When food writing is not delicious
This morning, while going through my morning routine of scouring the web for any mention of my name, I ran across a 2012 Serious Eats article from J. Kenji López-Alt listing the words that editors have banned from their site. It's the kind of article I love reading, not only because I am guilty of using some of the overused verbiage myself (I've never met an "oomph" I didn't like), but also because I care that the Chronicle Food section is filled with originality of voice. This town has a surfeit of good food and drink writers; I'm lucky to get to work with many of them. But for every one of those, there are writers who, like me, sometimes need an editor to give them a swift kick in the pants. So with apologies to López-Alt (and every other editor who has published a similar list), here are the words that most raise my hackles.
• Hidden gem – With more than 100 online outlets and several print publications in Austin covering the same restaurants, nothing is ever "hidden" in this town. Unless you find a cafe with a secret entrance at the top of Mount Bonnell, everyone already knows about it.
• Tucked away – The laziest way to begin a restaurant write-up is to say where it is located. The fact that a restaurant was built next door to a prison does not make it interesting. Besides, most readers assumably know how to use the address listed to the side.
• Authentic – Does your favorite hidden gem tucked away in a strip mall make dosa out of Lego bricks and wet chaw? No? Congratulations, it's authentic! Food does not have to be made just one way in order to be real.
• Unctuous – It's almost always a good idea to trim the fat. And this word doesn't mean what you think it means.
• Ethnic – The culinary traditions of more than 95% of the world's population do not a niche category make. While I am at it, never say a restaurant is good because you are the only white person in it. People of color are not on Earth to make white people more interesting.
• Party in my mouth – Eww.
• Tasty, delicious, or variations – Only allowable if you are talking about any episode of Empire season 1. Otherwise, find a meaningful adjective.
• Food porn – I try to remain sex-positive, but I hope your stunningly filtered shots of dumplings weren't meant to be used that way.
• Hipster (and not just because it's often used to describe me) – Because there's an Internet, everybody can know about everything at any time. If someone still lords knowledge of, say, cult liquor brands over you to prove they are really, really cool, the word to describe them is "ass." Having a mustache is just a personal style choice.
• Best I ever had – Is that sad, spackled doughnut you plucked from a case really the best doughnut you have ever had? Did it make you swoon like a Victorian governess? Never say something is the best without conviction.
• I'll definitely be back – I've done it, you've done it, at some point we have all done it; but that doesn't change the fact that it's the most apathetic way to end a review – the equivalent of just saying, "Fuck it!"
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