Do food reviewers need a good palate database?

So here I am, sitting on the high chair at a bar-like window table waiting for my order to arrive. As I trying to ignore as hard as I could about the noise of motorcycle and cars that zooming around behind me, I witness an event that remind me to a lot of thing. A lot. It remind me about homosexuality, reminds me a scene on “Pirates of Caribbean” movie and to imagining what is like to live in the time when people still cook their food in the fireplace.

I was in the small joint of Chicken Run at kunti-sunset road. Witnessing how those cook slowly skew the chicken, poking the iron bar from rear entry gradually slit through to the neck of the chicken and end up grill them slowly. To some extent it is a show to see how the chicken-skew being prepared, to other extent it is a sadomasochist-psychopathic show.

I’m trying to guess which is which between those two polar the real reason why one of the four chef picked by Destination Magazine (you have to buy their September Issue to know the chef name😀 ), choose this little joint as one of their favorite place to eat.

Somewhere between those two polar extreme I think there are more normal reasons why Chicken Run picked as their favorite. The chicken is good, cooked until it turned into brown crispy texture with the option to choose between apple sauce or tomato ketchup to accompany it, the portion is fair and hey it is reasonably priced (20ish, 30ish, 40ish Rupiah).

Trying to guess what those chefs think when they pick the places on the list is a recurring theme every time me and Sayoga* visit the rest of the restaurant on the list. What is it to be loved from the place? Is it solely because of the taste? Is it the location? Is it because of this? Is it because of that? And so on…

As we discuss about these things it struck me that it kind of futile to emulate what those chefs think. We had different database. For example even among the both of us differ in opinion about the premises. I can safely say that I had tasted more food compared to Sayoga but Sayoga have more cultural context and sharp at spotting visual point of interest. Thus when I spotted the usage of fried tempe in watercress salad at Batu Belig as one of distinct feature, Sayoga offer another perspective about the location and the history of the place

Salad at Watercress

 

Food Reviewer Need Good Database

A while ago there is an interesting discussion in my timeline started by @epicurina about food blogger. The discussion offer a very good tips for the blogger how they should review the food: it has to be detailed, if you can compare it to other food somewhere else try to compare it so people can imagine how the taste palate. But again, if you are trying to detail it or to compare to more familiar taste palate the writer should have some sort of palate database. In my opinion the writer itself should be a skillful writer but you ought to have a valid database. These two qualities should present and complement each other. I’ll give you examples:

  • Good writer, poor palate database.

I worked in the wine industry as analyst before. It is in my company best interest to monitor any publication including blog review. And so I stumble upon a blog review about our product. We didn’t pay her. She tasted the wine in the public places while we had a promotional tasting at an expo.

She liked it. Her review about the wine is delightful. She masterfully crafted those words into a food review that I never knew there is an Indonesian that could produce such food review. But here is the catch: the details are off by miles.

What do you mean the details are off by miles? Well, you know how the people in wine industry crafted their wine to fit in specific taste palate and use a specific word to describe it. This wine is citrusy, with the light note of bla bla, and with the clean finish in the end and so on. Okay, hold on into that thought for a moment.

Now I’ll give you the wine market condition in Indonesia. A lot of wine that in the market are not a good wine. The reasons are many ranging from the ubiquitous black market wine (who can guarantee the storage of something that is being smuggled? — while wine is prone to temperature), dumping strategy (there are low-quality brand that being created specifically marketed to countries like Indonesia), and so on.

These practices have gone for ages and people in Indonesia are accustomed to it. Thus they create a taste palate that they think that is supposed to be a good wine taste. They are anchoring the “good” wine as that palate. This palate is their only database.

Back to the review, I was glad the she like it but again her database is of by mile. What if the people that actually understand the wine, read her story and decide to taste the wine itself? Two probabilities: the person curse the reviewer or the the person curse the product for not delivering the “database palate” that he/she read it. Which one is more like it?

  • Second case: cannot write but have a good database.

Even if just working as analyst that mostly crunching numbers, nevertheless it still gives me the opportunity to work with Indonesia’s best connoisseur. I know how those pro educate themselves. They are trained professional that already had a fair share of experience around the world. With their education and experience they can describe the palate with exact word and term.

Now i have a friend that amazingly her nose could match those the best in the Industry. She already had tasted a fair share of wine when she was studying in Europe. She knows a good wine and she know a bad wine but she can’t describe it. She uses her own “palate database” to describe the taste. I remember she used the term of “this wine smells like a wet socks” to describe a local wine that probably the more elaborate term would be “this wine is over-developed in the bottle and not carefully crafted”.

Don’t get me wrong, she know how the smell of bad vegetables, etc to describe spoiled wine but she pick “smells like wet socks”. Now which one that you prefer to read in the review? Wet socks or over-developed? This is an example of a person that has a good palate database but don’t know how to pick her words.

So back to the title of this post, do we need a food reviewer that have good palate database?

[End]

*Sayoga is a freelance photographer that being assigned by Destinasian. I’m just following him. His work already being featured by newsrooms and agencies around the globe. You can check his work at putusayoga.com

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