Beirut-based food blogger Anthony Rahayel spoke to MediaSource about why he started his NoGarlicNoOnions blog, why it has been so successful, and why he has no problem writing critical restaurant reviews.
What inspired you to start blogging?
I had a chance to travel the world at an early age and, as a photographer, always took the heaviest of equipment to immortalize the best moments. All those pictures ended up on hard disks. I needed a platform to leave a footprint of my tours, and the hotels and restaurants I'd tried. I started publishing everything on TripAdvisor, until I decided to move on my own and create a platform I believe Lebanon always needed.
What’s the blogging scene like in Beirut?
In my opinion, the blogging scene in Beirut is part of a big change in the country. In a country where criticism is not well accepted and corruption exists, bloggers are changing lots of things.
Why should people read your blog? What makes it different?
NGNO has been known to write in easy-to-read English and go into the details of things, so people can visit a restaurant knowing what to expect. The motto of my blog is simple:
• I do not accept invitations
• My credibility comes first
• I leave my emotions at home when I write
• People deserve to know the truth
How do you measure the success of your blog?
The number of visitors might be a criterion but, for me, the most important thing is the hype around town: people sending me messages, invitations to major events, TV interviews. NGNO is the main discussion wherever I'm at a dinner.
Do you accept invitations to review restaurants?
I usually do not accept invitations and make sure I take a picture of the bill to prove it. Whenever I'm invited for a tasting or an opening, I make sure to mention that in the review.
What is the key ingredient of your blog?
Impartiality is the most important thing, and believe me when I say that I do not have friends when it comes to writing a review. Positive or negative, everything is written to improve things, and not to bash establishments. I try to be as constructive as I can to improve and raise the culinary level in Lebanon.
Do you have any advice for PR professionals wanting to pitch to you?
Bloggers are not ‘media’ and we do not like the ‘come eat for free’ approach. We are bloggers with a certain opinion. We attend things that we believe in, and if we decide to attend a certain event, expect to read our own opinion and accept criticism.