2015 REFLECTIONS: growth

IMG_3443There are 3 parts to this reflection: ‘the beginning‘, ‘ growth’, and ‘goals’.

(last one coming soon)

growth: in which I basically analyze my writing style and plug a bunch of articles 


GROWTH

While some things, like my horrible photography skills, haven’t changed, I’ve made a lot of progress over the last year or so.

CAT THE CRITIC VS. NEVER STATIONARY

I’ll be blunt: Cat the Critic does not get many hits. But I don’t really mind.

Like my other website, I’ve started to see Cat the Critic as a portfolio of writing projects. My writing and reporting style is constantly evolving, because I didn’t set a standard protocol when I first began. Rather, I relied on my own experience and intuition to continually learn and improve.

I’m starting to search for that balanced intersection between quantity and quality that will let me improve as efficiently as possible. I can’t be too knit-picky. There is, after all, a hidden value in just churning out articles and getting in the habit of capturing and conveying information.

Most of what I write is far from perfect. In fact, I cringe when I read back on some of my articles, though I find comfort in the fact that these different approaches are just me testing the waters.

I’m not as prolific on this blog as I am on my main website. After all, a food review blog isn’t really the best place to cultivate a community, is it? The difference, however, is that Cat the Critic has a very easily defined and decided niche, which is restaurant reviews for cities I frequent, namely Atlanta, Chicago and Evanston.

PULLING ONLY WHAT WORKS, NOT JUST CRAMMING EVERYTHING IN

Back in 2014, I published “22 Things To Consider For A High-Quality Restaurant Review“, but subsequently ignored the “consider” part, trying to address every single point in the article, regardless of how relevant it was to my article’s focus.

Rather, my articles often didn’t have a focus, and the reader would come away from my ambivalent case, confused by my final verdict.

I noticed that my language and diction wasn’t very strong or opinionated, and that the reader was distracted from my main points with other extraneous information I incorporated. Lately, I’ve sought to remedy that by using my “22 Things” article as a mere guideline of factors to consider when organizing and structuring reviews.

My articles started to transition from haphazard, messy conglomerations about restaurants like Verde Taqueria to more pointed articles, like my bopNgrill review, which was more selective about what information would support the main point. I realized that readers didn’t always want or need to read about the cleanliness of the bathroom or if there’s a lemon wedge in your cup of water.

FINDING AN ANGLE

Furthermore, I’ve learned to jot all of my notes down, evaluate them, and then decide on a focus. I think this one realization has really elevated my writing, especially in the last few weeks of 2015. It all comes with narrowing down an audience. I settled on Northwestern students, peers and locals.

I approach a restaurant according to factors that matter to Northwestern people, AKA distance from campus, price, and taste. So I hook them in with a line about how it’s easy to travel somewhere, and expound on how it’s worth the trip because they’ll have amazing food.

Without an angle, you simply can’t make a point. My Dak review made the case that students should take a few extra minutes to commute for really good Korean chicken wings. I think I made a strong case, and I received a lot of positive feedback!

I’VE STARTED POSTING ‘RECIPES’

It started out really simply, with me literally pulling a muffin recipe off the internet and recreating it at home. Then, I began to tie in themes to every article, praising the value of one-pot cooking and berating the uselessness of recipes.

After that, I began to write for a targeted audience of college kids. You know, people who either don’t have kitchens, don’t use them, or don’t have a lot of time and money to invest a lot of effort?

I published a more personal article about my own coffee routine, and from there, I expanded to posts about spaghetti, rice bowls and more.

WRITING NEGATIVE REVIEWS

I used to be afraid to publish anything negative, fearing backlash. My review of The Tin Drum Café incorporated a lot of negative feedback about the authenticity and taste of the dishes, but ultimately confused the reader because I wasn’t able to deliver a clear opinion about whether or not I liked the restaurant.

Well, I’ve learned that writing negative reviews can help my writing and give me higher standards for food, service and whatnot. It’s not as easy as flipping a coin yes or no deciding whether or not to blast a restaurant. Not only have you got to consider what specific aspects of the restaurant are notably bad, you also have to consider whether they make the food place overall unworthy of a visit.

Since I first started writing food reviews, I’ve incorporated a lot more criticism into my writing, from my timid Saigon Basil review to my honest Addis Abeba review to my most recent, pretty devastating review of Another Broken Egg Café.

Basically, I’ve learned not to hold back when something SUCKS, because the public deserves to know, you know?

COLLABORATIONS

Natalie started her own food blog Hangry Nat earlier this year, so we decided to go visit Chicago’s Wicker Park one sunny Saturday afternoon. We reviewed Mindy’s Hot Chocolate and had a great time exploring the area.

Though we had mixed opinions about the restaurant, that experience taught me how to find ways to structure contrasting opinions and incorporate another layer of perspective to balance personalities, and led me to begin pondering the infinite possibilities of collaborations.

FOOD EVENTS

There’s a lot going on food-wise in the area, and I knew that some stories would trend in real-time based on relevance.

[BIG BITE NIGHT] – Evanston restaurants enticed new freshmen with free samples, coupons and more at this afternoon event, which happened at the beginning of the school year. Even though I only had an hour or so, I tried to capture the essence of the event and managed to compile a list of tips.

[EVANSTON FARMERS MARKET] – The Farmers Market is open during summer and fall months in downtown Evanston, and I always advertise it all over my social media by snapchatting pictures of plants and instagramming wreaths of peppers.

I sought to instill a mild sense of urgency, emphasizing that it’s a great place to meet and support locals who are bringing unconventional produce, meats, cheeses and more to an otherwise more humdrum, straightforward community.

[CHRISKINDLMARKET] – Though this German Christmas market is an hour away by public transit, it attracted people because it posed a cute and adventurous holiday activity during reading and finals week.

FOOD DIARIES

Though I wrote conventional reviews of places in places like Atlanta, Chicago and Evanston, food diaries posed a unique opportunity to experience a culture through food. It’s a one-time impression that you capture either through quick meal snapshots or detailed culinary analyses. The great thing about them is that you can take them in whatever direction you want.

I planned to go to China for the summer, and even arranged a weekend visit Natalie in Hong Kong for a weekend. I knew that these trips would present a great opportunity for food diaries, so I totally took advantage of them.

[CHINA FOOD DIARIES] – My biggest and longest ongoing project was separated into three parts. I made sure to do a lot of research and ask locals about their favorite foods and dining traditions.

The first part covered typical meals Chinese people would have, following closely along through breakfast, lunch and dinner. The second part detailed the different drinks locals consumed, as well as the traditional eating etiquette and impressions of food from some fast food chains. The third and final part chronicled a few outstanding meals I had, whether they cost less than $1 USD from a street vendor or a small fortune at a fancy restaurant.

[HONG KONG FOOD DIARY] I’ve had a lot of Chinese food and a lot of American food, but not much Hong Kong cuisine, at least, not before my visit to this amazing city. In addition to a travel diary published on my personal website, my food diary followed along two days of anticipatory meals that dove deep into what Hong Kong does best, including shaved ice, fresh fruit juices, and their famous Bolo Bao (pineapple bun)!

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