After Pastry School – Food & Social Media

In the last 10 years or so food has become a “thing”.  Everyone is a foodie, or a food enthusiast who detests the term “foodie”. There are food tours, food blogs, culinary trips, cooking classes, online cooking tutorials, food tv shows and the old standbys, i.e. magazines, cookbooks and in-store cooking samples/demonstrations.  It often seems that no one eats to live, we’re all living to eat.  Nowhere is this more prevalent than on social media.  From Twitter and Instagram to Facebook and Pinterest, food is everywhere, represented in pictures, recipes, stories, and characters of 140 or less.  As a person who has had food on the brain 24/7 for as long as I can remember it is refreshing that the rest of the world has caught up.  Planning vacations around dining destinations (five star, white table cloth dinners or out of the way, hole-in-the-wall breakfasts), spending hours making one meal, having an ever-growing, always evolving list of “to-try” places and spending hours looking for just the right recipe for brownies is no longer considered odd in many circles.  This is a positive thing, IMO, now I have one less thing to be considered odd for, of course I still have many others.

The downside? Information overload and time management!  Not only do I have a list of places in Boston and around New England to try, I now have lists for DC, NYC, Ohio, Chicago and Toronto. Do I stick with my proven, tried and true recipe sources (Fine Cooking & America’s Test Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated) or do I take a chance with this blog/Pinterest/Food Network recipe?  Why don’t my cookies look like the picture?  Did I order the right dishes at that restaurant?  Why wasn’t my experience the same as the 1,001 reviewers on Yelp/Open Table/Trip Advisor?  It feels like you could never get to a point where you’ve tried all the bars, cafes, bakeries, restaurants, cooking classes and food tours you want to if you lived to be 100 with an unlimited travel budget, both time and money. Time spent on social media is also time spent away from the kitchen or doing recipe/technique research. I get frustrated with myself, constantly realizing that if I spent as much time practicing my baking as I do on Twitter and Instagram I would probably be a better baker.  However, I let myself of the hook a bit when it occurs to me that a good majority of of social media time takes place on the T, or waiting for the T. And it’s fun, so fun!  I get so many ideas and so much inspiration.

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Twitter – I’ve been on Twitter since 2011.  Not an especially early adopter but a huge fan nonetheless.  I sometimes miss the “old” days before Twitter became super mainstream, a lot of the people (particularly chefs) that I used to follow are no longer active as they view Twitter as irrelevant and too mainstream.  These are much cooler people than I.  I still love “the Twitter”. Short and sweet.  Very little drama, usually, and focused more on events, places and news versus personal lives.  140 characters or less, maybe a picture, a link to a great site or an interesting article. Tidbits of information from breaking world news and local restaurant openings to articles on the best ice cream in America and the latest IPO’s.  You select who you want to follow, share what you want and interact as little or as much as you see fit.   I am fairly active on Twitter, sometimes more, sometimes less.  I Retweet quite bit and enjoy sharing the some of the better tweets I find with my followers.  I don’t have a large number of followers, although I have seen an increase since I started my blog and Instagram account , have become more focused on food and started to develop a style of my own.  Most of the accounts I follow on Twitter are food related; chefs, pastry chefs, bakers, food bloggers, food media, restaurants, bakeries, etc.  I also follow national and local news organizations, having stayed informed about the marathon bombing trial entirely through Boston.com’s  Hilary Sargent (@lilsarg) whose coverage was exceptional.   The smallest number of accounts I follow are people I know, friends, cousins, coworkers and assorted characters from the Gloucester area.  I did an earlier Just for Fun Friday on Twitter where I listed some of my favorite accounts to follow, below are a few more.  I find the best way to find good accounts to follow is to look at who your favorite accounts are following.  This tip also applies to my second favorite social media, Instagram, as well as Linked In.

Instagram –  A few months ago I found a new love, Instagram.  Pictures!  Beautiful, adventurous, funny, intriguing images of food, people, places, events and special moments all captured and shared.  As the old cliche goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.  Very little commentary and to date I have encountered no drama.

Unlike Pinterest the pictures don’t take you to another site for more information, a recipe, etc.  There might be a link in the comment or profile but the idea is to let the image speak for itself and to appreciate it in the moment.  There aren’t any boards to pin to and as I discovered recently, no way to view the pictures you had “Liked” in the past.  Some of the pastry chefs and cake decorators I follow are amazing artists.  Instagram is great for baking inspiration, discovering places to travel, learning about restaurants and bars and keeping in touch with friends, family and places.  I follow several people/business based on Nantucket.  Each picture is a tiny trip to my favorite place, giving me a vicarious Nantucket experience to hold me over to my next visit.  When I wake up several times a night due to our thoughtless, crazy Somerville neighbor a quick peek at my Instagram feed is often times enough to quiet my mind and let me get back to sleep. Nice pictures soothing the savage beast or some such thing… There is much less activity on Instagram than FB or Twitter so it is easier to look at all the posts since your last fix, I mean visit,  which I really like as sometimes keeping up with a Twitter feed can feel overwhelming, at least when you’re working a kitchen job and can’t take those special little desk job social media/CNN/Lily Pulitzer sale breaks.  I’ve included some screen shots of accounts I follow; food businesses, my CSCA classmates, coworkers from Sofra, pastry chefs I admire, Nantucket businesses and cake decorators around the world.

Linked In –  Best described as an electronic, dynamic Rolodex, Linked In has primarily been a tool for white collar, corporate job professionals.   Users set up a profile, very similar to a resume, with education, work experience, technological skills and volunteer activities.  From there, you connect with current and former colleagues, follow companies you are interested in/would like to work for and search for new job opportunities.  Often times recruiters will reach out to those who they believe may be a good fit for a client and on the other side, users reach out to their connections to inquire as to openings at their company or to pass along a resume.  As the average tenure at a job gets shorter and shorter Linked In becomes more relevant, you can keep track of those in your network as they move around.  What about those in the food industry?  Linked In seems to be creeping (very) slowly into the industry.  No matter what city you are in, for better or worse ,the food world is small.  There are a finite number of places to work, keeping track of your connections is much easier.  Then there is the fact that chefs, pastry chefs, kitchen managers, and front of house managers spend their days in the kitchen or on the floor, not in front of a computer.  Precious office time is for inventory, costing, scheduling and ordering, not social media.  If industry workers are on social media it is usually Instagram (pictures of food!) and Facebook and almost everything is done on their own time.  However, I have seen more pastry chefs and chefs, along with front of the house managers and administrative staff, getting on-board with Linked In, especially as the Boston area food scene expands and evolves, leading to more moving around and a bigger network to keep track of.  There is also the gradual acceptance and inevitability of smart phones being used in the kitchen, giving kitchen staff greater opportunities to share and connect.

Blogs – According to a quick Google search, blogs are indeed considered a form of social media.  Blogs that share knowledge, foster community and discussion are included in the major definitions.  I agree, especially when they have multiple contributors and cover a range of topics.  The best example I know of is also one of my favorite blogs, Good Morning Gloucester.  Not a huge blog fan, I find that many blogs can be inconsistently maintained, there’s no regular scheduling for posting and often times they simply fade away, i.e. North Shore Dish.  I do follow a few blogs, listed on the right side of my homepage, and I am well aware that my tepid relationship with blogs is not a reflection of their popularity.  There are hundreds if not thousands of food blogs, everything from cakes gone bad (Cake Wrecks) and Christian cooks (Rachel Marie Stone) to brunch focused (Brunch the Fuck Up) and couples who cook (Two Peas and Their Pod).  One of authors of a restaurant “review”/local food blog gets invited to restaurant openings and industry events.  I suspect paid advertisements might be a next step.  Kudos to her!   Blogging is a lot of (unpaid) work.  As long as you are true to yourself,  your vision for your blog and your food there’s no good reason not to be rewarded.

Facebook – No FB for me, thank you.  I am not very articulate in my venomous hatred of the social media that everyone except me is on, I just know it’s there.  There are people in my past or on the periphery of my life that I have no desire to connect with.  YES, I know there are privacy settings but said people can see that you have a page and then starts the agony of why I’m not accepting their invitation.  I don’t care to discuss politics, religion, babies or weddings with the public, just a few close friends and family.  Finally, I believe very strongly in social filters.  FB is too much information for me.  I’d rather not see the parties I’m not invited to, trips I’m not taking, drunken relatives embarrassing themselves, that my favorite coworkers is a right-wing nutter, etc.  I haven’t been on FB in years but freely admit i check restaurant pages for hours, special events, etc.  I imagine food is as prevalent on FB as Twitter and Instagram.  Correct me if I’m wrong.

Other Social Media – There is Snapchat, a bunch of dating websites and probably some new, cool sites.  These are all for “the kids”.  I stay away, particularly from the dating sites (duh!), to avoid embarrassing, hurting or overwhelming myself…

Social media = entertainment, job search tool, inspiration for cooking/baking/home decorating/tattoos, social networking, professional networking and staying connected.  Yes it’s a time suck and makes it hard to get off your phone to interact with others, in person, but as a natural born old lady curmudgeon who resists many forms of change and technology, I love it.

What is social media replacing?  Static websites.  Most businesses will always have a static page for pertinent information (directions, hours, parking), an email contact form and a few details such as services offered, menus, photo galleries, etc.  Static sites can be difficult and time consuming to maintain, often requiring specialized knowledge.  Not so for social media, anyone can learn to use Instagram, FB, Twitter, etc. in a matter of minutes.  You can also get information out fast, last minute specials, seasonal menu changes, closing for private events, water main break in the neighborhood, etc.   And social media makes your audience feel as if you are contacting them, speaking to them versus your customer having to go to your site.  Much more proactive and conversational.  And who doesn’t want to converse about food?

Off to check my Instagram feed.  It’s been an hour!

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