Thursday, 30 May 2013

Claudia Winfield on Food Bloggers

To eat or not to eat? You might wonder why such a question would ever be asked in a restaurant; after all, that’s the very reason people set foot in such places. That was the case until fairly recently, anyway. But with the ever-growing reach of the internet alongside the ever-increasing popularity of social-networking sites such as Twitter and Instagram, another type of customer has emerged, and shows no sign of retreating (despite certain establishments’ efforts). And who is this not-so-elusive character? The food blogger, armed with their camera rather than a knife and fork.

I’m sure many of you have witnessed it by now; the eagerly anticipated food is brought to a nearby table and suddenly a flash goes off, the plates artfully relocated and reshot until the perfect picture is taken, which is then often instantly uploaded for the world to know: I am at Zuma! Here is the proof! Of course, not all snappers are engaging in this global game of culinary Top Trumps, with those at the most coveted tables in town gloating about being there, rather than truly appreciating the labour of love in front of them. But a quick glance at my ownFacebook news feed page suggests that many are…

Before we go any further, I must point out at this stage that I too, write a food blog, and I too, on occasion, have been guilty of photographing my food in a restaurant. The shame! To make matters even more hypocritical, I also cook for a living, and so I sit rather uncomfortably on the fence on this subject. My readers want a visual, alongside a post about the best barbecue in South Carolina, rather than just reading an amateur review. But I also know that when I’ve pushed myself to send out the best I can offer on a plate, I’m doing it for the customers to eat and enjoy, not photograph from different moody angles for three minutes while it sits dejectedly on display.

It has recently been reported that some restaurants have taken the bold step of banning food photography, with mixed responses. With distraction to both the chefs and fellow diners being top of the list of reasons behind this move, I am inclined to think that reprimanding an unwitting customer may well be more of a distraction than the act of photography itself; and how is this policy reinforced? Are all photos to be banned, whether of the plates or people at the table? In a brightly-lit restaurant, a flash is not always necessary; in these instances, how do you know whether someone is taking a picture on their iPhone or showing off their new kitten to their friends?  And regarding the feelings of the chef: yes, it can be irritating, but how far can this militancy go? Should staff refuse to clear any plates unless every last bite is consumed?

The advantage of free publicity aside – after all, people rarely photograph anything they’re not impressed with, even if they’re just aiming to show off, and how can this not be beneficial to a restaurant? – I think it all comes down to discretion, from both staff and would-be David Loftuses alike. The latter are paying the former so some leeway is only fair, and the former’s job is to ensure all customers are happy – not just those with a camera in their hand – so let’s enable them to do that with the minimum of trouble. If in doubt, why not take a photo of the menu on the way out? If you really think the food’s worthy of all this hassle, the menu will paint as pretty a picture as one of your own. And if even this fails and they try to stop you? I’d suggest you might be better suited to dining elsewhere.

When she’s not agonising over blogging etiquette, Claudia Winfield can be found in kitchens across London and beyond catering for events large and small. For further information visit And for a taste of Claudia’s food-focused life at large, visit for unique recipes, reviews, travelling tales and news.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Blogging into the great unknown by Bangers & Mash

When people ask me why I write a food blog, I never really know what to say. It’s a strange hobby really. It takes up an increasingly large chunk of my spare time and I make no money from it - yet. Although I do sometimes receive products to review, which is always rather nice.

I’m not what you’d describe as a natural cook. I only really started cooking properly when we had children and I was forced to pull my act together. Yet these days I frequently find myself obsessing about what new meals I can try out to feature on the blog, while it’s commonplace for my family to be waiting at the table while I snap “just one more!” photograph of a dish.

I’m always amazed whenever people ‘out there’ actually read my posts, cook my food and write such lovely comments. But they do. And I love it. That is, I suppose, why I keep doing it.

Just a couple of years ago, I’d have thought you were bonkers if you told me that, in the not-too-distant future, I’d be a fully signed up member of the blogging fraternity.

It all started when I realised I had to get my head around social media. I work as a freelance PR consultant and it dawned on me I was becoming a bit a dinosaur when it came to online communications. As I saw more and more of my PR peers throwing themselves headlong into social media, I decided I must do the same or get left behind.

Initially blogging provided me with content to experiment with. Blogging wasn’t the end in itself. You can’t tweet or post to Facebook without content. But what could I blog about?

One weekend I was telling a good friend how I’d started a weekly meal plan to keep our costs down. She was intrigued by the fact we were eating a much more varied, healthy and tasty diet as a result and I realised that here was the perfect material for a blog.

Normally when I start something new I prepare. I plan. I research. But not with the Bangers & Mash blog. Publishing my first post was like stepping out into a great, unknown blogosphere.

Unlike starting a new PR campaign, I really had no notion of my ‘target’ audience or my competitors. I simply knew what I wanted to write about and that I’d write in my own voice. If people liked it they could read it and follow me, and if they didn’t, well they could go elsewhere.

But I seem to have found an audience for Bangers & Mash. It’s not a big audience but it’s growing steadily. They’re people who, like me, want to cook simple family food which is still a little bit adventurous; want meals that don’t cost a fortune but still rely on good quality, seasonal ingredients.

Perhaps I was a little naive at first but it seems to have worked for me. I didn’t read a single food blog before I started out. Looking back, I remember being surprised to discover there were so many out there. Maybe if I’d known beforehand, I wouldn’t have started. However, I quickly discovered these other bloggers aren’t competitors. Instead I find myself part of an incredibly supportive community.

Vanesther lives in Somerset with her husband and two young daughters, where she tries to live the good life but yearns occasionally for the mayhem and bright lights of the city. You can find Vanesther’s blog Bangers & Mash at and follow her on Twitter at @BangerMashChat.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Samantha Blears from The Love Bakery: It all began in 2007 in a wintry New York..

It all began in 2007 in a wintry New York when I was visiting for a very glamorous 40th birthday celebration at Soho House. I found myself outside Magnolia Bakery, peering through their window, fascinated by the rows of beautifully decorated cupcakes.  I thought,  I could do that - I could bake cupcakes, and once back home that is exactly what I did!

Beginning from home, and starting with school fairs, local delis and private parties, I slowly built up a business, Love Bakery. Cupcakes were my passion and I loved every single minute of it -  I loved the hours spent in the kitchen, even the all-nighters – the business just got under my skin.

Fast-forward a couple of years and my kitchen could no longer take the burden of the huge orders I was now baking on a regular basis.  It was time to broaden our horizons.  A shop on the Kings Road was the natural choice, as Chelsea had been my stomping ground since my late teens – so when a teeny tiny store came up for grabs opposite the Bluebird Restaurant I just knew it was the right place for Love Bakery.

And so the transformation of 319 Kings Road began.  I chose the colours that I liked – candy pink and citrus green. Against all advice I chose pale French grey paint for the walls. After all, if I was going to be at work all hours, I wanted the bakery to look just how I wanted it. I found a beautiful crystal chandelier and ornate French mirrors which I just had to have.  My budget was well and truly stretched! So instead of professional machinery I decided to start with KitchenAids, domestic ovens and fridges. This turned out to be part of our story – cupcakes made by hand using domestic mixers and ovens. Cakes were baked in small batches and the flavours were gradually developed - enabling everything to be seasonal and taste delicious.  It was just like baking at home.

I started tweeting as soon as our doors opened at Love Bakery. I remember being thrilled when I had my first follower. Twitter helped me build the business, as potential clients could both read about and see images of the shop and the cupcakes. Our followers were not just in the UK but around the world. I am still amazed at how many followers we have. Love Bakery was also followed by other small businesses and we looked to each other for support and encouragement. It certainly helped me. Running a business can be a very lonely place. Friends and family no longer really figure in your day-to-day life and people soon drift away without friendships being nurtured.  This to me was the hardest part of running Love Bakery, but here is where Twitter helped. It made me feel less alone and I received truly generous moral support.

Within a year of opening Love Bakery, I was approached by a publisher, Ivy Press, to write a recipe book.  I could not believe it and even now find it hard to believe that I am a published author. I wanted the book to truly reflect Love Bakery, hence the gorgeous candy pink cover decorated with glittery butterflies, fabulously styled photography and detailed recipes – all of which were tested again and again in our domestic ovens. I wanted to make sure that anyone could buy this book and bake from it - I was self-taught and others could be too.

The penning of my book led me to begin writing blogs. This was a natural extension to my tweeting and I was able to write about the things that made me happy. Blogging really helped to flesh out my online personality and reach out to an even larger global audience. I figured that if I liked something then someone out there would too.

Now that I have closed Love Bakery my blogging has led me onto a new project. I am now teaching myself to cook from home. I blog about the recipes I try and the results – good or bad (always eaten though).  It does help that I have an addiction to buying cookery books but really I feel that is just the symptom.  The real problem is my need and love to cook and feed the people I love. So nothing has really changed then!

Samantha Blears from The Love Bakery can be found blogging at Her book, Love Bakery – Cupcakes from the Heart, published by Ivy Press is available from Amazon.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The Joy and the Agony of Making Lists by Ashley Lennon of Skintinthecity

Are you a list maker? Isn’t it agony? Yes, we all know that copious listmaking is meant to make our lives easier, but recently I’ve been wondering if that’s actually true, or just propaganda put out by notebook manufacturers. You see, during a clearout the other day, I came across an old diary, full of lists – and it made for painful reading.

I’m a real list addict. Whether it’s lists of pros and cons for major decisions; lists of  ingoings and outgoings; or plain old to-do lists I make them from the moment I get up. What struck me though, looking at the seven-year-old lists in this diary, was just how much my lists - and by extension my life – had changed. Reading these lists made it plainer than looking in the mirror.

See, seven years ago was pre-children. The to-do lists in the old diary had items on them like, ‘buy flights’ and ‘get cholera jab.' Just to torture myself I looked at my list from yesterday. It said, in order: ‘kiwis, nappies, ice-cube trays, paprika, phone school.’ The ice-cube trays aren’t for hosting a cocktail party, but rather to keep my earrings together in pairs, and stop them getting lost. Anything to make the morning rush a bit less fraught. Glamorous stuff, eh?

Let me share what I’ve learned from re-reading old lists this week: you really shouldn’t do it. It is one of the most depressing things in the world. You may be vaguely aware that you are carrying unaccomplished items forward, but it is only when you start to leaf through old lists and count just how often an item has reoccurred without being crossed off that you realise how hopelessly inept you really are. If you tend, like me, to date your lists, there is no hiding how much of your life you are wasting on transferring unaccomplished items to the new list.

‘Buy paprika’, for example, has been on my list since February. A rough calculation tells me that if I start a new shopping list every couple of days I must have written the words ‘buy paprika’ approximately forty times.

Starry Stuff

Something I did seven years ago and still do today is star each item on to-do lists so I know how urgent they are – one, two or three stars, depending on the level of importance.

I don’t know why I waste time writing ‘buy nappies’ when it’s a three-star situation: I should already be in the car and speeding to the supermarket before my baby starts dripping on the living room. Actually, I do know why I list nappies: so I can cross them off again later.

Crossing things off lists is a compulsion of mine. Sometimes I even add things I’ve already done, but forgot to write down in advance, just so I can cross them off and see my achievement in black and white with a tidy line through it and a nice big tick. Can I really be the only one who does this? Back-filling is an essential skill for any listkeeper, I think.

There was just one ray of light in the list-reading exercise. One of the items from all those years ago was ‘start blog.’ I have to tell you that I didn’t start it in 2006, nor the next year, nor the one after that. Indeed it took four years of mulling it over and writing it down before I eventually started skintinthecity. Just goes to show that if an item sticks around on my list long enough it does, eventually, get done. So, there’s hope for the paprika yet, folks. Perhaps in 2017 I’ll even make a chilli that will really pack a punch.

When not making lists, Ashley Lennon blogs at, which give lots of tips on how to live the luxe life on a shoestring budget. Follow Ashley on Twitter @SkintintheCitySkintinthecity has been named one of the UK's top 25 personal finance sites by Cision.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Thinking has become fashionable by Victoria Keon-Cohen

Thinking has become fashionable - yes, that’s the look for 2014! Models' rights and model driven projects are what it’s now all about. Gone are the days of glamour devoid of substance and now are the days of models substantiating their own careers and drivng their own decisions.

When I began working as a model ten years ago, you never heard of models being involved in anything else. This was because of an expected conformity and financial security in the workplace. With my work for the Equity Models’ Union I couldn’t tell anyone for a very real fear of losing my agency and clients. However, that was more because of the threat of being black listed. However, Equity was received as a positive influence in the industry. Now its 2013 and the fashion industry is flourishing with services for models' health and organisations striving for workplace improvement. Starting with our Equity, soon to follow was Stand Up For Fashion (STUFF), the Model Alliance, the Models Sanctuary and British Vogue, jumping on the band wagon with the recent agreement with Equity's Code of Conduct. Even TED has had Cameron Russell talking and the Guardian newspaper is publishing opinion pieces about it. Models defending their rights and applying an intelligent perspective on the industry has aided a growth in substance where models are acknowledged to be able to think and have applicable skill sets, consisting of more than a talent for pouting.

This all started back in the 90s when scouts started traversing the globe for the next ‘supermodel’. This resulted in a huge influx of labour, still continuing today. A huge market influx combined with the economic crash caused fees to automatically diminish worldwide and rippled throughout the whole industry. The big girls now take the high street commercial and catalogue money jobs. These high street commercial brands and e-commerce clients used to be frowned upon like TV was by film actors. I used to be up for Italian jobs, once booked for Euro 30,000 but these are now snatched up for as little as Euro 5,000.

In Los Angeles, models used to strive to become SAG members. They'd pay thousands of dollars in dues each year for the opportunity to be casted in TV commercials with Union status. Productions that are classified as Non-Union, however don’t have to pay the excess fees charged by SAG. My agent in LA is pushing me not to join because the majority of clients cannot afford these rates and therefore the pool of work has diminished on the Union side.

Agencies have adapted to these decreased rates by taking on more models to compensate thus spreading the individual’s earnings thinner. These circumstances of the economy, mass supply of labour and the revolution of models' rights has seen a change where models have opened up to utilising their talents and skills developed through their experiences and to keep up with basic living necessities.

Ingrid Bredholt's Mardou & Dean

Their new grounding is branching out and utilising their unrecognised valuable understanding of the fashion industry to becoming producers, journalists, nutritionists, starting clothing lines and becoming more than just a face of something but a face for something. Yomi Abiola founded STUFF  working for equality and diversity, a model and friend I met in Milan, Ingrid Bredholt is going from strength to strength with her brand Mardou & Dean, Smilte Bagdziune has launched her lollipop company TuTu, and Julian Okines published his own book, The Models Handbook and through his networking and hard work as a presenter/content producer, whilst modelling is now a producer at Fashot.

The Models’ Union at Equity is approaching its sixth birthday and the models’ committee is another example of where models put their thoughtful energy. The recent historical move from British Vogue signing up to the first documented photographic regulations for models has set a new bar of professionalism for our industry never before realised. We are still a long way off a completely regulated industry but some day (not far off from now) incidences of degradation and humiliation will be just stories and no longer experiences. Models, together may be driving the industry through applying their own talent as individuals, no longer being dolls for manipulation.

Smilte Bagdziune's lollipop company TuTu

With confidence, we can put the bitchy/competitive attitude of models down as a myth. The models mentioned above and Equity Models’ Committee are examples of the hard work resulting through mutual support. The commitment and each individual applying his or her knowledge and experiences has been the foundation for Equity to implement social and political change. From my beginning days as a new face and journey as the founding chair of the Equity Models’ Committee, working in film and furthering my work in business the support and generosity of my peers has been invaluable.

There are still many issues to be resolved such as the financial difficulties facing models (many of whom are still getting paid in trade), child labour laws not being applied in the US and the introduction of a filtering system for predators seeking work in the industry. However, models being recognised for their skills and applying themselves to contribute and work together is a congratulatory step for today’s modelling community and exciting for the future of the industry.

Victoria Keon-Cohen works with Wilhelmina in the US and has modelled for clients such as Reply, Versace, Levis and Vogue. She approached Equity with Dunja Knezevic to start the first trade union for models in 2007 and stood as Founding Chair of the Equity Models' Committee from 2007 - 2012. Having studied Performance Design at Central Saint Martin's her first job in film was Costumer to Robert De Niro on Killer Elite (2011). She is currently still working with the Models' Committee and is also making films in both the fashion and film industries. Equity Models’ Committee.