She Can't Cook But She Reviews Restaurants | Pinay.com
“Why don’t you write a column” my friend, said Maggie Silvestre, executive editor of Cook Magazine. She wanted a column about starter restaurants in the BF area, a gated village in Paranaque, in the southern part of Metro Manila. Thus my column, Southern Bell, was born.
Maggie knows I can’t cook, and I can identify seven vegetables from sight, max. But she also knows I can eat, write, edit, research and learn. So when editor-in-chief Dino Datu agreed, I went for it.
Usually a restaurant reviewer is either invited by the owner to do a write-up, or you can ask for an interview whereupon they will feed you so you will have something to write about. I decided to do things differently. I’d visit a restaurant four times to test consistency of food taste, and try a variety of dishes. I took pictures each time.
If a restaurant was good, I’d ask for an interview. I’d often go with a friend because we all have different palates. I may hate the green tea, but my friend may love it. Different things appeal to different people.
I read other restaurant reviews by famous food writers to get pointers on what to look for. I learned of the five tastes in food (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, savory). I realized that a single dish can make several flavors seep into your taste buds in succession with just one bite. This new sense of awareness was enriching.
My taste is fundamentally pedestrian but my critiques improved so much that they are sometimes reprinted in Business Mirror, Cook Magazine’s sister publication. I learned what to look for in food and how to describe it. I also got some insights on what makes a restaurant last. Here are the things I learned:
You don’t have to study in Switzerland to succeed. Sometimes, being out of the country too long gets you out of touch with what is trending and what people like in the Philippines. A degree overseas may help if you want to work for a high-end chain but running your own restaurant does not guarantee success even with an overseas degree.
Genes and natural business savvy are better. My favorite southern restaurant is very successful despite its covert location. For years I drove by the restaurant without seeing it. Then a friend brought me there and it was fantastic. The food was authentic Italian and the pizzas were large and affordable. There are various choices. For those who want something better and can pay, there are truffles and wine. The owner was originally a photographer but his grandfather ran a restaurant during World War II, so the genes were in him. He also does his own marketing and sources some items from Italy.
TV exposure is no good if you’re not hands on. A top TV host featured a restaurant in the south, so I went there. The food was good; but on my second visit it was bad. You have to be hands on with your restaurant, especially if you’re a startup.
Know the combination that will fit your target market. There is one restaurant chain that is immensely successful and I always go there. They started out selling food from home. The restaurant captured a great blend of traditional Filipino food and trendy dishes. If you order three different dishes, the flavor of one dish will be complimented by the next, and so on. Flavors are consistent on each plate, but there is that little tweak of change to make the next platter unique and equally exciting. Also, quality control is excellent. No matter what branch you go to, you know you will get what you expect.
Have one main draw. Don’t hide it. I always visit one restaurant for its hot chocolate. But of course, hot chocolate is lonely unless accompanied by food. It’s second draw—if you don’t feel like hot chocolate—is its collection of hot teas. By contrast, the main strength of another restaurant is its desserts. But the desserts are hidden at the far end, so you don’t feel invited to go in. Since the desserts are better than the food, I think they should put them at the front window, and when people order the desserts they may order a main dish along with it.
Don’t overpromise. I read a blog about a restaurant that had good hot chocolate, and the accompanying photo looked good. I went to the restaurant and when I ordered it, I immediately recognized Swiss Miss. This cheapened the place, even if it was situated in a cushy row of restaurants.
Mona Sabalones Gonzalez is a veteran writer, editor and columnist who has worked with most local and some regional publications. Currently, she writes columns for Cook Magazine and Enrich Magazine. She is an occasional contributor to Business Mirror and Animal Scene. She is also an online staff member of Project Army. Mona has edited and ghostwritten several books and ebooks. She hopes to one day finish a book of her own.
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