I have made a decision to stop supporting and attending WineMag events after having been called to a meeting with Christian Eedes, editor of WineMag, and his business partner Jax Lahoud. I was badly disrespected by fellow-writer Eedes, and I will not stand for bullying of any kind. Continue reading →
Bloggers must be honest and independent to have any credibility, the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meeting was told by wine blogger Dion Martin at its meeting held at French Toast Wine & Tapas Bar last week. This was echoed by food blogger and restaurant design curator Neil Stemmet.
Dion Martin writes The Travelling Vineyard Blog as a sideline, being a print-on-demand publisher in his day job. A love for food in his family, a chef qualification he obtained via City and Guilds, a Cape Wine Academy Certificate, and a University of Stellenbosch Wine Evaluation diploma, led Dion to start his blog two years ago, so that he could document his wine experiences. Dion mentioned that lawyer Robert Parker could be seen to have been the first blogger, in having published a weekly newspaper thirty years ago already, sharing his evaluation of the wines he had tasted. Dion has observed an increasing ‘noise’ in food blogging, and therefore one should find a point of difference with one’s blog: it could be humour, it could be its excellent photographs, or its ethics, in declaring when the blogger has received a complimentary product or meal. Few bloggers disclose freebies, he said. When he was asked how he deals with freebies, Dion said he would accept them, but would not write about a wine in isolation. He might write a comparative review about a blind tasting he would do with the freebie wine against two others.
Dion said that he is an avid Twitter fan (@TVDionysus), but he sees a lot of ‘soulless Tweeting”. He warned that communication on a medium such as Twitter can be misinterpreted due to the loss in intonation, which one would have in spoken communication. He warned Tweeters to be careful in what they say, and attendee Dusan Jelic added that one should not ‘Drink and Tweet’. Dion has seen people on Twitter follow groupings, reflecting a herd mentality. Twitter is a conduit to one’s blog. Twitter has a lot of ‘noise’ too, and he filters this ‘noise’ out via TweetDeck, in reading only the Tweets of a select number of persons he follows. Such a facility is available on HootSuite too. He is strict in unfollowing those that do not follow him. Dion said that he does not use Vlogging much yet, but is experimenting with it, as he recognises the value of YouTube videos in Google search optimisation. He advised bloggers to not make the video longer than 30 seconds. Dion does not use Facebook much, but recognises that it is powerful.
Dion brought along a selection of Shiraz wines, for the bloggers to taste: Rusty’s Red from McGregor, made by garagiste John Hargraeves and costing about R40; Rusticus is a Shiraz and Viognier blend from Robertson, costing about R80; Le Marquis de Beau Rond Syrah received the least favourable response; Simonsvlei Toffee Chunck Syrah was also not that highly rated; the Sutherland Shiraz from Elgin, costing about R90, received the most most positive response.
Neil Stemmet writes ‘soutenpeper’ Blog, the content all written in lower case, to represent his humility and the blog’s simplicity, and is in Afrikaans. He focuses on the food tradition of South Africa, and his book by the same title will be published in November, and will be launched at the Food Indaba, to be held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, and organised by Design Indaba’s Ravi Naidoo. Neil said that he has no formal training, but he sees himself as a teacher, in wanting to leave a legacy. He is a ‘survivor’, he says, and says that the more one gets stamped upon in a judgemental society, the more fuel one obtains. He has been the interior curator of the Towerbosch restaurant at Knorhoek, and Cuvee at Simonsig. He received acclaim for his award-winning stand he curated for the BOS Tea House, and he did so with minimum budget, collaborating with a number of design suppliers, each of whom brought a display case representing their outlet. The walls were painted purple, and the food was served in large platters at the symbolic ‘altar’ table, explaining his interpretation of a reaction to religion.
The ‘soutenpeper’ name reflects Neil’s approach to food preparation, which is adding nothing more than salt and pepper to a leg of lamb. It starts in obtaining one’s meat from a butcher one knows, and knowing from where he sources his meat. Neil started his food career with his restaurant Le Must in Upington, which he opened in 1985, and still owns. Here he once served Nelson Mandela. He keeps his food ‘hearty and simple’, serving it in large platters, and it is eaten with ‘great conversations’. Neil started ‘soutenpeper’ on WordPress, and asked for help when he got stuck in his early days of blogging. The publishers approached him about the book after only three months of blogging. He said of his growing reputation:”The more people write about me, the more scared I get”. He says it takes energy to live up to the coverage he receives, and he is always honest and sincere. He speaks his mind. He advised bloggers to write what comes to mind, to be natural in what one writes, and “to trust one’s instinct and to not force it”. Do not shout, he advised, ‘speak quietly’. ‘Become more humble, the more success you have. It is not about you, but about the energy flowing through you. Do not write for who we think we should be, but for what you are. Always share knowledge, and you will get reward from it’, he concluded.
French Toast Wine & Tapas Bar is jointly owned by Karen Visser and John Harrison, and opened last year. They generously hosted the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meeting next to their cosy downstairs fireplace, serving bruschetta, as well as a surprise Chocolate Fondant.
The next meetings of the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club take place as follows:
* 20 July : Hennie Coetzee and Maggie Mostert of Batonage Blog, at What’s On Eatery
* 17 August: Nikki Dumas of Swirl Blog, and Matt Allisson of I’m no Jamie Oliver Blog, at Den Anker, wines sponsored by Jordan wines
* 21 September: Chef Brad Ball of Bistro1682, and a wine speaker from Steenberg, at Steenberg
* 19 October: Roger and Dawn Jorgensen of Jorgensen’s Distillery, and Anthony Gird and Michael de Klerk from Honest Chocolate, with a chocolate and potstill brandy tasting and talk on blogging, at Haas Coffee on Rose Street.
* 12 November: Saturday lunch visit to new Leopard’s Leap tasting room and cookery school in Franschhoek
The Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meeting held at Brio restaurant last night was a huge success, with five Haut Espoir wines tasted, and Rob Armstrong of the wine estate and Sam Wilson of Food24 informing and entertaining the food and wine bloggers attending. There were lots of laughs, and bloggers attending participated in the discussion. Cape Town was highlighted by Rob as seeing an “explosion” of food and wine writing, mainly via bloggers, which was not evident in other areas in South Africa.
Sam Wilson, Editor-in-Chief of Food24, Woman24 and Parent 24, impressed by doing her presentation using an iPad, which most bloggers had not seen before. She challenged bloggers to find their “barrier of authenticity”, in that each blogger should define how far one can go, who one is via one’s blog, and how much of one’s self one wants to reveal. Each blogger should set their own parameters. “How much of you do you want to be?” she asked the bloggers. She argued for honesty in blogging, and for not following the magazine route of “selling out”, in only writing good restaurant reviews. She said that Food24 would be following a policy of saying it as it is in their restaurant reviews. Brad Ball, chef of Bistro 1682, in discussion of restaurant reviews, said that they welcome the feedback from reviews, and act upon it. He does take the feedback “from whence it comes”, he said. Restaurant owners and chefs were advised to not respond when they have had something to drink! Restaurants should contact the clients posting negative reviews, and sort the issue out as quickly as possible.
Sam warned bloggers to not set themselves up as an expert, as one can easily be ridiculed by others. She advised them to be humble and honest in their writing. She reminded bloggers to not take their blogging too seriously, and not be too earnest, but rather enjoy it and to blog for fun. Each individual blogger’s writing will not change the world, and “does not matter in the bigger scheme of things”. Sam advised that Google Analytics be used to measure the blog’s readership. Food24 has a special page on its website to provide a platform for 440 food bloggers, with 50000 readers and 200000 page impressions per month. She advised new food bloggers to join the Blog platform that had been set up for them on the Food24 website, and then to start up their own independent blogs once they have gained in confidence. Photographs should be captioned and tagged, to help with Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), and should be well-shot in good light. Headlines should have “Googable” words in them, for SEO. The most popular recipes posted on the Food24 Blogs platform are for fundamental meals such as chicken pie, macaroni cheese, bobotie, and anything with chocolate in it. A recent post of a “Braai pie” recipe attracted 10 000 hits for a first-time blogger. Sam concluded that she no longer sees herself as a journalist, but as a “conversation shepherd”.
Rob Armstrong impressed the bloggers by being himself and honest (as was Sam), and is incredibly tall. Haut Espoir was bought by his family in Franschhoek ten years ago, and Rob took the bloggers through an informal tasting of his Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Shiraz Rose (he says they cannot make enough of it), Gentle Giant (named after Rob’s brother) and Shiraz. Half of Haut Espoir is planted with vines, and the other half with fynbos, over 7 000 fynbos cuttings, representing 600 – 700 species, having been planted. The goal is to follow organic and biodynamic farming practices, and Haut Espoir supports the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative. The winemaker is Nikey van Zyl, and Rob says that he is in charge of sales and quality control, in testing the wines. He has a personal relationship with his clients (including &Union and Caveau), and personally delivers his wines to them, so maintaining the good relationship. Rob writes a “Fynbos Friday” post about the wonderful plants they have on their farm. One can do a Fynbos and Vine Tour with Rob, by making an appointment. In contrast to Sam, Rob does not know his website readership, and does not really care what it is. He does however know that they produce 80 000 bottles of wine per year.
It was interesting to hear the Canadian statistic that the average time between buying and drinking a bottle of wine is 17 minutes, meaning that wine drinkers are not ageing their wines any more. In South Africa the statistic is 72 minutes. Rob shared that the number of Vignerons of Franschhoek has more than doubled since 2004, and now stands at 54. Discussions are in place to stretch the new Franschhoek Wine of Origin region, to include such wine estates as Backsberg and Glen Carlou. Rob is the Chairman of the Vignerons’ Sustainability Committee, a joint action by the vignerons to self-audit their sustainability. Wine buyers can check the sustainablity of the wines they buy and drink via the new sustainability seals. Rob is on Twitter, as @Rambowine, while the farm’s Twittering (@HautEspoir) is done by Raoul de Jongh. Rob was asked whether wine sales had increased due to his blogging and Twitter activity, and he said that he could not quantify that, but that it was easier to sell his wines due to the awareness that had been created for Haut Espoir.
The next Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meeting will be held on Wednesday 22 September, at the Salt Vodka and Champagne Bar, above Salt Deli and across the road from the Ambassador Hotel in Bantry Bay. Food blogger Dax Villanueva from Relax-with-Dax and wine blogger Hein Koegelenberg from La Motte will be the speakers. To make a booking to attend, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com
A recent blog post by chef, Eat Out Top 10 restaurant judge and owner of Wild Woods restaurant, Pete Goffe-Wood, is the inspiration for evaluating how ready Cape Town’s restaurants are for the World Cup, a mere three months away today, and for becoming world class.
Goffe-Wood wrote that the local restaurant industry is “teetering on the brink of greatness”, and encouraged his colleagues to “make the leap” to offer the “foreign market waiting to be fed, educated and entertained and we must make sure that we give them what they came for”. Goffe-Wood identified complaints about high food and wine prices, poor service, and inconsistent food quality as being reflective of problems facing the restaurant industry.
He explained how wine-markups of 200 %, whilst creating outrage, are the norm, and that restaurants have to follow wine producers when they increase their prices every year. Goffe-Wood is critical about the lack of restaurant reviews in “print media”. He believes that the industry needs “positive input from informed and educated sources”. Service , he says “is not to be subservient”, and he seeks a “more professional attitude towards the service we provide”.
So what do we as customers say to restaurants in response to Goffe-Wood’s self-analysis, and to guide them to greatness:
1. First, well done Pete, for acknowledging that not all is perfect, and for wanting to lift the standard for the restaurant industry in Cape Town.
2. We expect consistency in a restaurant’s food quality, service, and value-for-money, plus an attractive and interesting decor, and an undefined feel-good factor of “I like it here – this is a restaurant for a person like me – I will be back”.
3. Please answer your phones when we call to make a booking, rather than letting us speak to an answering machine, which may or may not return our call. Have friendly staff that understand the language we speak, and that can spell a basic name like “Chris”! Even better, recognise and acknowledge our voice as regulars when we call
4. Trust us as customers when we have made bookings at your restaurants – confirmation calls are soooo irritating. Allow a 15 – 30 minute cut-off time, for late arrivers, and then offer the table to the next walk-in. By all means ban customers if they are habitual late-arrivers, or even worse, non-arrivers!
5. Retain your staff – we see staff turnover even in the best of establishments, and it is often the staff relationships that maintain the relationship consistency and that influence the service perception we have of your restaurants. Please do not let your new waiter train on me! Start an industry initiative, to not appoint the waiter/kitchen person running off (often without notice) from one restaurant to another.
6. Train your staff – start with the wines. When the waiter does not understand the word “vintage”, I shudder, and wonder why you did not start at the beginning with your training, or why your winelist cannot list this important detail.
7. Why do we as patrons have to pay the salaries of your staff via tips? It is the only industry where the onus lies on the client to make such a payment. Almost two years ago the Department of Labour promulgated the Sectoral Determination for the Hospitality Industry, and it demands that staff be appointed on a full-time basis, with a monthly salary. I know of few restaurants where this legal requirement is being applied.
8. Charge fair prices. It’s tough for everyone at the moment. Price increases of up to 50% (Reubens) and exorbitant World Cup prices (Beluga and Sevruga) alienate customers and make you look greedy. The days of hoping that tourists alone will fill your coffers because of their foreign currency are over.
9. The marketing of restaurants is very poor. Blond sexy “poppies” in ads does not crack it for most of us! Few restaurants have websites, and the fewest restaurants seem to understand search engine optimisation, in making sure that patrons can find more information about their restaurants on the internet. If one does a Google search, restaurant websites often are ranked lower than reviews written about them by industry websites such as Eat Out, or by bloggers. This means that prospective clients are not hearing the restaurant marketing message directly. The fewest restaurants in Cape Town understand the power of Social Media (Pizza Club, Cafe Max, Nook Eatery, Arnold on Kloof and Jardine are the few on Twitter) and Goffe-Wood Twitters and blogs very occasionally only. I am not aware of any restaurant which has an integrated social media marketing strategy!
10. Your customers have become your reviewers, horror of horrors, and they say it as it is. No more white-washing, no more ‘incestuous’ relationships between reviewers wishing to remain best mates with the chefs. Bloggers are evaluating restaurants as the man/woman in the street would experience them, and the more honest they are in writing about what they experience, the more their evaluations are valued. Banning them from your restaurants, as Le Quartier Francais, Carne and Beluga have done, if they have given you a critical review or feedback, is not productive, and it means that the restaurants will not improve if they cannot accept feedback.
11. Treat us with honesty – do not con us with a marketing claim on your website, that is not true – as does Carne, which claims that all its meat is organic and comes from the Karoo, which has proven to be not true. The dishonest claim remains on the website!
Restaurant patrons will forgive a restaurant many sins if they feel comfortable and “at home”; if they feel respected, even if the feedback provided is not always positive, provided in the interest of making it better; if they are kept up to date with information from the restaurant; and if restaurants learn to say thank you for regular patronage, for a review, or for business sent to them by a regular client. Not too much to ask, is it?!
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com