Food blogger Matt Armendariz, of Matt Bites, is living the dream. He specializes in food photography and is married to Adam Pearson, a stunning, red-headed food stylist. He has appeared on the Martha Stewart Show, and spent January at Club Med in the Bahamas with David Lebovitz and a handful of other bloggers. He recently returned from a trip through Italy, including a visit to Don Alfonso 1890. Squid Ink caught up with Armendariz to ask him about his LA pride, taking pretty pictures of food, working with Martha, and being a dork.
SI: How long have you been blogging about food?
MA: I started my blog at the end of 2005 but really began to pay more attention to it in 2007 or so. It's definitely a labor of love.
SI: Are you from LA?
MA: I grew up in Austin, Texas. I spent a few years in San Francisco before moving to Southern California 10 years ago. I love Los Angeles way too much and probably won't ever leave.
SI: What do you like so much about LA?
MA: For starters, we've got great weather and plenty of sunshine. That's a huge reason I love it here. And the fact that we're so rich in regional food sources and ethnic restaurants. It blows my mind when I think of what's produced in the area. It'd be hard to leave that.
SI: What's your real job?
MA: I do a bit of everything: some art direction, some styling, food photography. But mostly photography.
SI: What's the key to great food photography?
MA: Start with good food. The best ingredients you can get your hands on and everything else falls into place. Understand and appreciate good light because shooting food doesn't usually rely on all those other things you can do in photography. Also — and this absolutely cannot be underestimated — work with a good food stylist. Luckily I'm married to one hell of a food stylist. Also, buy a really really expensive camera, wear all black with sneakers and throw out expletives as often as possible. It impresses people.
SI: What's your favorite little-known food blog?
MA: Ok, so the following people will surely kick my Mexican ass because I have no idea if they are little-known so please, I don't mean to offend anyone. But Brooke from Foodwoolf is a favorite of mine. Her patience and approach to food writing is refreshing and her restaurant background brings a voice to the service industry that works to make our dining experiences so memorable. And also Javier Cabral of Teenage Glutster. That guy is my idol. I'm so glad to see amazing things happening for him. I can't wait to see his writing career in 10 years. His excitement about food and his writing style makes me want to start a TG fan club.
SI: What's your take on the role of food bloggers in Los Angeles?
MA: We're such a varied group here in Los Angeles and I completely dig it. We run the gamut of food blogging from garden and cooking enthusiasts to recipe and restaurant bloggers. I'm amazed how blogging has affected the landscape of food here in Los Angeles, for better or worse. We have some amazing talent but I also must acknowledge that a few of my fellow food bloggers are buttheads when it comes to restaurant coverage. I understand why some chefs lump us all together and I understand the friction. At the same time it's pretty interesting to me. I recently spent time with other food bloggers from all over the world in Italy and it illustrated just how integrated So Cal bloggers are in our food culture.
SI: What is the most challenging aspect of food blogging?
MA: For me it's creating valid, interesting and relevant content. I strive to create original content that doesn't revolve around “I ate here, look at these pictures” but entries that deal with food in regards to travel, culture, interviews, behind-the-scenes and personal anecdotes. It can be a challenge to keep it going. Plus it can be expensive, dammit!
SI: What is your code of ethics for food blogging?
MA: Full disclosure and transparency always. I am not a restaurant reviewer and that's not my focus so I can happily sidestep that area. However, I do go on press trips, sit down with chefs and authors, get access to certain events and will always disclose those facts when I write about it. For me it's not a big deal to be open and treat what I do in an ethical manner.
SI: On multiple occasions, I've encountered errors in recipes printed on blogs, usually halfway through the cooking process. What's your take on the abundance of recipes offered online. How do we enforce quality control?
MA: I've always enjoyed cooking and remember coming across errors and inaccuracies in printed materials, too. I think the abundance of recipes found online mimic the abundance found in print before the whole interwebs began. So I choose my recipes online the same way I did for recipes appearing in print — from trusted sources written by people I know or respect. We actually have an advantage now with recipes on blogs as we can see reader comments before we even shop for the ingredients. You'll find a lot of the trial and error and testing already done in the comments. But when I write a recipe incorrectly and someone tells me about it I feel awful!
SI: You've worked with Martha Stewart, right? What's that like?
MA: It was wonderful. Martha is courteous, funny and charming. I know everyone wants dirt on her, but she has been nothing but gracious and complimentary to me. I appeared with her on her show last year and thought I'd be a disaster but she went out of her way to welcome me. She's way prettier in person, too. And homegirl is tall.
SI: Do you read other food writers? Books or blogs?
MA: I read tons in every format. Like a stupid amount and I'm surprised I get anything done in a day.
SI: What was it like to be trapped on a Caribbean island with David
MA: It was absolutely terrible. All he did was talk about how Paris was better than California, how he'll never return to America, Alice Waters this, Alice Waters that. If I hear that name one more time I'll scream. Kidding! I love David and Alice Waters. And his Speedos.
SI: You are a self-proclaimed “dork.” Please elaborate.
MA: About being a dork, I'm proud of it. I'm a little too animated, my voice is too high, I'm energetic to a fault and clumsy. But seriously, it takes a lot of pressure off of me when I embrace my imperfections. Now if you'll excuse me I have an appointment for another restylane injection. God I love Los Angeles.
SI: What was your favorite thing to eat as a kid?
MA: Homemade chicharrones, chile colorado and tamales at Christmas. You would have freaked out if you saw the dozens I could polish off as a child. Or maybe not. I'm fat.
SI: What's your death row menu?
MA: It'd be a toss up of anything Mexican cooked by my mom, real Central Texas brisket, Whataburger or Bo La Lot with nuoc cham. Or maybe all of that together. You wouldn't deny a dying man, would you?