Javier Cabral turned 21 two weeks ago, which means not only that now he can legally drink alcohol when he eats out with his blogger friends, but that the name of his blog, Teenage Glutster, seems a bit outdated. Some might agree that after a mention from Dana Goodyear in a New Yorker profile of Jonathan Gold a few months ago, and two assignments for the 2010 Saveur 100 list, the Glutster is growing up. "I have no problem still with that name, as it is the name that has gotten me places," said Cabral over lunch at Mayura in Culver City last Friday. But I don't think I'll feel the same when I'm pushing 40 or something. I have a feeling it's going to be one of those Screech or Urkel cases, just gonna follow me until I die."
Cabral's blog is dominated by course-by-course accounts of PR dinners hosted by restaurants for bloggers. His latest post, about a dinner he attended recently at Kabuki in Hollywood, contains 17 photos and 1,249 words. He includes the prices of some of the dishes he consumes, even though he was invited and ate entirely for free. (The post is entitled "Full Menu Privileges.") Last weekend, he was invited on a wine tasting tour of the Santa Ynez Valley with seven bloggers, including Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet LA, Josh Lurie ofFood GPS, and Fiona of Gourmet Pigs, who managed to score a scholarship from FoodBuzz to pay for the trip. We spoke with Cabral about food blogger ethics, his justification for attending so many PR dinners and his feelings about East L.A.
SI: When did your interest in food start to emerge?
JC: I used to see a shrink in Culver City. My brother lived out here and we would get dinner afterward. I realized that I looked forward to the dinner afterward, not the therapy. I used to pick up The Weekly back in high school for punk rock listings, and started reading Gold's reviews. I transferred from Garfield High School to Alhambra High and went from witnessing two stabbings a day to taking two extra classes a day. Instead of making a fresh start and finding new friends, I just got into food. When my friends would go to In 'N Out after school, I'd go for pho.
SI: Do your parents and your friends read your blog?
JC: No, my friends make fun of me for it, they don't read it. My parents are old and don't use the Internet. They only speak Spanish. The only time they paid attention was when a fact checker wrote his first piece about me in Hoy. It was a "zero to hero" piece.
SI: Do you think anonymity is important for food critics? You blog often about PR blogger dinners--do you ever feel conflicted about the ethics of having your meal paid for?
JC: Anonymity is an older thing. Now it's not important because there are so many bloggers. People want to put a face to bloggers. Bloggers want their picture and their name out there. There's a link between whether you like it or they give you free food. I never trash food, not like Tony C. When bad stuff happens, if I don't like it, I won't write about it.
SI: So you're saying that if you have a bad experience at a restaurant, and your meal was comped, you simply won't write about it?
JC: I want to do this for a living, I want to get my foot in the door with all these PR people, so I think it's common courtesy after a free, expensive meal to give your thoughts on it. Or at least mention it.
SI: Where do you typically eat out?
JC: The only time I get to go out to eat is for PR dinners since I don't have a job and I'm on financial aid at PCC. [Cabral is currently studying culinary arts at Pasadena City College.]
SI: Would you be interested in blogging from another city, or are you attached to Los Angeles?
JC: I would totally blog in another city. Somewhere outside the U.S., maybe in Asia or Italy.
SI: As someone from East Los Angeles, what's your opinion on the discussion of the boundaries of East L.A.? Do you care if Echo Park and Silver Lake residents refer to their surround as East Los Angeles?
JC: You can't be from East L.A. if you're from Montebello. It's not an established city. That's northeast L.A. Calling those areas the Eastside is fine, but it's not East L.A.
SI: So will being 21 change your food blogging life?
JC: Yeah, I've been drinking beer since I was 16, but I'm looking forward to finally attending cocktail events.
SI: You're going wine tasting this weekend--have you ever been before?
JC: Never been. I'm more of a beer guy. I force myself to like wine. It's an effort to remember names and stuff.
SI: Noah Galuten told me to ask you how your skull was healing. What happened?
JC: It was this past weekend, at my birthday party. This one band played... and then my friend's band wanted to play but the music is a bit harder... and people were dancing and crowding and I fell down and cracked my head. There was blood all over.
SI: Wow, did you have to go to the hospital?
JC: No, my mom poured alcohol on my head and then I went back out to dance.
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SI: One last question. Do you tip the waitstaff at these food blogger dinners? Do bloggers usually tip if the meal is comped?
JC: Ahh... the tipping factor in comped blogger meals is a dubious one indeed! The reality is that servers don't really have much to do with the meal being free. I myself just give whatever I can, which is not really much with my case lately. But something, always something. In other words, I will not ever miraculously 'have to leave' right before the last dessert course is served.