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Meet Melissa Buote 

One year into the job, our restaurant reviewer tells us why writing about food matters.

"I just love to talk about food!"

Those were the parting words of a young journalist, a King's student who I met with last week to talk about food writing. While her peers are focusing on hard news, she is interested in the candy-floss journalism of food writing. Our conversation made me think a lot about food, why I love to write about it and what it is I hope to accomplish by eating my way through Halifax.

I'm still a new kid on the block in terms of restaurant reviews, with only around 30 to my credit in the year I've been writing for The Coast. I have no formal education in food service---for six months I held a staff position at the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia, a term just long enough to learn about challenges that local business owners face, like liquor prices, licensing issues and creating greener workplazzzzzzzzz... boring!

The issues surrounding the bottom line of the industry that sells it don't interest me; food itself and the culture that surrounds it is where my passion lies. And while I have no delusions of being Halifax's answer to Alan Richman or Ruth Reichl, I do believe that I bring a simple, accessible point of view to the food section: I am a Coast reader as much as I am a Coast writer.

Coast readers are involved, interested diners. You are amateur gourmands, street-smart foodies, avid readers and home cooks constantly seeking inspiration. You don't all have formal food education, but you all have opinions.

And it's through shared opinions---and experiences that define, redefine or change those opinions---that we educate ourselves about what we like and don't like. To try new things, see things in new ways and experience other people's inspirations and interpretations is a part of that joyful education.

Food, in particular, is incredibly subjective---nobody is ever entirely right or wrong about it---but to so publicly write about what I eat and where I eat it has gravity to it that I cherish. Because my words are a catalyst for your words. You may think I'm wrong or you may think I'm right. You may think I'm not refined enough a critic, or you may think I'm a snob. The point is that you think something. And that is, in a word, delicious.

Durty Nelly's was the subject of my first review. I remember it clearly. When I wrote it I vainly thought, "I'm not going to do an ending summary paragraph. I'm just going to state my experience and let the reader make their own conclusion based on that." Of course, one of the first comments was "The review could benefit from a closing summary." Touche, I then not-so-vainly thought.

In the year since I wrote that review I've discovered new favourite restaurants, seen some struggle to stay open and others sadly close their doors.

I have had a unique opportunity to see the breadth of Nova Scotian cuisine and countless expressions of passion, culture and experience put to plate.

My perspective is not one of unrestrained criticism. In some cases I can see a need for or a niche that is filled by food that I can't call "great" or even "good." I find it impossible to take the word "bad" lightly; I try, when possible, to see the positive. I can only honestly give observation, and my opinion is never black or white.

My hope is that you, as readers, get a sense of my experience, learn something from it and perhaps share in it. Conversations about food---what we eat, where it comes from, why we love it---are important.

This is why I've never gone to review a restaurant alone. I always bring a friend along, someone who loves food and is keen to share thoughts.

Because, at the end of the day, I just love to talk about food.

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In Print This Week

Vol 24, No 28
December 8, 2016

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