Being a Food Writer – How & Why We Do What We Do

Anytime we introduce ourselves to new people and explain that we are food writers, the introduction is followed by a long explanation of how we do what we do.  There is a certain glamour and excitement behind the title, and admittedly it is a pretty amazing job.  Recently, Dining Notes writer Dan Macdonald wrote an article for the Times Union regarding what the differences are between professional food writers and the casual food bloggers.  Jacksonville Restaurant Reviews skirts the line between the two, and we thought it would be a good time to expound on Dan’s column and explain our process behind how we write about local restaurants.

This Chick's Kitchen - Chicken and Waffles

This Chick’s Kitchen – Chicken and Waffles

Our experiences collectively create a team of qualified writers who are passionate about food.  A few of us work directly within the food industry, but not all of us.  We are all well travelled, nationally and internationally, which has created a strong foundation for our love of food.  We have several English degrees between us, but none of us are professional authors.  Eating and writing about it is simply a passion project.  The founders of JRR have extensive small business background in ownership and management, which has made our Food Adventure dinner series more successful than we could have imagined.  We began in Jacksonville, but have since expanded to St Augustine, Raleigh Durham, NC, and we will launch in Charlotte, NC this month.  What started as a hobby to help spotlight our favorite restaurants has turned into a profession where we spend our time with the passionate owners and chefs of the city we love.

Tres Leches - Kids Cooking Class

Tres Leches – Kids Cooking Class

Professionally, Jacksonville Restaurant Reviews falls under the category of media.  We are often invited to media previews, restaurant openings, or private tastings for new menus.  These complimentary events are exchanged for honest opinions on the food, service, and atmosphere.  Our reviews are not altered based on any type of invitation or relationship with any restaurant.  For any review that qualifies as a media invitation, there will be a notation at the bottom of the article explaining the circumstances to account for full transparency.  When we have positive experiences, we publish our articles as is without consulting with the restaurant.  In the event of a negative experience, we speak with restaurant owners and chefs directly to discuss needed improvements.  They receive detailed emails with our opinions on how we feel they could remedy any issues we experienced whether service, food, or atmosphere related.  We do not publish negative reviews if we are invited to the restaurant as media.  Media previews are nearly always followed with a private visit to the restaurant under our own terms prior to publishing any type of article or review to ensure that the experience is linear.

The Candy Apple Café - Bourbon S'mores

The Candy Apple Café – Bourbon S’mores

If we are not invited to a restaurant, we review in anonymity.  We never declare our presence and we absolutely never expect free food.  Occasionally chefs or restaurant owners who we have relationships with will send new dishes to our table for us to try, but that is never in place of what we have ordered and pay for, and we always graciously thank them directly.  We’ve heard horror stories of food bloggers across the country who demand free food in exchange for reviews.  Recently we heard of a food blogger who ate an entire meal then refused to leave unless it was given to him free, or else he would write a bad review.  We are not in this industry to eat for free, we are in this industry to showcase the talent in our community.  We absolutely stand behind our integrity and honesty in what we write for our readers.  In addition to visiting and reviewing restaurants, we also write about food trends, spotlight local chefs through detailed interviews, and research the histories behind some of our most interesting restaurants in the city.  What this amounts to is collectively a few dozen hours a week spent writing about what makes our city great.  We seek to do this in the most professional way possible while still having fun and showcasing our own personalities.

Hobnob - Scallops and Spring Pea Risotto

Hobnob – Scallops and Spring Pea Risotto

Casually, we really love food.  And we love Jacksonville.  The shortest route between the two is helping you, our readers, find their umami.  Umami, defined by former New York Times food Critic Ruth Reichl, is when something is exactly right for the moment.  For us, that means the feelings we experienced when we first tasted the fiery pepper jelly atop maple mousse on Chef Tom Gray’s chicken and waffles at Moxie, or our first tender, earthy bite of mantu dumplings by husband and wife team Younus and Nahida of Ariana Kabab, or the crisp shatter of the sugar on Chef Michael Bump’s flawless creme brûlée.  Our goal is to bring you that moment.  It won’t be the same for everyone, which is why we write our reviews objectively and aim to describe tastes and flavors to address every palette.  You will have found it when your heart stops a little, you have to close your eyes, and you develop an emotional connection to the experience.  Food, and the act of dining together, creates a bond that is like no other.  And for someone to cook for another person, or persons for our chefs, is the ultimate show of love.  We aim to capture that love and bring it to our audience.

Orsay - Espresso Torte

Orsay – Espresso Torte

What this combination amounts to is a lot of dining out.  Often, we do this together with our JRR family.  We spend time researching where we haven’t eaten.  We gather at a new-to-us, locally owned restaurant, and we order copious amounts of food to pass and share.  This time is spent discussing national food trends, the age old macaroon-macaron pronunciation debate, and our local restauranteurs latest ventures.  We use our experiences to reflect on authenticity, quality, and presentation.  Afterwards, we go home and one of us spends several hours writing about the restaurant in every aspect.  Hours is no exaggeration.  Well-conveyed opinions and descriptions are essential to us to make sure our readers have the most accurate picture.  We spend the rest of our time at JRR showcasing local restaurants that are doing great things.  That has several definitions to us.  We often feature restaurants giving back to the community, like Simply Sara’s donating meals to pediatric heart patients’ families.  We feature chic restaurants that are breaking barriers and creating exciting cuisine.  We feature chefs and their life stories, because we feel like you should know the people behind your food.  We support our thriving food truck scene.  We bring you word of the tiniest, hardest to find restaurants that prepare incredible and gourmet cuisine.  We honestly tell you our opinions on how restaurants can improve, or the ones to simply avoid.

Fusion - Drunken Noodles

Fusion – Drunken Noodles

So that, in essence, is what it is like to be a food writer.  It’s an emotional and intense experience that can be devastating, moving, and life changing.  We simply have the opportunity and platform to deliver to you everything you need to know prior to entering a Jacksonville restaurant.  Thankfully, we aren’t restricted on our content.  We choose our restaurants, our chefs, and our stories ourselves.  We’ve covered significant ground in our venture, writing over 200 articles so far showcasing the local culinary scene.  We’ve hosted nearly 50 Food Adventure dinners to bring new diners into our favorite restaurants.  We’ve rejoiced when struggling restaurants found the spotlight and we’ve sadly watched the downfall of great restaurants that just couldn’t find their footing.  It’s a rollercoaster of a hobby that has grown into a reputable brand.  We exist to be more trustworthy than the unqualified Yelp review.  Our blog is an informal profession.  For this success we can thank our regular readers for trusting us, referring us to friends, and for guiding us to their favorite restaurants.  Somewhere across our website lies your perfect umami moment , and we are happy to be your guide.

  1. I look forward to my Thursday emails. I rely on your emails to help me find new venues for my monthly breakfast club and new places for date night. Thanks for your hard work.

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