On the topic of Instagram chefs

Native Tongues Calgary
You might see a pretty picture of the octopus taco platter from Native Tongues on Instagram, but does it taste as good as it looks?

The Globe and Mail’s Toronto restaurant critic, Chris Nuttall-Smith hit a very sensitive nail on the Instagram head this week with his zero-star review for new Toronto spot, Loka.

Was he a little too harsh with his review on the restaurant specifically? I’d lean towards yes.

Was he completely out to lunch with his underlying point throughout the article? Not really.

You see, the thing is that there have been increasing outcries about false advertising in every facet of the media over the past decade. You can read a story every other day about notable personalities criticizing misuse of their images or being accused of adulterating their own images in some way. I mean, seriously, even a few days ago, Britney Spears was accused of photoshopping her abs for a picture. As it turns out, she didn’t, but it doesn’t get more real than that now does it?

Jokes aside, this is a problem that happens in more than just heavily airbrushed images of celebrities. Do the Rocky Mountains really look like that? Someone may ask you that question after seeing your picture on Instagram. It’s so blue, so white, so detailed. So dramatic.

No, of course they don’t actually look like that when you see them in real-life. They look great, yes. I love looking at those gorgeous mountains when I wake up in the morning, but I put a filter on that Instagram photo.

Culinary social media feeds can lead people astray similarly and often do. There are many restaurants and/or chefs across the country that will happily share photos of perfectly curated plates that capture your attention, layered with intricacies of this and that, tweezered, brushed and dotted into place. Now, will the average diner arriving at their restaurant on a particular evening get the same visual? And even if they do, will it actually taste alright?

Like anything in life, looks can be deceiving.

I can’t help but agree with Nuttall-Smith’s undertones in this particular review, but I think the restaurant itself was more a scapegoat for the topic on Instagram food imagery more-so than it was an honest-to-god terrible meal. The straw that broke the camel’s back sort of thing.


Arctic char, cranberry beans, maple blossom caper vinaigrette. #LokaToronto

A photo posted by Dave Mottershall (@chef_rouge) on

Loka is a restaurant that has a lot of respect from Toronto industry folks and food lovers alike. It was built via a crowdfunding effort that was (arguably) only possible through the chef/owner Dave Mottershall’s extremely popular Instagram account. He takes stunning food photos. Absolutely gorgeous. In fact, they are probably some of the nicest you’ll find in Canada.

If you get so excited about someone’s food from what you’ve seen online, and it’s not what you had anticipated when you finally get to try it, you would definitely be disappointed. For the people out there that dine out regularly, I’m sure this has happened to you more than once and in this particular situation, Chris Nuttall-Smith happened to be the person that left disappointed.

Pretty pictures are worth a thousand words and, sometimes, are also worth making a reservation or waiting in line for a table, but they certainly don’t guarantee something is going to be delicious.

Now, watch the ridiculously busy line cooks at Medina Cafe in Vancouver and inquire how hard they focus on making that harissa burger impeccably delicious every, single time. It may not be the most jaw-dropping visual, but they sell hundreds and hundreds of this dish each week and 95 per cent of the time it is to rave reviews.

I think that is where Instagram chef personalities (for lack of a better description) often falter and, perhaps, where Loka’s strategy did too in this case. Who knows.

On the flipside of things, why does the average consumer see a McDonald’s commercial featuring, say, a Big Mac, not complain after comparing the final product they’ve been given to what they’ve seen on television? Maybe a YouTube commercial break a more appropriate reference nowadays, but how have people come accustomed to that being acceptable? Hm...

Food for thought. All of this.

Here are a few Canadian restaurants that are delicious on Instagram and in real-life as well.