The news that food bloggers are going legit and entering the mainstream hit the blogosphere like a new Paris Hilton sex tape. First, Restaurant Girl (aka Danyelle Freeman) is slipping into Pascale La Draoulec's old restaurant critic spot at the New York Daily News. Forget for a moment whether Freeman is qualified for the job, or whether her breathy purple prose style is appropriate for a newspaper restaurant critic's voice, or finally whether the fact that she's known to every restaurateur and chef in town is a problem.

The real story here is that a young woman who started a New York restaurant food blog now has one of the half-dozen restaurant critic jobs at a major New York media outlet with more than a million readers. Love Freeman or hate her, her ascension signals the arrival of food bloggers into the old media mainstream. Sure, her industry-friendly statement that "I want to give chefs and restaurants their best opportunity to communicate a vision" would send editors at places like the New York Times and New York magazine into apoplexy.

The blogosphere had its knives out ready to pounce. A commenter on the Eater thread: "She's a nice girl who turned a blog that shills for restaurants in exchange for free meals into a job where she can shill (for) restaurants and get paid for it by the NYDN. Mazel Tov."

What will be interesting to find out is whether they are going to let Freeman keep writing Restaurant Girl and whether her Daily News reviews will be simultaneously posted on her blog and in the paper.

Still buzzing about Restaurant Girl, the blogosphere and the food media turned its attention to last night's Top Chef episode.

I just about dropped my ice cream bar when I spotted Andrea Strong at the judge's table sharing a meal with Tom Colicchio, Daniel Boulud, Ted Allen, and the almost supernaturally beautiful Padma Lakshi. She wasn't identified or referred to in the conversation about the food. She never uttered a word. Why is she there supping with the judges? I thought to myself.

Why she was there became readily apparent each time one of the two competing chef teams was called to face the judges. Tom Colicchio told each team that a food blogger had been in the house. The camera panned to the chef teams grimacing at the very mention of food blogs. Tom and Padma kept taking turns reading Strong's simulated blog entry. Each recitation of phrases like "gummy risotto" and "host had a sweating problem," and "suffocating stink of vanilla" brought a look of horror and resignation to the competing chef's teams—along with knowing half-smiles from Colicchio and Boulud, who have each felt the sharpness of a blogger's keyboard-driven daggers. (You can read Strong's blog post here.)

Again, what's important is not whether we think Strong is a great restaurant critic or a great blogger or deserves to be taken seriously critiquing food with Daniel Boulud and Tom Colicchio. The news here is that the producers of Top Chef (along with what must have been the tacit approval of Colicchio) have perhaps permanently elevated the status of food bloggers everywhere. When Colicchio and Lakshi are reading Strong's words back to the competing chefs, what they are saying is that these words (presumably written by Strong, though they were pretty harsh, not exactly Andrea's stock in trade) are credible, legitimate, and worthy of discussion. In other words, a blogger's reaction matters. It carries some real weight. Add in the already-or-about-to-be-published books by 101 Cookbook's Heidi Swanson, the Amateur Gourmet's Adam Roberts, and Chocolate and Zucchini's Clotilde Dusoulier, and the only conclusion you can draw is that food bloggers are entering mainstream culture and infusing old media with new life.

The genie has left the bottle, or should I say the blogger has left the computer screen. Food media will never be the same.

Further Reading

Daily News Installs Restaurant Girl as New Restaurant Critic [Eater]
Critics: They're Just Like in Ratatouille [Village Voice]
Restaurant Girl Claws Her Way from Blogger to Food Critic [Gawker]
Restaurant Girl News Makes Commenters Dish [New York magazine]
Restaurant Girl Gets It at Da Silvano [(PX)This]

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