More than a few times do I hear some food bloggers complaining (not directed at us): “He/she doesn’t even have training in the kitchen. How dare s/he be a food blogger?”
My reply is:
Must a fashion magazine editor know how to design a dress?
Must a movie critic know how to make a movie?
Must a literature teacher write a novel?
Must a sportscaster be an athlete?
In 1994, Catherine Lim, renowned Singapore novelist/writer, wrote a political piece which was published in The Straits Times, criticizing PAP and how the party was–and still is–disconnected with the people. Then-Prime Minster Goh Chok Tong responded, if she wants to write a political commentary, join a political party. Must a political commentator be in politics?
The obvious answer is no.
Why then do some food bloggers/critics think that you must know how to cook to critique food? It’s elitism at work isn’t it? By saying someone cannot cook, you’re putting someone down immediately, dismissing that person’s opinions and elevating your own status by implying you can cook (so can Yan, by the way). By saying someone cannot cook, you’re foreclosing all possibilities of discussions because you don’t even listen to someone who cannot cook. This behavior of belittling someone is very authoritative and parental, quite like the PAP who refuses to listen the people because you’re not in politics (hence my Catherine Lim analogy). We have minds, we have opinions, we can think, and we can voice out our thoughts – but by saying we cannot cook so we cannot be food critics is shutting down our words, our thoughts, our freedom.
Undeniably, it is best that a food critic has experience in kitchen but not all of us have the luxury, time or money to learn. Practical is important but theory is equally important and a food critic can have theory. The atomic bomb is created based on theory alone–and then practiced on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In A-bomb’s case, theory comes first. In the Women’s Rights Movement, Black Movement and GLBT Movement, it is often the academics who lead the fight for equality. Theory comes first. It would be wonderful to be able to distinguished an egg cooked at 65.72 degree celsius and a softboiled egg at Ya Kun but as food critics, taste comes first. Theory comes first. Nice means nice, no matter what way the food is cooked (practical). The role of a food critic is to be able to justify why the food is delicious or horrible and not how it is cooked.
Theory comes from knowledge and knowledge comes from experience. A prominent food blogger wrote, “We didn’t like the beef tartare because it was raw.” Ouch. Beef tartare is raw minced beef. The food blogger made a faux pas–but so what? Who hasn’t made a faux pas before? Nobody died or is harmed by his boo-boo, right? Some people may not come across a food item before because they are underprivileged or inexperienced; they don’t have the money to spend on extravagant food before or they are eating the dish for the first time (and there is always a first time)–so why not take this chance to educate them as equals (in a kind manner), instead of feeling superior and mocking them malevolently? What you say about others reflects more on your own behavior than others’. At least from this experience, the food blogger would have learnt from his own mistake and grow from it. Culinary terminology can be learnt. Don’t mistake the lack of general knowledge–which can be changed with experience–for stupidity and ineptitude.
So must a food critic know how to cook? No but s/he must keep eating, keep experiencing, keep asking questions, keep an open ear to listen attentively to experts, keep an open mind to learn, and keep learning.