Restaurants

The Whole Ox chefs Tweet and e-mail dessert photos.
Image: amanda corby

The New Essential Kitchen Utensil

Once considered the unwelcome guest at the dinner table, the cell phone has become a favorite utensil for both eaters and chefs alike. As technology permeates American life, dinner with friends and running a kitchen is a phone-friendly affair. Whether dining at Zippy’s or Chef Mavro, you’ll hardly find a table that isn’t broadcasting photos of their food.

And the same is true in the back of the house.

“If you get something special in the kitchen,” says Alejandro Aker Briceno, chef and co-owner of Prima (@PrimaKailua), “you want to share that with others. We encourage our whole crew to use their phones in the kitchen. Our dishwasher even has a Twitter feed.”

Restaurant chefs may traditionally have a proud history of technophobia –with the attitude of “if it can’t cook or clean, I don’t need it in my kitchen”–but smart phones have crossed the technology barrier. A chef’s nightmare is still probably to sit in front of a computer all day; however they can now take their office to the hot cooking line and boast to their underchefs of how their office is much cooler than theirs. Much of the fun of following chefs on Twitter is the ability to be a fly on the wall, privy to a private yet public conversation among folks we don’t know but whose work we greatly admire.

“In my opinion, one of the best chefs in social media is Roy Yamaguch (@RoysRoy) because he engages and Tweets a lot,” says social media guru Melissa Chang (@Melissa808). “I was super-impressed because I heard he liked this one restaurant in Chicago and when I went there, I Tweeted a photo of a dish to him. Two or three weeks later, he was at the same restaurant in Chicago and even with 5,333 followers and a handful of restaurants to run, he Tweeted a photo to me from there. Impressive memory.”

Engaging on social networks from the kitchen also builds buzz and keeps an off-the-beaten-path location top of mind. For restaurants such as He’eia Kea Pier General Store and Deli (@musubman), a series of tempting snapshots from the kitchen alert followers that fish came in the backdoor and will be the lunch special.

“When I see photos popping up from @musubman, I actually stop what I’m doing and consider leaving my office downtown to drive over the Pali for lunch,” said Honolulu graphic artist Jess Johnston. Such is the power of social media. (And, as the Pier’s publicist, that makes this writer happy.)

The convenience of apps such as Twitter and Instagram provide an easy portable space for locals and visitors to troll the feeds of fellow foodies, favorite chefs, and restaurants in search of their next meal. Chefs post daily menus, and for those without actual brick-and-mortar establishments, this convenience and outlet for information-sharing is crucial to the success of their business.

The well-known pop-up, Pig and the Lady, recently made a name for itself in farmers markets across Oahu. Facebook affords Chef Andrew Le (@Pigandthelady) the opportunity to share their daily menu, the story behind their specials, the latest quote from Mama Le and a space to connect with those who keep their booth booming three times a week.

Our favorite electronic devices may have earned a reputation for disconnecting us from reality, but in the food world, people are connecting more than ever before.

Ten years ago, you didn’t think about who was behind the swinging doors. Unless you had a six-pack of beer and knife skills, you weren’t popping your head in the kitchen to have small talk with the hot line.

Now, not only are diners able to interact with back-of-the-house talent, but chefs are able to share their creations without a laminated menu with outdated photos, or a lengthy description of the process behind your house-made pappardelle.

“For Prima, it is all about the process and development of a dish. We like to share this process and why it is so important to us,” explains Briceno. “Take our crudo for example, we clean it, cure it for a day, smoke it for a day, chill it for a day and then you get to eat it. That fish has a story and being able to record and share these stories helps us perfect them.”

It may be generational, but for many, the goal of a kitchen is no longer cook, plate and get the dish out. After all, the table is a place for manners and it’s polite to share. Even if it’s merely virtually pleasing.

Just keep the phone out of the soup.

Corby:@UMUHawaii.