In 1998 on a visit to the French laundry I was scolded by a pastry chef there for never having read Jane Grigson. (Ironic indeed.) My heart always lifts when I meet a cook who’s passionate about words and cooking in equal measure and I always remembered her. Shuna Fish Lydon. I was delighted a year or so ago, maybe longer, to come across her blog, which I admire. She is pastry chef at Sens in San Francisco and she writes for Edible San Francisco magazine and KQED’s Bay Area Bites). So I was delighted to see her name in my inbox last week, and asked her if I could post her complete email.
Hello Michael Ruhlman,
This evening a close family friend of mine gave me this article which you wrote for a magazine. I do not know the name of because she ripped out the page to give to me.
It interests me, of course, because I am both a chef and a blogger. I have been a professional cook for 15 years and a blogger for 3 come March. I am not the only chef blogger, but the truth is that there are few chef bloggers. I’m wondering how Mario Batali feels about us?
At the last Blogher conference I sat on a panel of a few food bloggers. A commenter asked the panel, but directed toward me, about Mario Batali’s recent comments about food bloggers. You know what? I had no idea what specifically the person was speaking of, but somewhere in my body I Knew. I just did. I knew the food blogger he hated, because, on some level, I despise this food blogger he rants about as well.
I became quite emotional when I responded. I let the audience know that when a food blogger hurts one chef/restaurant owner, he/she hurts us all. I spoke to the tiny profit margins restaurants live on. I asked people not to be cowardly (as you addressed) and speak up when they had an issue with their meal. i said there are plenty of people on staff at restaurants ready to fix, or attempt to fix, problems diners have.
Why am I writing you? Aren’t I just preaching to the converted?
I want your ear for a moment. You have far more readers/commenters and power than I do as a writer and I wanted to run something I’ve been thinking about, because maybe you could pass it on to the people/chefs you know who rail against "all of us food bloggers" without distinction.
Recently I took a job as the pastry chef at a restaurant we just recently opened to the public. One of the reasons I think my voice is important at Eggbeater is because I am a chef and what I can speak to I feel that few others can, and be trusted to do so. I can speak for a lot of chefs and cooks and pastry assistants and prep teams and dishwashers who don’t have the time or inclination to set their stories down. I inspire and validate a lot of folks in whites, male and female, and to this end I keep writing. For us all.
Me, personally, I don’t think TV Cheffing should have the last media word on my industry. It’s far too complicated to be summed up neatly on television, whether cable or prime time.
I began a series when I started with Sens called Opening A Restaurant.
Some of it is personal, some joyful, some excruciating, frustrating, extra ordinary, devastating and on and on. I am trying to paint the whole picture even if it means painting the life mural that it is.
What I have begun to think about is this.
Chef blogging is a kind of underground railroad.
Eric and I used to joke about something at TFL. We were close friends when he and I lived in Napa and we worked for Thomas. But we both knew that the minute each of us went elsewhere, we might never see each other again. If I called him tomorrow and I needed to run something past him, he would be there for me, as colleague and friend, as if no time had passed. I know this. It is true for so many of those I have worked with and for.
This phone exchange is an example of the loyalties we develop. When a cook or a chef comes into the restaurant I work in I treat them better than a movie star. I would trail/interview/stage anyone someone I knew recommended. This is the fierce loyalty I honor. maybe it’s old school, but it’s the code I honor.
Recently I connected with a sous chef from another SF restaurant. He started blogging, I somehow found him, asked him a question about Tonka beans and the week following he was standing in my kitchen with one of his cooks and we were talking shop. He gave me some beautiful ingredients from La Sanctuaire but would not accept payment of any type. Last night I coursed him and two friends out with fanciful desserts, on the house.
This is something you know about but I want to say for the record that this was a meeting facilitated by blogging. Although I might have met him at some point, blogging connected personally and quickly. And now we both have an ally, an ear, a shoulder to lean on– an automatic loyalty is formed.
I know that headlines like Bloggers v. Chefs get readers in magazines, but, even if your article is about how this versus idea is a shortsighted one, this headline reinforces that we are enemies, when in fact, sometimes we are the very same people.
I stand on complicated ground and I think about it every day.
I belong to an industry which would rather put on blackface and dance on TV than spell out the realities of my day to day job, so that it can pretend that glitz is what you get as a reward if you know how to lift a saute pan, hold a knife and button a cotton coat. I know that there are chefs and cooks and pastry chefs who would rather I shut up. No one likes their industry, their intentions, their choices to be critiqued. But the truth is that my industry has been inexorably changed by its recent spotlight. And culinary schools, shiny magazines and TV empires are the only ones benefitting.
I love what I do for a living. Which means I know it well enough to also despise it sometimes too. With the kiss also comes the slap.
Michael Ruhlman, you have a lot of power as a wordsmith of my industry. Please represent all of us food bloggers when you write. Please pass on to Anthony Bourdain and Mario Batali and Thomas Keller that there are chef, pastry chef, line cook, culinary student and pastry cook bloggers out there, too, who are attempting, in their own small ways (few of us are represented by The Food Network/ Top Chef/ Iron Chef and the like…) to talk about what it’s really like standing over hot stoves 14-19 hours a day, 7 days a week, like they [once] did.
It is my firm opinion that my voice is an important one. It means that I will never have a million visitors a month because I write about something specific and do it with more emotion than most people are comfortable with. But it does mean that I inspire future and present cooks and chefs all over the world, every day.
And if that means being lumped into a category which is a piece of clothing which neither fits nor suits me and my [blog’s] purpose, so be it. I’ll remain a small fry rallying for the other small fries. It’s hot in here, but I can stand it. I’m a Chef.
shuna fish lydon
e g g b e a t e r
cooking, baking & nifty photos
4 Embarcadero Center
San Francisco, CA 94111
P 415 362-0645
Chef blogs Shuna likes:
Dana Cree on Tasting Menu
Haddock on Knife’s Edge
Lindsey Danis of Adventures in Dessert
Brett Emerson of In Praise of Sardines— his Opening A Restaurant series
My most googled piece about being a chef and its inherited responsibilities which few people seems to care about anymore, "What is a Chef’s Responsibility"