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Chefs Weigh In: The Pros and Cons of Joining Twitter

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Welcome to Hot Topics, in which chefs chime in on an issue in food.

[Art: Eric Lebofsky]

In recent years, a whole bunch of chefs have embraced Twitter. They're sharing photos of dishes, engaging in professional and playful back-and-forths, and commenting on what's going on in the world of food. We asked six chefs across the country — five who are on Twitter and one who is not — to comment on the pros and cons of using the platform.

Here, now, Jenn Louis (Lincoln Restaurant, Portland), Bill Corbett (Absinthe, San Francisco), Scott Anderson (Elements, Princeton), Brooks Headley (Del Posto, New York),Kevin Sbraga (Sbraga, Philadelphia), and Suzanne Goin (AOC, Los Angeles) take on the question.


Jenn Louis

Restaurants: Lincoln Restaurant and Sunshine Tavern — Portland, OR
Twitter Handle: @jennlouisPDX

Why'd you join?
A bunch of people bugged me to do it for a long time and I always complained that I didn't want to do it or do any other social media. I was really busy and thought it would just be another thing to deal with.

I love it. I use a lot of Instagram on Twitter. I like the visual aspect, but more and more, I'm really interested in the whole thing. It's fun, and that's good reason to do anything in life. You follow what you like and you unfollow what you don't like.

There are days I'm on it all the time and others when I'm not able to really look at because I'm in the kitchen. It's great to see what your colleagues and friends are doing. I keep track of events and what people are cooking in ways I couldn't before.

Would you say you use it more professionally or for personal stuff?
More professionally. I think we have benefitted. We have accounts for all of our businesses, and then mine is really just me. It connects you with people, especially if you're trying to go beyond just your local community. It makes the world much smaller. I don't have much time to look at the blogs or anything like that, so this is my source for information and for staying on top of what's going on.

There's that stereotype of the chef that keeps their head down, stays in the back of the restaurant, and embraces their own little world. Why do you think something antithetical to that has caught on so quickly?
That's true, but I would say that chefs are inquisitive and like to have a lot of fun, so this really fits that. We like to know what we're all doing. We are busy, but we are social. We like to be stimulated.


Bill Corbett

Restaurant: Absinthe — San Francisco, CA
Twitter Handle: @el_cuchillo

When did you join and why?
I joined about three years ago. At the time I didn't really understand it, but then I saw Chris Cosentino (@offalchris) using it a lot and started to see how he updated people on his menu. I found it really interesting. I didn't think I'd have any followers, but it just kept growing, slowly and steadily.

It shifted focus at one point from personal to professional. Now it's about half and half. I started realizing that there was beginning to be a whole food community out there sharing ideas. The great thing about it is that it shrinks the whole food community and brings everyone closer. It creates a lot of positive connections with people.

What turns you off about it, if anything?
You have to deal with people yammering about nothing all the time, or trash talking.

Are you talking about chefs?
Yeah, chefs and everybody. What annoys me is when chefs get into conversations about nothing — that they could be having through text message — and now it's public. That's random and unnecessary.

I also don't like it when people are negative. There've been a lot of tweets lately where people don't name names but make statements where you clearly know who and what they're criticizing. Not a fan of that.

If I'm not mistaken a dinner you did in New York was planned through Twitter, right?
Back in January, Michael Laiskonis, Christina Tosi, Brooks Headley, Lincoln Carson, and some others did a dinner. It started because Michael said something on Twitter, and this conversation started happening between us. It reached the point where we decided, on Twitter, that maybe we should do a dinner. It was called "Killed By Dessert," and we were able to put it on in less than a month. It was very DIY, and it started with Twitter. Really great things can happen.

Any last words?
The big thing for me is how it shrinks the community and give you access to people you normally wouldn't be able to contact. Some random cook can get in touch with a big name chef without trying terribly hard. I've had people come stage with me because they've reached out through Twitter. It's amazing and weird to me that people would fly here from Canada based mainly on what they've seen me put out on the Internet. It breaks down the walls. Everyone can have a say. Whether you respond to that is a different story.


Brooks Headley

Restaurant: Del Posto — New York, NY
Twitter Handle: Not on Twitter

You're here as the dissenting voice. Why aren't you on there?
I'm not on Twitter or Facebook or any of that stuff. I don't really see the point of sharing your every movement with the world — the world! — unless the postings are funny and ridiculous or provide links to Suicidal Tendencies or Slits videos, which then turns them into benevolent acts of public service.

Talk more about why you've avoided it.
It cracks me up that chefs and cooks sometimes use Twitter as a direct means of communication. Anyone in the world — the world! — with a computer can see this stuff. It's crazy. You'll see things that very clearly should have been in a private email. It makes you cringe but makes for some good unintentional comedy though.

That being said, I do have respect for the Patton Oswalt, Shopsin's, and Neil Hamburger Twitter feeds. They're all inspired and brilliant and absolutely genius.

So basically you like it for personal, funny stuff and not professional communication. What about people who say it's an instant source of information and lets you get in touch with figures you might not normally have access to?
Sometimes it's too instant, and too much information and too fast. In the mid-90s, I would have loved to be able to instantly contact, say, and this is just an example, Jean-Louis Palladin, but there was really no way for me to do that. So it just made me get off my ass, go find and read his cookbooks, and squeeze out every drop of information about his food with the limited resources available.  

Don't get me wrong: the Internet is A-OK by me, but sometimes it makes you lazy.


Kevin Sbraga

Restaurant: Sbraga — Philadelphia, PA
Twitter Handle: @KSbraga

When did you join?
I joined probably about three years ago but didn't start using it until about two years ago.

Was this around the time of Top Chef?
I opened it before the show but didn't start using it until after the show.

What's your main use for it?
It's a direct way to connect with the audience and fans and people, most of all.

Did your PR or the show push you to do it?
No, not at all.

I honestly love it. I've actually gotten rid of Facebook. I like to talk about specials or things that I'm doing at the restaurant, and you can reach a captive audience. There's also a fair bit of ball-busting going on between me and a few guys in Philly, so that's always a good time.

What don't you like?
There's advertising on there which I've noticed recently, and I don't really enjoy that.

How is it most valuable: as a way to get your name out there and build yourself a brand, or as a resource for staying informed about what other chefs and restaurants are doing?
It's a little bit of both. It definitely helps me get my brand out there and spread word about my work. To reach 6,000 people in a matter of seconds is great. At the same time, it allows me to get other ideas and stay in touch.

Do you respond to fans that tweet at you?
I normally respond to as many followers as possible, except when it's negative. I have blocked a few people.

How often do you have to deal with negative comments?
Honestly, it's very rare. I got more of it on Facebook, and that's why I got rid of it. On Twitter, it seems that everyone is more professional and into food and into people. There isn't that much trash talking, from what I've experienced.


Suzanne Goin

Restaurants: Lucques, AOC, and Tavern, Los Angeles, California
Twitter Handle: @SuzanneGoin

What are your thoughts on Twitter?
I'm relatively new to Twitter, joining just a few months ago. I immediately discovered that I could quickly connect with people I know as well as fans of our restaurant. I was totally afraid of Twitter but it's turned out to be a lot of fun. I'm loving the conversation between everyone that follows each other. And I can now see how it enhances our special dinners, introducing new menu items, and publishing photos of dishes and our wonderful staff. It's something that I can do during my late night down time or when traveling. The only thing I don't like about it is when someone asks for some advice or comments and I can't reply in a timely way, but I try to reply as quickly as I can.


Scott Anderson

Restaurant: Elements — Princeton, NJ
Twitter Handle: @monkchef

When did you join?
I forgot when I decided to go on there, but I do recall that Alex Talbot from Ideas In Food was the person who convinced me to join.

Why do you enjoy it?
It's a fun thing. It's instant communication with other chefs — you can share what you're doing and learn about what they're doing. You can also find out about funny happenings in restaurants or just ridiculous. It's neat in that way.

Can you give me something specific about a case where you've benefited from it?
It's often hard to stay clued in on events like guest chefs dinners, and Twitter is really effective in letting you know. You get a realtime feel of what's going on almost anywhere in the country. I'm more connected to my peers now than I ever was.

Is it your main source now?
Yeah, I would say that, actually. I also like to see who other chefs talk to.

What don't you like about it?
You learn that there is a lot of superfluous nonsense out there when you start using Twitter, but if you follow the right people, it's usually fine. I'm just not interested in learning that your dog took a dump in the house, sorry.

Do you joke around with your account or tend to keep things professional?
Mine is about 95 % professional.

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