The last couple of days I was approached by Broadsheet to cover a series of restaurants in Box Hill for their winter print edition.
None of the restaurants, none of them, have heard of Broadsheet.
Even though the writer had interviewed them, even though Broadsheet had contacted them, this was their standard reaction when I walked in:
Huh? What? I don’t know. Talk to my boss / my boss is not in.
You’re in my way.
Even if I tried speaking in Mandarin / Cantonese, some still gave me this look like I’m trying to scam them for a plate of BBQ pork on rice. ( A poor reflection of my language skill, perhaps? )
This one particular restaurant was so uncooperative, that I had to purchase my own plate of dumplings to get a proper dish shot. It’s like I’m walking in with a suitcase full of money, and they are complaining that the money is in $50 notes, not $10. I later gave the dumpling to the university students next table in exchange for some ‘action’ shots.
This other restaurant asked me to stand next to the kitchen and take photos of the food before they send it out to the customers.
So I can kiss food styling good bye.
I’m not too fussed by it.
I gotta do what I gotta do.
But at the end of the day, while I sat on the Belgrave express train back to Flinders Street, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I had done something wrong. Like I have caused some trouble, or offended someone. A dirty aftertaste.
Like I was unwanted.
It’s exactly like culture shock when you’re in a different country.
Clearly, there were miscommunications. But I’m not sure if it’s a language thing, or a cultural thing. Maybe the restaurants needed more notice. Maybe we did not emphasise what a PR gold mine Broadsheet is. Maybe they were already being kind and accommodating. ( ‘A’ is for Acceptable, boy. )
If another photographer had taken this assignment, would it be much easier? Because, you know, white people.
Or maybe, they simply do not care.
And maybe, that is not a bad thing.
Just because the CBD can’t wait to drop their pants to get on Broadsheet, doesn’t mean all restaurants in Victoria feel the same way.
One old lady owner gave me this look, just like the Frenchman from The Matrix.
Like she was hinting: I’ve survived all your predecessors, my restaurant will outlive your publication.
Maybe, she had a point.
How many times have we been to a new joint in town, and upon looking at the menu, realised we actually have to pay for their interior designer, architect, and the expensive memorabilia they brought in from Japan?
Maybe these restaurants are too busy cooking good food, doing the right thing. Making ends meet. Maybe they don’t really give a shit about social media. They are cooking for the people in Box Hill.
Who was I to think that one strategy that is working for coffee and brunch will work for roast duck and spam and egg sandwich?
Don’t take things for granted.
it is still about the target market.
Not all assignments are the same.
What an experience.
What a lesson.