01 May 2009


It goes without saying that the burger you order in a restaurant should arrive ready to be eaten. But should it come ready to be photographed, too? With the proliferation of food blogs published by amateur, unannounced, and anonymous restaurant-goers, we may have entered an era when they do.

Consider my photographs from last week's dinner at Umami Burger, a Los-Angeles newcomer to the sophisticated-burger scene. There is nothing special about the photos. I do not have photographic skill. It is the burgers that are extraordinary--albeit in a way easily overlooked because we are used to seeing the effect in question in food-magazine photography. Look again.

Notice the perfectly even sheen on the top bun? From my entire personal history of consuming restaurant hamburgers, I do not recall being presented with a burger so artfully shellacked. Having enjoyed many tasty burgers in my time, including "gourmet" burgers, I conclude that such a feature is unnecessary for taste or as a byproduct of cooking methods.

Of course, I've known shiny streaks and spots and smears--accidental grease. The unintended traces of a fast-moving cook. But at Umami Burger there was such complete coverage, and consistent, too, on every burger carried out of the kitchen. I should mention that the glossiness did not detract from taste. Our burgers did not taste oily, but delectable. So I believe these burgers were deliberately dressed to impress--the eye and the lens, not the taste buds. Put in terms of food porn, our burgers were "fluffed."

More than that, they were prepared to compensate for my unprofessional food photography, my lack of food-stylist help and expertise, and that of all the other food bloggers snapping flashless photos between courses. Our amateur photography cannot be relied upon for public relations to the restaurant's advantage. Perhaps we should see blog-ready food as a tactic in restaurant media defense. Through it, a restaurant can reclaim some of the control over its visual representation that it lost in the proliferation of amateur reportage. 

Copyright 2009 Alison Pearlman. All rights reserved.  

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