The DC Food Scene: Twitter Edition

Photo courtesy of
‘Pret lunch…’
courtesy of ‘Matt Seppings’

So… I joined Twitter. I know, right? I did it in the name of research for this story, and have liked it so much I think I’ll stay for good. (That may or may not be a hint for you to start following me, cause that makes me feel important and fuzzy and stuff.) So I come at this with an outsider-turned-quasi-insider perspective.

It seems recently all the DC food blogs I follow have gotten on Twitter, and are busy building a little community for themselves (ourselves?) complete with a list of the who-is-who. But us internet-types are always early arrivals, so the other half of my story is who else in the DC food scene, namely DC restaurants and more namely, which DC Chefs, are on Twitter. And then I’ll muse a bit about what twitter can do, and what others hope it can do, for the DC food scene and the betterment of our local food offerings. Ready? Let’s do it.

Photo courtesy of
‘satellite office’
courtesy of ‘taiyofj’

So let’s start out with the DC Twitter scene. And what would the ‘who’s who of the DC food scene’ be without a list? Well lucky for us, user Arasmus has been pulling together a list of foodies on Twitter, which is a living Google Doc constantly updated with names of foodie Tweeters in the DC area. His stated goal is to “strengthen DC’s food community by encouraging people to use Twitter to comment about their food experiences and finds in and around the District.  This “gastronomic nervous system” throughout the city will hopefully create a ripe environment for more and more great food offerings.” I emailed him a few questions on why he’s been pulling together the list, and he, surprise!, replied to me in less than 140 characters,  of course: “@isitdinneryet Re why I put together list of DC Foodies: extremely demanding consumers required for center of excellence” Well, okay. And then he expanded. “@isitdinneryet Re where I see it going: ideally? – ‘a gastronomic nervous system that drives the most competitive food city in America.'” I’m down for that.

The list is full of food bloggers that break news, such as Young & Hungry‘s Tim Carman, and Counter Intelligence‘s Melissa McCart, but also equally lovable commenters/kitchen aficionados like The Bitten Word, and The Arugula Files. But that list? Is not totally complete. Foodie tweeters I love, like Claudia from Brunch and the City, for instance, haven’t yet been noted. I’m thinking that while the list is still a work in progress,  that the list also isn’t where the story ends. In fact, maybe the list is just the preface.

Photo courtesy of
‘I’m Huge on Twitter’
courtesy of ‘Julia Roy’

I caught up with Metrocurean‘s Amanda McClements, (who is also on the list) (oh the prestige!) to ask what she likes about Twitter. “I follow a lot of news sources on Twitter, so I actually get more timely information on Twitter than most web sites. I use it to pass on tidbits of food news that might not warrant a whole blog post or sometimes to direct people to a Metrocurean post. I try to keep it food related. It’s become a really great resource for restaurant advice, juicy restaurant news and finding out where to track down ingredients.” Which is what I’ve found in my few days in the Twitter world. I love that people break news, discuss menus, and talk about trends. It’s like a direct line into the “now” of the foodie world. I had found that I was checking people’s feeds with regularity and finding good tidbits, and even wishing I could comment on them, so now I’ve been pushed over the edge.

I also like to find restaurants on there, but those are slightly harder to come by. Posto, for instance, tweets their daily specials. Dairy Godmother (the creamery in Del Ray) discusses opening times, new flavors and other related news. Chop’t shows up from time to time, and even WLDC’s unofficial watering hole Science Club tweets.  But you know who has really caught up? The food carts. Eco-friendly On The Fly tweets all kind of things, but also where the Fly Karts are. The Fojol brothers tweet their location so you can get yours. sweetgreen‘s new Sweetflow Mobile twitters regularly even though they’re not out on the streets yet (I always seem to picture a truck twittering, not the people behind the truck, but whatever). I asked the owners of sweetgreen what they like about twitter. “Twitter is a real time medium to connect with our customers and have a little fun with it,” says Jonathan Neman, co-owner of sweetgreen.

Photo courtesy of
‘Breakfast of Champions’
courtesy of ‘whatleydude’

But you know who hasn’t gotten with the program? DC area chefs. We’ve got a severely empty twitter lineup of DC chefs, Top Chef Carla Hall and Westend Bistro’s Joe Palma seem to be the lone two on my radar. (Though, you should tell me in the comments if I’m missing someone.) And that’s weird, there are plenty of personalities that are built for Twitter, I bet Michael Landrum’s tweets would be fun to follow and the dynamic personality of Jose Andres would be great on Twitter! Rumors have it Dennis Marron of Jackson 20 and The Grille at Morrison House might be onloading soon, but if he’s the only one, we’re still sorely lacking. What’s up DC chefs? You could round out the circle of love, plus get direct access to your fans, what is not to love?

So, what exactly does twitter do for us? Well, if you buy into Arasmus’ theory, it’ll make DC a better place to eat, proving that people are paying attention, expecting high quality food, and reviewing it accordingly. But what does Twitter do that a good dose of food bloggers and Yelp-ing doesn’t? You can get all those things on the internet, longer than 140 characters at a time. Maybe it’s about the live interaction and direct access, I recently saw Mark Bittman share what he ate for lunch with a follower on Twitter. So maybe that is the key, interaction that isn’t in the comments of a blog (Though, please, comment! I love commenters.) but in a quick-to-update forum with access to those you wouldn’t get elsewhere. But whatever it is about Twitter, and it might be different for each of us, I’ll say it’s definitley making it’s mark on the DC food scene, slowly but surely.

Katie moved to DC in 2007, and has since embarked upon a love affair with the city. She’s an education reform advocate and communications professional during the day; at night and on the weekends, she’s an owner here at We Love DC. Katie has high goals to eat herself through the entire city, with only her running shoes to save her from herself. For up-to-the-minute news and reviews (among other musings), follow her on Twitter!

6 thoughts on “The DC Food Scene: Twitter Edition

  1. Katie,

    Thank your for this timely and enjoyable summary of the DC food scene on Twitter and for pointing more foodies towards “the list.” I have just added the additional commentators, chefs and restaurants referred to in your article.

    I wanted to respond to your piece in two respects. The first is the role that a free flow of information can play in the development of a center of food excellence and the second is why Twitter does this better than either blogs or Yelp.

    This concept of a “center of excellence” is an idea that I appropriate from Michael Porter’s book Competitive Advantage of Nations. In that work Porter seeks to explain why economic development happens in some places and not in others. Porter concludes that there are a handful of essential factors and they interact with each other in ideal environments to produce economic development. One these factors is the existence of demanding consumers freely exchanging information with each other as instantly, rapidly and completely as possible. This results in the quick communication of innovations and developments throughout the community, leading to more innovation and so on and so on as each producer competes with the next to be the best. Silicon Valley as often pointed to as an example of this type of fortuitous cluster. In his book Porter paints a wonderful picture (on page 440) of the northern Italian consumers of clothes, accessories and shoes and how their personal obsessions have driven those industries to global success.

    I’ve traveled in some of the world’s great food cultures and I’ve become obsessed with a question similar to Porter’s, namely: why does a strong food culture occur in one place on the earth and not in another? There are of course a number of factors, some more difficult to reproduce than others. But it seems to me that it is possible to produce a culture of demanding consumers by networking the already demanding consumers so as to create a “critical mass.” if this critical mass can be grown over time, it will begin to make itself felt in the local culture and then beyond. The District could become known as a hot-house for great chefs, such that it might some day be said that to run the gauntlet in Washington DC is to truly excel. We are a long way from that but its not impossible and a modicum of chauvinism is required in every boy with a sling.

    I think that Twitter is necessary for this because the United States is a multicultural society. Whereas someone from Florence will intuitively know great pasta from good pasta because he learned to appreciate the difference as a child, an American may have grown up learning great from good Ethiopian food as a child or great from good Lebanese food as a child. Because we are not a monoculture we need to be more explicit in our commentary about what we eat. We cannot simply shrug our shoulders. Instead we send out “signals and sparks” to each other, like some macro-equivalent of the human nervous system. And from this noise, over time, emerges a pattern, a foundation for a rich and deep culinary inheritance.

    I think Twitter does this better than either blogs or Yelp for two reasons.

    Firstly, with respect to blogs: people are busy, they don’t have time to sit down and write a 2-3 paragraph blog about the meal they just had and to do it often enough that their blog can build up a reputation as the place to go for such insights. This leaves many food blogs in the hands of the professional bloggers who are much fewer. By contrast many people can open their cellphones and Twitter about a meal while they wait for the check. The “cost of commentary” is much less in terms of effort and time. This widens the franchise and allows many more people to comment. The gaze of the community is thus spread across more meals in more restaurants around the city. Every node you add to the network adds exponentially more value for us all.

    The advantage of Twitter rather than Yelp seems to me to be a little bit more nuanced. Yelp feels impersonal to me. It feels more like I am contributing to Yelp than to my fellow foodies. Twitter by contrast feels more intimate. It is certainly more of a dialogue. I enjoy getting to know the different personalities among the foodies on Twitter and their contrasting and complementary perspectives. Finally, Twitter has that wonderful quality of capturing an experience, like a fly in amber. It feels like a more appropriate vehicle to capture forever that fleeting moment of taste when all you feel is a heightened yet mortal joy.

    Thanks again for your article. I hope there is a Cosmo waiting at Poste!


  2. How did I not know until now that Dairy Godmother was on Twitter?? Best news all day!

    When I got on Twitter last year, it was for work, and I was very skeptical. It seemed like nothing more than TMI from people I don’t know. But once I found people to follow who had similar interests as I have (food, DC, etc), I started to really enjoy it. If you can get into it that way, it really is a great way to find out tid bits that you don’t always get from blogs or other websites.

  3. Great piece Katie. I think the potential for foodie forums like this on Twitter are incredible. From the 140 character recipe sharing to updates on happenings around town, it’s a great way to have more than a two-way discussion about our collective experiences on the DC scene. I’m tweeting about it now!

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