Monthly Archives: March 2012

Recipe Sites Killed the Cookbook Star

Since the digital takeover, print media has been left with no foot to stand on and no wall to hide behind. As magazines transition from paper to iPad, books are adopted to e-reader formats and entire newspaper factories are being shut down altogether, it is hard to predict the future of our print media.

            One form of print media that is no exception to this pressure to re-formulate in the new millennium is an ancient yet rarely discussed medium, cookbooks. Ah yes- cookbooks, the textbook-esque how-to food guide that got your mother through those tricky yet delicious meals that you were just happy weren’t meatloaf again.

The medium that got its start more than 600 years ago has definitely seen better days. Nowadays the stained book sits in an old cupboard, and the saying “out of sight, out of mind” is holding true. Many digital aspects are eager to fill the void cookbooks once filled for the family home. In this blog I explore how recipe websites, Skype cooking classes, food bloggers and e-reader cookbooks are changing how people learn to cook.

Websites such as allrecipes, myrecipes and foodnetwork.com make exploring new recipes easier than ever. The inclusion of the search box is what makes websites such as this so incredible, and at the same time completely demolishing cookbooks single handedly. If you have one particular ingredient you’d like to use just type that into the little white box, decide the time you want to commit to the meal and the difficultly level you are comfortable with. Unlike cookbooks where you would need multiple volumes, now you are boundless to explore any chef or style of cooking. You can access Chinese, Italian or Spanish all on the same website. Other user reviews also give you a look into how the food actually turned out for real people.

Epicurious is bringing the mobility and efficiency of these websites right into your kitchen with the iPod and iPad application. “These sites, particularly Epicurious with its app, are a great way for the digital generation to create a collection and have that at-the-fingertips resource that allows searching for a recipe for dinner while on the train to work or at the grocery store” (Yorio).

A new innovation that has been growing in popularity that I find most interesting are cooking classes via Skype. Now expanding the community to encompass anyone in the world, people could learn how to cook Italian food from a real live Italian chef…who’s located in, say… Italy. This also allows you to interact, ask questions and meet people who are also learning with you. The simple instructions on the cooking with C.A.R.E. website are the following, “Online cooking classes are simple. We send you the recipe, you purchase the ingredients and at the appointed time we will Skype you into the group call”.

Food bloggers are also providing invaluable information on new creative ideas, recipe reviews and personal cooking stories. Food bloggers themselves have gotten so big that they deserve a blog all their own and will be explored further next week!

Hopefully, instead of leaving your old family cookbooks to collect dust on the kitchen shelf, you give them new vitality by sharing your favorite recipes with the blogosphere!

http://www.northjersey.com/food_dining/136865243_Cookbooks_enter_the_digital_age_thanks_to_websites_like_EatMyBook__Epicurious_and_TasteBook.html?c=y&page=2

http://www.cookingwithcareonline.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=70&Itemid=46

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The Good and Bad of Restaurant Review Sites

In a world where everyone is now a self-proclaimed journalist, no profession is safe from being undermined by the ‘work for free’ Internet user. With what seems to be the media’s new obsession with ‘foodies’, it is only logical that the next paying profession to be wiped clean off the map is the food critic. With help from such websites as Yelp, Chowhound, and UrbanSpoon.com, not even the smallest mom and pop restaurant is safe from the self- titled “citizen journalist”.

User-generated content undoubtedly gave the Internet its vitality, but issues have arisen which undermine the credibility and ethics of the published material. In this week’s blog I will explore the power struggle between the countless benefits and detrimental impacts of restaurant review websites on restaurant owners, paying costumers, food critics and everyone in between.

It used to be that a restaurant would open, and a food critic would come for a meal approximately six weeks later. They would get premium service along with the best meal possible. This visit would result in a review in the critic’s respective publication, which would be held to some regard of accuracy by the readers, making or breaking a restaurant. Modern technology has changed this entire process. Restaurant reviews are now conducted every single day. Everyone is a critic. This has led to more pressure on the restaurant’s part to make sure everyone is served properly, which is seemingly great for the customer.

There is literally a review for every restaurant, ice cream shop, fast food chain and deli. If there is an establishment serving food, there is a former costumer writing about it. This has led to great publicity for some eateries, as well as helping hungry people steer clear of what would be terrible experiences. But, are some people too harsh? Everyone has different tastes, and as the saying going ‘one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure’.

 I too, just a Rutgers University’s undergraduate, am guilty of this. I have developed a few entries on my own food review blog where I have discussed the good and bad of several New Brunswick establishments. Should anyone take what I have to say seriously? Obviously I do not have the notoriety that certain Internet food bloggers have. The Internet it is a popularity contest, and the more viewers you have, the more you will be taken seriously.

In an interview with a Minnesota Monthly’s food and dining critic Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl she describes the struggles small business owners now face. She discusses the opening of a new Jewish Delicatessen in Minnesota and all the speculation in the foodie world surrounding it, “I was there the first week, along with a thousand people a day — far more than they knew how to deal with”. She continues, “Andrew Zimmern, the local food-world celebrity and international food-world celebrity, with his television show Bizarre Foods, wrote a blog trashing it.” Grumdahl did agree with Zimmern’s review, but explained that it was only because of the overload of people due to the growing hype that did not allow the restaurant to adjust as most new restaurants get to do. “He was totally accurate. But perhaps not measured. In the old, pre-Internet days, the restaurant critic code of conduct basically stated that you gave a restaurant six weeks after opening until you walked in the door — plenty of time to work out the kinks in the system,” she explains. She deemed this a “too early review”.

I believe that user-driven restaurant reviews are great and give people a platform to express their complaints and satisfactions. While helping others make the proper dining decisions, it is also important to take the reviews with a grain of salt. Everyone is not as versed in the world of food and sometimes it’s just more fun to find out for yourself.

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2012/02/09/dara-deli-social-media/

Foodies in the Age of Pinterest

The Internet has brought the masses many things. Along side access to invaluable knowledge and resources, the Internet has also brought to people the sense of desire. If it were not for the Internet certain ideas, perspectives and desires would have not been planted and allowed to grow in the minds of users. In today’s blog I discuss the desire to create and eat. The World Wide Web has sparked many things, but it is not often that people would connect the web to sparking hunger.

In today’s blog I discuss how such websites such as Stumble Upon and its 2.0 version, Pinterest, have inspired users to get off of their laptops and go into their kitchens. Pinterests’ great success as a website has been attributed to the fact of its ease of use. Being a new member, I have witnessed this first hand. Installing the ‘Pin It’ button to one’s bookmark bar takes a matter of seconds. The next thing you know you’re ‘pinning’ all over the place. Producing the actual content that a user might ‘pin’ to their ‘boards’ is equally as easy. In terms of the food section, all you have to do is throw together yesterday’s leftovers in an appealing manner on a plate, take an instagram-ed photograph, upload and voila! This easy two way dynamic has opened up the world of food to anyone, sparking creativity and inspiration for the foodie in us all.

The recipes are created by regular people for regular people, and no culinary degree is needed. The recipes usually provide out of the box cooking ideas and fun decorating tips that most people would not have thought of on their own. I personally think these websites are fantastic and I will often peruse my Pinterest food section when looking for an extra creative idea for a friend’s birthday, or just while making dinner and having the desire to try something new.

In this Search Engine Watch article “Modern Social Bookmarking- Not Your Older Brother’s Social Bookmark of Years Past” the author discusses how certain food companies have created a plan for success by utilizing Pinterest. The author gives the company Whole Foods as an example, “Whole Foods is an organic food company with brick-and-mortar retail stores. It has had great success on Pinterest. Whole Foods built scrapbooks for followers around recipes, creative holiday projects, kitchen designs, and eco-friendly practices.”

The article “Pinterest for Food Brands, Startups, & Organizations” by Danielle Gould found in Forbes magazine discusses the phenomenon already illustrated. “It’s social, visual, viral, and easy to use, which are just some of the reasons why brands like Whole FoodsFood52ChobaniSustainable Table (GRACE Communications Foundation), Cabot Cheese, and now Food+Tech Connect are flocking to Pinterest.” Perhaps one of the reasons so many food blogs, companies and recipes appear on such websites is that they were the first to realize the power in websites such as Pinterest.

By no means are such websites only being utilized by foodies. Pinterest is an outlet for a plethora of specialty interests that can range anywhere from technology to pets and furniture (just to name a few). I am particularly excited and impressed by the activism, attention and interest in the food world that has sprouted in recent times.

There’s an App for That!

Obesity in America has reached a staggering level. 35% of adults and 17% of children are obese…to be exact. There have been countless studies conducted and many fingers pointing blame to this or that for the astronomical number. One factor in particular has taken majority of the heat. That big bad guy is the media.

While Google searching “Obesity and…”, I surprisingly discovered that one of the first suggestions to pop up was “Obesity and the media”. While delving deeper into the Google query I found that people felt media caused obesity for reasons spanning anything from commercials aimed at children to less time outdoors and more time on the couch. There are many logical factors on why people believe the media is making recent generations fat.

I’d like to make the argument that while media has put our society to where it is now, some recent media platforms are actually aiding in turning the population’s heath crisis around. The Internet as well as phone apps are now allowing people to carry personal dieticians and trainers around in their pockets. I believe with an educated audience and the tools we are now provided with, becoming a healthier society should be in our near future.

Applications such as “Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker” by MyFitnessPal promises, “We’ll help you take those extra pounds off! There is no better diet app – period”. With over a million foods in their database it allows the user to be educated about their food, resulting in more health conscious decisions. Other features such as daily trackers and fitness input make you aware just how many calories you are consuming versus how much you are burning.

If you rather turn your phone into your personal trainer, there’s an app for that! Apps such as Fleetly, The Daily, and miCoach are only a few of the fitness apps available on one’s phone. These apps allow you to choose a workout by difficulty, length, muscle group and more. You no longer need to join an expensive gym or buy costly at home videos. There is no longer any validity in the excuse “I just couldn’t find the time”.

The MobiHealthNews published research report studied the effects, if any, of mobile apps on obesity. They reported, “Your ever-smarter mobile phone can’t make you lose 10 pounds. No, mobile phones are not a cure for obesity, the most pressing public health issue facing the United States today. But mobile tools can help.” As we learned to utilize our phones and computer for much more than just communication and research, we will transform exercise and diet as well. Moving away from traditional words such as “exercise” and getting out of the normal member only gym setting will hopefully appeal to a wider range of people.

Aside from apps, the Internet has and continues to provide a plethora of information for anyone who is looking. Any app on the iphone can find its parent company on the Internet. From Michelle Obama’s “choose my plate” to weight watchers online, there are numerous ways to track your nutrition, fitness and progress via the media. I believe all of this information will translate into action and education is the key to change.

Food Network is the New Cool Kid on the Block…

          It’s 1998 and I am awake way past my bedtime. I flip through the basic cable channels, passing over all of the infomercials as I stumble upon a Japanese cooking show dubbed over in English. The show caught my eye because it was different. It’s a cooking competition, and something out of the ordinary from my usual cartoons and Disney shows. I was hooked. From then on I can say I was addicted to the Food Network, and which I later found out was a show called Iron Chef.

            At that time it was a little strange for a seven year old to watch late night Food Network, today it would be completely normal. Then the show was one of a kind. There were not many reality styled shows in the 90s (if at all), and definitely none based off of a food competition. Fast forward to the present and Food Network has become the next cool kid on the block. Their shows are becoming more and more popular and the station has become a recent favorite for many Americans.

            According to a Bloomberg.com article titled “Food is New Real Estate as Cooking Show Ratings Jump” author Andy Fixmer states, “The channel’s ratings rose 20 percent in July from a year ago on the strength of “The Next Food Network Star,” Since 2004, the prime-time audience for the Food Network has increased 55 percent to 1.06 million viewers nightly from 683,000, according to Nielsen Co. data. In the 18-49 age group advertisers target, Food Network is up 79 percent in five years.” (http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=agY50CybFhzo)

            The network spawned nation wide celebrities such as Paula Deen and Rachel Ray which have moved to host their own shows on even bigger networks. These celebrity chefs had made a name for themselves based solely on their “how-to” styled cooking shows. But, the bulk of what is making Food Network the star it has risen to be today is their late night reality styled shows. Shows such as “24 Hour Restaurant Battle”, “Chefs vs. City”, “Chopped”, “Cupcake Wars”, and of course giving way to nostalgia, “Iron Chef America” highlight the competitive food battles that have taken up residency on the network.

            Although food network might be leading the way for this style of show, other channels are trying to get a piece of the glory as well. Travel channel has “Man vs. Food”, Bravo owns Emmy award winning cooking series “Top Chef”, and Fox has “Hell’s Kitchen”. All of these shows have seen great success on their respective channels.

So what is leading to the success of these Networks? Is the larger than life competition and big cash prizes attracting a younger audience? Has the modern family taken up a new passion for food? Is it because we’re an obese yet sedentary generation that rather watch people cook on television then do it ourselves? I’d say yes to all. I believe there are many factors resulting in the population’s new obsession with food programming. I, being the ‘foodie’ that I am, cannot complain. I love the diverse food programming. “Viva La Food Network!”…or at least live long enough to offer me a job!

The Changing Dynamic of the Restaurant Industry

The Internet, new technology, and Smartphone applications are changing the way restaurants market themselves to the new tech savvy consumer. One aspect, which I have already discusses in my previous blog was how consumers can write both positive and negative restaurant reviews via online websites. Customers have become hyper critical about food and spread their opinions openly on restaurant review websites such as Yelp, FourSquare, Google, and Urbanspoon.

In an interview with recent Culinary Institute of America graduate and prospective restaurant owner, Levi Austin, he described the changes that will and already have taken place in the food industry due to technology. The recent grad predicts both negative and positive impacts on the food and restaurant industry.

One difficulty Austin has currently witnessed is that “new technology in restaurants creates new trends and shifts in behavior patterns for guests making it more or less difficult for managers to prepare accurate forecasts.” But, he believes once managers can predict accurate trends depicting demands, restaurants can become profitable by utilizing this same technology that might be currently causing them trouble.

It is extremely interesting to witness how deeply technology has infiltrated into every field, industry and profession. Levi explains that even while obtaining a degree in food management he must still take classes that incorporate technology. In his technology in the hospitality industry course he learned about the Smartphone application deemed Snapfiner. This application allows users to not only view menus right on their phones, but provides the Smartphone user the option to order take out without ever having to talk to another human being. Levi sees the benefits in an application such as this one, “This can limit the amount of time people spend in the restaurant itself, especially if they’ve already seen the most up to date menu, including daily specials. This reduces the table turn-time, essentially making restaurant have a higher capacity on busier nights.” A future where a restaurant is physically empty, yet bustling with business is now an imaginable future.

Another benefit of Snapfiner might be that it increases clarity of take-out orders. I personally have worked for a Chinese restaurant where I have answered phones and took orders for three years. Over the span of those three years, I have definitely had my fair share of miss understandings, mixed up orders, and dropped calls. I think the invention of an app such as Snapfinger, with possibly the exclusion of taking away minimum wage jobs for 16-year-olds, is very beneficial.

Another change that Levi foresees taking place is that “restaurants may try to shift towards a take-out or quick service style establishment”, opposed to our sit down and relax dynamic we are used to now.

It is no surprise that technology has and will change the world as we know it. Hopefully with the increase in competition between restaurants it will motivate chefs and managers towards more modern and current food trends. Increased competition theoretically should create higher standards and service for restaurants, which make the restaurant more profitable, and guests more satisfies.