Everything you wanted to know about Gino but was afraid to ask may sound cliché. Many differ, but it really is not a bad idea to know a little something about a critic, especially one penning a public blog that impresses upon the reading audience to patron a certain establishment. A small snippet in an “about” paragraph won’t suffice. Most times before I got to restaurants, I will read reviews on sites like Urbanspoon and Yelp. Rarely am I shocked by what I stumble across. And when I read other reviews written by those to trash restaurants and any other establishments, I wonder how those individuals find so much time to be bitter over little or nothing. What are their motivators? Everyone gives five stars and there is one person slamming the restaurant, having found a strand of hair in his or her food. Glowing recommendations from a long list of patrons and one person seemingly see a spider descending from the ceiling and no one else can corroborate the story. Reviews exuding bliss and there is the one angry reviewer who waxes a calamity, even after announcing showing up at the restaurant with a tribe — party of 10 or more — fifteen minutes before closing. In whose Disney does any of that make sense?
When I started Chicago Alphabet Soup, it was for fun more than it was for anything else. I was merely a scientist that loved to eat. However, I realized that penning Chicago Alphabet Soup to be a Yellow Pages listing of restaurants was going to be exhaustive and verbose. There are countless web sites and even the Yellow Pages that list restaurants, what’s good about them, and what’s not so good about them. I could add no value to that existing formula. When a friend had given the suggestion to review restaurants alphabetically by ethnicity, I thought that was a cool idea, one that no one had done. It would be a scavenger hunt, a culinary discovery. And with me working in an environment where I was constantly exposed to people from all over the world, it also gave me a stockpile of restaurants that I could offer to them when they wanted to dine at an establishment that “reminded them of home.” Trust me when I say that having gone to a good number of ethnic restaurants and recommending them to visiting scientists got me on A-lists. That was good for my career without “rubbing shoulders” for advance.
Looking back on when I wrote my first few reviews for Chicago Alphabet Soup, I was not serious into photography. I did not take my camera for the first three restaurant outings. Later I bought a point-and-click that did what I needed. Then when I started travelling the world more, I had purchased an expensive digital camera. One expensive digital camera turned into two expensive digital cameras. And then there were three and a few years later there were four. Shamefully, I had all that pricey equipment and used them in automatic mode only. Well, that had to change. So, I took some photography classes at Chicago Photography Centre and learned how to use the cameras as professionals do. I still have ways to go, though. The quality of my photos improved afterwards and then there was a marriage of food and photography. Imagine a hobby feeding into your love of eating. Believe it or not, the high-end cameras have been a boon for conversation when I have gone to many cafe shops, Ma and Pop restaurants, and small eateries. Someone working at the restaurants has had or still has a great appreciation for photography and it becomes a springboard for comfortably talking about how the restaurant got started, how long it has been in business, and for those who are new to America is was an way to segue into what it’s like being an immigrant to the States and starting a restaurant business. Even if it’s not restaurant staff, another patron may feel at ease engaging conversation about use of a high-end camera for capturing food rather than using my cell phone. So, it is more than just dining. It’s a passport for branching out culturally.
Several years ago when my doctor had told me that my cholesterol and blood pressure were high, ethnic food became one of the ways I worked to bring both down without heavy medication. I immediately took pork, fried food, greasy food, and heavily salted food out of my diet. One other thing I did was stop eating as though pushing back from the table was not an option. I lived for cuisines from the Mediterranean, North Africa, India, and Thailand. And I sought out anything from countries along coasts where seafood was a main staple. My cholesterol went from bad to good without any medication and my blood pressure dropped with the assistance of some medication. My energy level increase, as I worked out and began running two miles every morning, now up to five miles every morning. At the same time, I developed a refined palate — and embarrassing to say, some snobbery with what I prefer to eat. That is not to say that I do not receive recommendations from friends and family who think that because they love to stuff food in their jaws, they know what I like on my plate. I honestly cannot say that most of them know any better.
Now, while Chicago Alphabet Soup may look like cake, I devote extensive time to the photos and to the writing. It would be too easy to look up menus on the web and ghost write. Although I am nowhere close to being a professional photographer, I have a haughtiness about the photos that I want displayed on the blog. Often I am asked who does the writing and the photography for Chicago Alphabet Soup. Surprises fly about when I respond that it is all me. Everyone sees the final set of photos per review that I will have selected, polished, and posted to accommodate the text. What you may not know is that I may have captured on the average of 700 photos. Out of that, there will be perhaps 5-7 that I will include in my reviews. Yes, that is a lot and after editing the photos to create what I think would be “magazine ready,” there is still penning the reviews that I edit and edit and sometimes edit again after I have posted the blog entry. Every review has to be story. Having read other foodie blogs, composing culinary prose was a better option for making me become your friend giving you advice. I appreciate my friends’ advice more than I do random passers-by. Oh, let me put that in context. There are friends whose palates are refined like mine whose recommendations I trust. So, through my stories, I become your old chum, you pal who gets a kick out of sampling something tasty. Remember, as a scientist, I function as a left brain person, always analytical and a lover of numbers. Through Chicago Alphabet Soup, I get to flex the right side of my brain, putting the creative part of me into action. And it does not hurt that I eat some of the most outstanding food while at it. Let’s face it. While New York City may be touted as having some of the best high-end restaurant, truth is Chicago boasts the best all around.
Chicago Alphabet Soup long ceased to be a listing of restaurants only. It has pretty much become my way of showcasing myself as an individual with many layers and multiple dimensions. Chicago has been touted as a city that is severely segregated. For an individual whose life is a bit insular, it is easy to view Chicago in that way. There are indeed well-defined ethnic communities in the city proper. But when people move to Chicago from a country where they are most comfortable engaging others who are like them, they will move to neighbourhoods to dwell among those who remind them of home. My family did that, so I understand the concept of seeking out those who are “like you.” Then again, there are those like me who cross boundaries to explore what is outside of our comfort zone. Food became my impetus for exploration beyond my four block radius. My camera became my lens into other cultures. And Chicago Alphabet Soup became my diary. In it you will find a chronicle of my culinary travels. And through that you will find that I, Gino Williams, am more than just a mock food critic with an eye for photographing food in a captivating manner. Welcome to my world. Won’t you join me?