Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What Qualifies a Person to Critique Food?

In my five years of writing about food online, I have occasionally been asked some variation of the question below, usually in an accusatory tone when someone doesn't like what I wrote, but also by inquisitive people who want to know how to become a food blogger or critic:

"Have you ever worked in a restaurant or attended culinary school, so that you are qualified to write about food?"

Social media comment boxes are not large enough for me to really answer this question, so I have never fully explained my background or the heart of what I believe qualifies a person to critique food. Here is my answer:

The criteria that qualifies any human to have an opinion about food is that they have working tastebuds on their tongue. Their opinions will, of course, be better informed if they have knowledge of where the ingredients come from, how they are processed, and what combinations of ingredients and techniques can be used to create certain flavors. Working in a restaurant or attending culinary school can help you acquire some of this knowledge, but as many great chefs, writers, and business people can attest, there are infinite other ways to acquire specialized knowledge and experience without going to school for it.

Do you need to work in a restaurant or attend culinary school to be qualified enough to know these are correctly cooked sunny side up eggs?

I believe the real question people are asking is: "How do we know that you are knowledgable about food?" This is akin to asking someone to explain their lifetime of experiences that led them to the success they have today. For the purposes of discussion, let's substitute food critiquing for any other skill you may be good at, such as making jewelry…

How can you know that you know more about making jewelry than most people do?

Well, since childhood, you’ve probably been been making jewelry, reading jewelry books, watching TV shows about jewelry, attending jewelry shows, talking with jewelry industry leaders, and constantly using your free time to learn more about jewelry. People you barely know in real life (and strangers on the Internet) ask for your opinions and recommendations on jewelry because they recognize that you know more about jewelry than they do.

How do you know that you are knowledgable compared to other jewelers?

When you read or listen to other jewelers, you start to realize you already know much of what they're talking about. There are even a few things they didn't know, but you did. Other jewelers will also ask you questions, because they value your opinion as a fellow expert.

How do you know your work is really good?

At first, you figured your jewelry was good because strangers bought it and genuinely complimented you on it. Then, you realized you have repeat customers/fans who look forward to your next reveal and comment on your jewelry-related thoughts online. Over time, these fans turned into tens of thousands of people who like hearing what you have to say about jewelry.

But have you ever worked in a jewelry store or attended jewelry school, so that you are qualified to write about jewelry?

I hope you see now how this question is irrelevant. What qualifies a person to write or critique any topic is their relentless passion and pursuit of knowledge and experiences in that field. If you are truly good at writing about your passion, other people and experts will naturally seek your opinions and follow your thoughts. You do not need any restaurant industry work experience, culinary degree, or other food certification to write about food. Simply follow your passion, and you will be "qualified".

Bonus: The first three jewelry questions are my interpretation of how to know if you are good at something, anything. Substitute "jewelry" for "cooking" or anything else that you do, and you'll have an idea if you are knowledgeable enough to write about it.

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