Art & Design

   

Claire Davie from Melbourne Gastronome

Posted by Dan Kuseta

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The Melbourne food scene is one of our city’s finest drawcards. For Claire Davie, the writer behind the successful blog Melbourne Gastronome, blogging presents an opportunity to share her dining experiences around town and to contribute to a discussion of the food and restaurant scene that can be as divisive as it is engaging – it all depends on your personal foodie preference.

Claire provides her take on Melbourne restaurants, cafes and bars providing an honest and unbiased opinion. Milk Bar recently had a chat with her to find out more…

MILK BAR: How did Melbourne Gastronome begin?

CLAIRE DAVIE: Both the Anglo and the Italian sides of my family nurtured an interest in good food from an early age, and I’ve always loved exploring the Melbourne dining scene. When I discovered food blogs nearly six years ago, I started reading them compulsively, and once my comments on my favourite food blogs started growing longer than the posts I was commenting on I knew it was time to start writing my own blog.

I knew nothing about web publishing at the time, but set up a free blog using a basic Blogger template and started writing in May 2007. I’ve been writing blog posts continuously ever since, and celebrated Melbourne Gastronome’s fifth birthday last month.

MB: What is your philosophy and motivation behind blogging?

CD: Blogging remains happily a hobby for me: I work full time in an unrelated industry, dabble in the occasional bit of freelance food and travel writing and reviewing, and blog only when I have the spare time. I’m not interested in enhancing my blogging brand, there’s no gameplan. After a brief flirtation with advertising on the site, I decided to make Melbourne Gastronome completely non-commercial.

Simply put, I write the blog because I enjoy it, and because it provides me with an outlet to write in a more creative, less formal style than the one I employ at work. I also really appreciate it when Melbourne Gastronome readers take the time to comment or email me, offering their opinions or thanking me for a recommendation.

MB What role does food blogging play in a city’s cultural life?

CD: Without wanting to sound too much like a wanker about it, I think food blogs represent a welcome democratisation of the public discourse about food in our city.

Food blogging tends to cop a lot of flack in the mainstream media, possibly more so than other genres of blogging. Critics (justifiably) bemoan those food blogs that only write about freebie events or products from PR companies, or whose reviews consist of blurry, grainy photos describing every dish with some synonym of “delicious” or “gorgeous” – but then tar all food blogs with the same brush and query the legitimacy of blogging.

Of course there are some rubbish food blogs out there. There’s rubbish professional food journalism out there too! So read the good ones, the ones that resonate with you, and ignore the rubbish ones.

One of the things I most enjoy when reading good food blogs is getting a sense of the personality of the author. In an article last year, a newspaper food reviewer criticised blogs for being too personal, which to me suggests a very blinkered (and arguably outdated) view about the styles of food writing readers can find enjoyable.

Another great thing about food blogs is that they can offer not only immediacy but also niche knowledge for specific food interests: for example, Footscray Food Blog specialises in reviewing Melbourne’s western suburbs; Easy As Vegan Pie and Where’s The Beef specialise in vegan and vegetarian dining respectively; The Burger Adventure specialises in Melbourne’s burgers. Like Anthony Bourdain says, whenever he’s planning an episode of No Reservations, local food blogs are the first resources his research team turns to as a way to check the pulse of the city they’ll be visiting.

MB: What makes Melbourne such a culinary destination?

CD: Well, Melbournians tend to take their food, coffee and booze culture pretty seriously! We’ve also got a good diversity of cuisines to choose from and access to great produce. Melbourne’s so-called laneway culture has become a cliché, but I still love that small, interesting bars in other Australian cities are referred to as “Melbourne-style bars”.

I love that despite the famous protestations in 2007 of the Australian Hotels Association NSW President John Thorpe (“We aren’t barbarians, but we don’t want to sit in a hole and drink chardonnay and read a book”), Melbourne-style bars have flourished in Sydney since their liquor licensing laws were reformed.

MB: What are some of your most memorable dining experiences?

CD: A meal I remember having a really profound effect on me was the degustation I had at ezard with my then-boyfriend in 2000, when I was barely out of my teens; we were spellbound by each course, asking questions about the food and writing notes on scraps of paper so that we could describe it to our friends afterwards (this was in the pre-blogging days!), until our waitress kindly provided us with a copy of the menu to take home. I remember we wrote a letter to the restaurant the following morning, praising the food and service we’d received.

In January I went to Japan for the first time and, as with any food nerd visiting Japan for the first time, the quality of the food there blew my tiny mind. Meals I still dream about include the yakimono we had in an izakaya near Roppongi Hills in Tokyo, and a bowl of perfect ramen in Osaka.

MB: Do you write about every dining experience?

CD: Ha, hardly! I write only when I feel I have something that I want to say about a meal, and even then I only get around to doing so when I have sufficient free time to write. There’s plenty of stuff in my drafts folder I wish I had time to finish.

MB: As a Melbournian, are there any particular events that keep you connected to the blogging community?

CD: In 2010 I attended and presented at Eat Drink Blog, the inaugural Australian food and drink blogger conference. Given my lawyerly background, I presented a seminar on the impact of trade practices regulation on bloggers and the ethics of freebies and conflicts of interest. The conference was a fantastic opportunity to get to know and share ideas with food bloggers from around the country (for interested bloggers, it’s just been announced the third annual Eat Drink Blog will be held later this year in Adelaide).

One of the best and easiest ways to stay plugged in to the Melbourne food blogging community on a day-to-day basis is through Twitter. Back in the old pre-Twitter days, the only way Melbourne food bloggers who weren’t already friends tended to interact was by leaving comments on each other’s blogs and organising the occasional meet-up. Now the landscape has completely changed. I sometimes get nostalgic for the way things were – food blogging was simpler, the community was welcoming and completely uncommercialised – but at the same time I must admit I do love the immediacy of Twitter, the way it allows people share information, and the people it has helped me to meet.

And even if social media isn’t your thing, events organised by the Fringe Food Festival are a great way to connect with local producers and chefs, the Melbourne food blogging community and food enthusiasts more generally.

MB: What are your tips for creating great blog content?

CD: Learn by doing, but also take the time to find and finesse your own blogging voice. Try to have a point of differentiation that sets you apart from the often-all-too-bland pack. If you’re reviewing Melbourne cafes, bars and restaurants, don’t be an “ambulance chaser” (ie, reviewing only those venues that score a mention on Milk Bar or Broadsheet).

Above all: write ethically about topics you feel passionate about!

MB: What are some of your favourite blogs?

CD: I’m always on the lookout for interesting, well-written blogs to include in the “links of note” section of my Fortnightly Round-up posts. Here are five I’ve been enjoying a lot lately:

Footscray Food Blog – Lauren Wambach’s excellent reviews of places in Footscray and the other western ‘burbs.

My favourite interstate food blog is Lee Tran Lam’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry. An invaluable guide to Sydney’s dining scene.

310 Fitzroy – one household, five food-obsessed friends of mine, five styles of writing, one gorgeous recipe blog.

Eileen Kenny’s Birds of Unusual Vitality features beautiful portraits of, and interviews with, the key players in Melbourne’s specialty coffee scene.

Tasting Group is an entertaining and educational video blog of rising Melbourne wine guru Josh Elias (a food blogger in a previous life!).

MB: What’s next?
CD: Who knows! We shall see. Let’s just get through this Melbourne winter first.

Find out more about Melbourne Gastronome on the blog or join in the Twitter conversation @melbgastronome

Photo credit: Matt O’Donohue Abstract Gourmet


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