Sky Full of Bacon

Eater Chicago is dead.

Yeah, what’s that? you ask. Eater is a group of online blogs about doings in the restaurant industry, with locally-focused editions in NY, SF and LA.  The name suggests a sort of gossipy thing like Defamer or Gawker, which are surely the models, although it all seems rather tamer and less trashy than such celebrity-oriented, what’s-Lindsay-snorting-now stuff.  Chicago was supposed to be the next stop, with one Ari Bendersky (ex of UR Chicago) as the blogger.  But the current environment of economic spookedness means that Eater has pulled out of the market.

To be honest, and with no disrespect meant to Mr. Bendersky, whose efforts we never got to see and can’t judge, I can’t say that I find this a huge loss, because I can’t say that I find the concept all that interesting.  It’s not like it’s been that tough to keep track of new openings (hey, I hear that Publican place is worth checking out).  If someone were to do real digging into the workings of the industry, that might be fascinating— I’m convinced there’s no end of rich material there— but such depth is unlikely to come out in a format aimed at producing ten newsy little blog items a day.  Look at this typical example, from Eater NY:

EaterWire: Ed Witt’s Chef’s Table, Jawn Chasteen in at Sea Grill, Plywood, and More

EAST VILLAGE— A little pre-plywood news over on Grub Street: Cru’s chef Shea Gallante is applying for a liquor license for the old Sea Salt space: “Orhan Yegen had trouble clinching a full liquor license before he ejected from the space earlier this year, and the CB has been no-nonsense about the Sin Sin zone (think Mercury Dime), but if anyone can charm them at the November 12 meeting, it’s a Michelin-starred chef…” [GS]

Pulse quickening yet?  There may be a certain audience for this kind of information about the latest hot places, but I find it hard to see why this kind of news of routine business transactions should be any more interesting to me than the “Heard Around the Injection-Molder” column in the latest issue of Plastics & Polymers Today.

Perhaps that’s an especially dull example.  But the attempts to gin up celebrity-sighting excitement by chronicling every movement Fergus Henderson made in New York are not really any better; it doesn’t tell you anything about Henderson (a genuinely interesting guy), it just flatters you that you’re in the know about… a guy in the foodservice industry who 99.99% of America has never heard of.

But Mike, you say, you spent years fostering an environment for exactly the dissemination of such minute foodie trivia at LTHForum.  And how can you say you aren’t interested in the doings of chefs and restaurateurs when you’re devoting so much time to a video podcast series about them? Are you saying you wouldn’t love to sit down with Fergus Henderson?

In the case of LTHForum, the news is much less what’s opening than what there is to eat there.  The focus is on the wonderful things people uncover at restaurants, which I can then go try for myself.  Yes, that’s sort of the same impulse that leads people to want to know about hot new places, but for me, at least, there’s much more interest and intellectual heft in going to a nowhere middle-eastern restaurant because some really cool authentic dish is on the menu than in going to Jerry Kleiner’s latest place just because it’s Jerry Kleiner’s latest place.

And in the case of Sky Full of Bacon, yes, I do it to get to talk to chefs and farmers and folks and observe them in action, but that’s because the action itself is interesting to look at, and I’m intrigued by the way that how they fix food and share it with others reveals their philosophy about food.  I’m interested in what they think about pork, not in their plans for expanding into Oakbrook.

What it comes down to for me is that Eater seemed to have carved out exactly the perspective on our food scene that is least interesting to me, most hype-ridden and PR firm-driven.  I can pick that info up peripherally while reading a blog like Menu Pages’, which is still focused more on what real people out there think and write about food than on what permits have been applied for.

Personal blogging is an escape from the strictures of publications that want the latest news and the five tips for this and that and a focus on the TV-famous. (Rocco DiSpirito on the 7 Ways To Drive Your Man Wild During a Post-Thanksgiving Tryptophan Drowse!) Corporate blogging, too often, isn’t an alternative to such trivial approaches but an even more extreme example of them, designed to grab attention quick so the eyeballs can be counted for advertisers. Anyway, I will miss Eater Chicago far less than I would any number of blogs written by real people who really care about food as food, not as a reason to feel trendier than the next person with the in-the-know stuff you know.

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