one for grading instant noodles <- click. I shall be developing more similar systems, one type of food at a time. The next one is Singapore style chicken rice which is Singapore's unofficial national dish.

Foodies-The-Culinary-Jetset
Credit: Still from official trailer

Steve said that food should be seen in the same way as other arts and crafts, in it's ability to provoke, to stimulate - it does not necessarily need to be delicious which he feels is a limiting condition.

Being able to provoke and stimulate is something that I also look out for in food and enjoy too. But, I am a little old fashioned in this - it still matters to me that the food is palatable, preferably delicious. To me the ability to engage every human sense is what sets food apart from other art forms, and the highest food art is those that are able to do so.

Foodies-The-Culinary-Jetset
Credit: Still from official trailer

Lithuanian model Aiste Miseviciute (Luxeat) compares foodies travelling the world for good food with sports fans who travel the world to watch their favourite events. Music fans follow their idols on world concert tours. Even if we ourselves may not be, most of us would personally know someone who is so obsessed with food, sports or music. At a humbler level, lots of Singaporeans travel to Penang and Bangkok for food, and tens of thousands make day trips to Johor Bahru. 

Aiste also made a point about not being friends with chefs to ensure unbiased food reviews.

Personally, I do engage chefs, owners and even customers in the restaurant as I want to understand what went on behind and into the food delivered to the table. In my approach to blogging, engaging people is important. My approach does create a certain degree of potential bias. The trade off is a deeper appreciation of the food beyond what is on the plate. So, to protect the reader, I make it a point to make sure that my interactions/ relationship with the chef and related persons are clearly known to the reader.


Foodies-The-Culinary-Jetset
Credit: Still from official trailer

Perm Paitayawat of The Skinny Bib travelled to 60 countries for food in 2013 (more than 1 country a week). Perm originally from Bangkok has been living in London since he was 13. He said that his global food travels help him connect with his parents and his hometown.

In the movie, there are several scenes where Perm reacted emotionally to the food while saying that it reminds him of home.


Foodies-The-Culinary-Jetset
Credit: Still from official trailer

Katie Keiko of K's Luxe Dining Table pays for her foodie adventures by saving money she earns from her salaried job. She is more like most of us average income people, so her foodie achievements are all the more amazing to me.

To pay or not to pay for meals?

As elite food bloggers, all four featured foodies receive numerous invitations to dine at restaurants for free (of course). All four prefer to pay for their own meals in the interest of independence.

I pay for 90% of my meals as a bona fide customer. I do accept invitations from restaurants or their public relations agents. To protect my readers, all invited food tastings are fully disclosed. Furthermore, the food at media tastings are not reviewed but presented in my blog post as photo essays. Detailed descriptions, taste notes and recommendations are posted only after a return visit as a normal paying customer.

Why do I accept media invites? It's a way for me to meet other bloggers as such media events are usually organised for groups. I am also interested to understand how marketing, public relations and media work in the Food and Beverage industry.

To condemn or not?

When she has a bad meal, Aiste prefers not to write about it. On the other hand, Steve is willing to be outright damming and Andy is inclined to publicly express his "pain" with a typical British stiff upper lip.

For me, if it is a street hawker or mom and pop type of eatery, my approach is to "tell them (the vendors) in confidence and sensitively if the food is bad, tell everyone (through my blog) if the food is good". For well heeled establishments, especially those already enjoying bought rave reviews, I think some balanced feedback is in the public interest :-D

Foodies versus chefs?

The movie presented the relationship between chefs and foodies as often antagonistic. Chefs view foodies as self appointed, often ignorant yet opinionated and dangerous to their reputations and business.

The foodies have the leverage of social media platforms that give them reach and therefore power to influence. Most chefs do not have the same reach as elite foodies. Though I am far from anything remotely like an elite foodie, I feel that I can use my limited reach to present the chef's perspective to a wider audience. Hopefully, chefs and foodies can have a more level social media playing field and the public can have a balance of viewpoints.

Food and identity

The film's directors and also some of the chefs in the movie concluded that foodies are in it for social status as "otherwise, they could just keep a diary" instead of a blog.

Food has become something like clothes, cars, watches, class of homes and designer handbags as badges of identity and social status. So a person's Facebook or Instagram stream of the type of food s/he is consuming are signals one sends out for self identification of social class.

To me, it depends on whether the content is self centred or other centred. It can be self identification, bringing attention to oneself. Or, it can be other centred, bringing attention to the eatery, the people and story behind the food.



Like in my own case, I believe most cases are a combination of both. My blog is about me as a pre-independence Singaporean and a Southeast Asian, our unique food, culture and the people behind it.

Food, foodies and social media are always controversial topics, so I welcome your views and comments :-D


Return to Johor Kaki homepage.

10 comments:

  1. Wow Tony... this is serious writing. I'm not sure if I'm really interested to watch the movie but I whole-heartedly agree with what you've said about content. Keep eating and keep writing :-)

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    1. Thanks Oldstock. The movie is an interesting insight into a relatively new phenomenon. The opulence and perceived snobbery may make some uncomfortable. My two companions who are non foodies and non bloggers struggled to maintain attention during the movie ;-D

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  2. nice writing good points.

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  3. These so-called foodies' only qualification is their ability to eat at the most exclusive places?

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    1. They also have very interesting blogs and strong social media following like on Instagram.

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  4. I thought that was a very fair analysis. Thanks.

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    1. Thank you Steve. I am inspired by your work and accomplishments.

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  5. Great review Johor. Thank you so much for taking your time to write this! Best wishes, Aiste

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    1. Thank you Aiste :-D I am humbled by your compliment. Thank you for sharing your interesting culinary experiences - we enjoy reading and learn much from it. With my best wishes. Tony.

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I firmly believe that taste is subjective and so, warmly welcome differing viewpoints :-D But, I disapprove negative comments that are anonymous or hide behind fake identities. I feel that that is the same as speaking ill of others behind their backs. I look forward to all your comments :-D Thank you. (Date: 18 Dec 2015)

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