Who knew restaurant plates and saucers are sold like hot dogs and buns, in mismatching quantities? And who would ever expect chefs to be as proficient with a keyboard as they are with a knife?
The answer: Anyone who has noticed chefs are suddenly taking to blogging. In the last few months, some of the bigger names in food across the country have joined the online chattering class, posting their innermost thoughts, with photos and recipes.
And the trend is a welcome antidote to the flood of cyber-treacle. Rather than nattering about what they fed their boyfriends last night, or fuzzily photographing their latest batch of heart-shaped cookies, chefs tend to focus on the story behind the food, on the thought process that original cooking entails. And because they are hard-wired to be tool freaks, they treat digital photography as one step up from sous vide - first they master it, then they get competitive.
Laurent Gras, former executive chef at the Fifth Floor in San Francisco, is blogging almost daily at L.2o Blog (l2o.typepad.com) on the run-up to the opening of his own restaurant in Chicago. In suburban Philadelphia, Alison Barshak is essentially producing a cyber-tutorial on designing, equipping and staffing a restaurant through her blog (alisonat bluebell.wordpress.com).
In New York, Michael Laiskonis, the pastry chef at Le Bernardin, started blogging in January at michaellaiskonis.typepad.com, and his lengthy disquisitions on desserts and how he creates them are windows with photos into a wildly creative and contemplative mind.
Then there is Michael Symon of Lola and Lolita in Cleveland, who is sharing his 15 minutes of fame as a winner of The Next Iron Chef by blogging exuberantly (and saltily) at Symon Says.
Other chefs have latched on to the apron strings of established Web sites - Traci Des Jardins of Jardiniere in San Francisco and Rick Bayless of Topolobampo in Chicago both blog for the Epi-log at epicurious.com. And untold others are adding blogs to their hyper-designed restaurant Web sites.
Even chefs who once were bashers are now blogging. Mario Batali started out lambasting food bloggers but began posting his own blog in less time than it takes to cure guanciale. These days, the erstwhile Food Network celebrity sporadically maintains a grammatically correct Unclogged blog at Serious Eats (seriouseats.com/mariobatali) while playing chef-gone-wild-with-text-messaging on a second blog on his own Web site, mariobatali.com.
Chefs here and there, of course, have been blogging a while. Tamara Murphy of Brasa in Seattle made cyberwaves in 2006 with Life of a Pig (tamaramurphy .typepad.com), blogging in words and pictures on the short life and noble death of pigs she cooks.
But as Des Jardins notes, keeping up with a blog is the hard part. She has been writing for Epicurious since December and says she is loving the freedom of expression, with editing only to "clean up my bad grammar," but has seen chefs let blogs "get old and stale."
The role model is Ideas in Food (ideasinfood.typepad.com), the blog where Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot have built a following since 2004 by writing in detail on their experiments in flavor and composition. The two have bounced around the country cooking and now work as personal chefs in New York, but they were made for new media.
While Kamozawa and Talbot have been evolving, other chefs have been realizing how valuable a blog is to a traditional Web site, an even more sure route to extending a brand than publishing a cookbook. Repeat traffic is virtual money in the bank to prove interest in a project or, to put it crudely, move product.
Gras, who is married to a relatively well-known food blogger, Jennifer Leuzzi of the blog Snack, says he writes and shoots everything himself, with occasional help from his sous-chef.
By contrast, Barshak, in Blue Bell, Pa., says her publicist is helping her craft her posts on the search for the ideal chair, the most comfortable sound level and the right china to showcase her seafood-centric cooking.
"I tell her what I want to say, she writes it and then it goes back and forth a couple of times," the chef said in an e-mail. "Sometimes it's easy and other times it's like pulling teeth."
Regina Schrambling writes for the Los Angeles Times.
Where local chefs have their say
Charleston Group restaurateur and wine director Tony Foreman has been blogging since 2006 about his travels abroad, his experiences with different food-and-wine pairings and developments at his restaurants and in the restaurant industry as a whole.
Ellen Dame, co-owner of Linwood's Restaurant in Owings Mills, created her blog at the beginning of this year. She uses it to post various dining events, menu changes or additions and miscellaneous updates on the state of the restaurant.
Created in November, this blog is used by chef/owner Michael Tabrizi of Tabrizi's restaurant to post photos, recent awards and restaurant events.
Chef Gianfranco Fracassetti of Pazza Luna shares classic recipes, menu changes and restaurant events in this blog.
Although a fairly recent addition to the blogosphere, chef and restaurateur Cindy Wolf's blog has focused on fresh produce, home cooking around the holidays and developments at her Charleston restaurant.