Pair two affable, self-described “food dudes” living in L.A. — digital marketing consultant Drew Hubbard with film and video editor Ben Waters, who has improv comedy training — and you get L.A. Foodie. The site with the colorful burger logo and light-hearted tone delivers commentary on topics ranging from gourmet chocolate to hot dog stands to the California Strawberry Festival via photography, podcasts, and videos.
L.A. Foodie highlights a growing trend among food bloggers to incorporate audio and video, elevating food blogs to the realm of multimedia entertainment. So if you like your beer recommendation with a side of playful banter, this blog's for you. If you share L.A. Foodie's fondness for low-key burger shacks and hot dog joints, all the better. We asked Hubbard and Waters about running the site, creating podcasts and finding favorite L.A. foods. Just think twice before calling them “foodies”…
Squid Ink: How do you define “foodie?”
Ben Waters: For a lot of “foodies,” I feel like the idea of “the most amazing food” is more interesting than the actual taste — they'd rather know they're eating a Komodo Dragon egg omelette than have it be, y'know, edible.
Drew Hubbard: If you refer to yourself as a foodie, you're probably a douche bag. To me, a “foodie” is a person who is desperate to prove extensive knowledge of minutiae. The “foodie” part of “L.A. Foodie” is tongue-in-cheek. In my opinion, a real food lover is more interested in a great burger shack than the latest-and-greatest small plates clone.
SI: How did you become interested in food?
DH: I grew up in a big family with lots of summer birthdays. And like the good Americans that we are, we celebrated by cooking meat on an outdoor grill, eating potato salad, and drinking too much. So I developed an early appreciation of the importance of food as the centerpiece of a celebration. But the person who first opened my eyes to great food was my high school sweetheart's dad. He taught me how to cook a steak, and he bought me my first set of knives for Christmas one year.
BW: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs puts interest in food on its lowest rung, Physiological, meaning it is a need that must be filled before all others. Also, the first time I had Chinese food (age 7), my mind was so blown all I could think was “Why the hell was I so afraid to try this?”
SI: And when you're not busy food blogging…
DH: I'm a digital marketing consultant. But at the moment, L.A. Foodie is my full-time job.
BW: I'm a film and video editor. Currently I'm cutting the feature documentary Stripped about the history and future of comic strips. Check out the trailer and come see our panel at Comic-Con!
SI: So how did you start food blogging?
DH: I launched a WordPress blog and a Twitter account, and I started posting as often as possible. Food started becoming a sexy thing to talk about, especially in L.A., so we found an audience, especially on Twitter, very quickly.
BW: Drew called me up and said “Hey, you wanna do this L.A. Foodie thing with me?” I figured, I love great food, I love performing (I have a bunch of years of improv comedy training) … what the hell?
SI: You run the blog on Tumblr, keep Flickr and Instagram accounts, manage Twitter and Facebook profiles, and create YouTube videos. (See “Top 10 LA Hot Dogs: The Slaw Dogs #2” video above.) But much of your content seems to be presented via podcast. What's the appeal of podcasts?
DH: Audio and video podcasts allow us to interact with our audience on a very personal level. It's genuinely me and Ben that you hear and see. Like most podcasts, we're mostly unscripted with the exception of various voice-overs during the show.
BW: Yeah, I think “blogging” in the sense of writing blog posts is just a component of being a presence online. Also, after listening to a bunch of podcasts, I just felt like the kind of show we wanted to listen to wasn't really out there, so we've really enjoyed playing with the format.
SI: What's that format like?
DH: Every podcast is split into multiple segments, kind of like The Daily Show or a late night talk show. We try to make every show unique, so we mix things up when we can. And we add new segments all the time, like “Yelp/Counteryelp,” where we act out opposing Yelp reviews with our guests. Our most popular segment is “What Did We Put In Your Mouth?” where our blindfolded guest tries to guess what … well, you get it.
BW: I love having our show broken up into segments because not only does it keep the rhythm of the show moving, but the modular approach allows us to easily swap out any part of the show that we're not having fun with. On our first episode, we had a segment where we complained about how much the seating situation sucks at Father's Office. Then we listened to it and realized “Who the hell wants to listen to people whining?” We don't do that segment anymore.
SI: How do you decide which restaurants or foods to review, and what criteria do you use to evaluate them?
DH: We usually choose places that we think that we'll like. Occasionally, we'll review a restaurant just because everybody keeps telling us to try it. For example, the Umamicatessen review was fan-driven. Restaurants are judged on their food, of course. But the place itself is important, so we always talk about that. Believe me, eating in a noisy, overly-crowded, shitty dining room has a huge impact on the quality of your meal. Finally, we rate the service unless we were invited guests.
BW: The thing that will get me headed to a place faster than anything else is a person who's passionate about the product they're making. Whether it's food, beer, wine, whatever — that passion comes through in the final product and you can always tell the difference.
SI: What makes your blog unique?
DH: When you read our blog, or listen to or watch the L.A. Foodie podcast, we want you to feel like you are hanging out with Ben and me. (That's what we're shooting for, anyway.) Our hope is that you get to know us and trust our recommendations. If we believe that you should save your money and spend it elsewhere, we'll let you know. We also pay special attention to those shacks and joints that have survived the test of time and continue to serve great food, day after day. I'm looking at you, Irv's Burgers.
BW: Oh, for serious, Irv's Burgers. There are so many people voicing their opinions on the internet these days that many people are eager to have a trusted entity sift through it all and curate some amazing things for them. We earn that trust from our audience by drinking too much and shoving food in blindfolded strangers' mouths.
SI: Who do you view as your audience?
BW: Primarily the 64-84 Samoan demo.
DH: Our audience is made up of people who like to be tourists in their own city. And the city of L.A. is a great place to be a local tourist.
SI: What's unique about the Los Angeles food scene?
BW: Man, do a lot of people outside of L.A. have the wrong impression of it. Nothing has proven this more to me than meeting all the diverse, amazing people who are devoted to making delicious things all over town. L.A.'s got just as broad a cultural palette as New York, but it's also got the most amazing produce and wine just miles from your door.
DH: Some of the best food in America is in L.A. Think the best pastrami sandwich is in New York? Think again. It's at Langer's Delicatessen. The best hamburger is at The Apple Pan, and the best French dip sandwich is at Philippe The Original. L.A. is especially adept at perfecting regional favorites from other places, which makes sense to me since L.A. is full of transplants.
SI: Do you have a favorite food, or restaurant, right now?
DH: You caught me, at this exact moment, daydreaming about the roasted turkey sandwich from Western Bagel Too on Santa Monica Blvd.
BW: There's nothing quite like going up to Vicious Dogs and just asking Willie what new hot dogs he's invented lately. There's a reason that place did so well on our top 10 hot dogs in L.A. list…
SI: Is there anything you'd like readers to know about your blog that may not be immediately apparent?
DH: Yes! The best way to browse our site is on the “archive” page. Here, you'll see a visually-rich bird's eye view of everything on the site.
BW: We're Amish.
Past “Meet Your Food Blogger” interviews:
Valentino Herrera of Trippy Food (March 19, 2012)
Valentina Silva of Eastside Food Bites (Feb. 20, 2012)
Amy T. Shuster of Backyard Bite (Jan. 18, 2012)
Adam Roberts of The Amateur Gourmet (Jan. 9, 2012)
Billy Vasquez of The 99 Cent Chef (Dec. 30, 2011)
Javier Cabral of Teenage Glutster (Feb. 1, 2010)
Pat Saperstein of EatingLA (Dec.10, 2009)
Matt Armendariz of Matt Bites (Nov. 16, 2009)
Tony Chen of Sinosoul (Oct. 29, 2009)
Chris Bostick of The Varnish (Oct. 16, 2009)
Rickmond Wong of Rameniac (Oct. 8, 2009)
Jeni Afuso of Oishii Eats (Sep. 29, 2009)
Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet LA (Sep. 16, 2009)
Amanda Simpson of FoodPornDaily (Sep. 10, 2009)
Cathy Dahn of Gastronomy (Sep. 2, 2009)
Eddie Lin of Deep End Dining (Aug. 18, 2009)