I’d never Instagram a coffee, and at times I really can’t be bothered with taking snaps of my food, but it won’t stop me from looking at it. If you take a good photo of something I can consume, I’ll look at it.
Who is ‘ThatJessHo‘? When you combine a provocative personality and solid chops in hospitality, you get Jess Ho, the result is rave reviews and loyal customers. Notorious food blogger Jess chats with Melbourne ambassador Jacq Shields about how the future is shaping food and the art of eating.
Which restaurants and bars do you think are doing inspiring stuff around the globe?
That depends on who the restaurant is and what they’re appealing to. I’m still in the camp that believes that there is a place for fine dining as well as casual dining. Roberta’s in New York has a radio station operating from their courtyard and they have a back room where they hold a $180 per person degustation that you have to book a month in advance. They do it all. They’re a casual bar, an eatery, a pizzeria, a media centre and a fine-dining restaurant. It’s the kind of concept and execution that makes someone like me jealous. It’s genius.
And of course, the whole Lucky Peach/McSweeny’s/Chang thing is wild. They are three of my favourite things as one. But that’s more about running a business and a brand than it is a restaurant. If you are not familiar with Lucky Peach, that is the quarterly food magazine produced by chef David Chang and McSweeny’s.
What they have created is part-literary magazine, part-friends chatting about cooking and mixing in comments about art, recipes, ideas, innovations that are explored and discussed at leisure. The thing that people don’t realise is that they’re selling it as “cult” when it is obviously mainstream and it is a total branding exercise for the brand of Chang.
Image credit: Jess’s previous canvas for pop-up conversational art stuff at Chin Chin
You were the new media manager for the insanely popular Thai restaurant Chin Chin until recently. What does being a new media manager in the hospitality space involve?
Yes I left the Lucas Group as their brand manager over a month ago after just over two years at the helm to work on Bottle Shop Concepts with Dan Sims and focus more on DirtyPlayground [more below]. Basically my title had the term “new media” not “social media” in it because the job involved more than just communicating on social media platforms. It was about coming up with new ideas of communicating externally from the business and having the freedom to facilitate projects like Chin Chin Wall of Art, which is a year-long projection project run by Kat Clarke.
The Chin Chin Wall of Art is a not-for-profit independent contemporary art space for the moving image that you can see from the restaurant. The projection wall offers a broad range of video works from local, emerging, established and international artists.
I no longer believe in the media release and when I was working for the company, instead of sending one out for the launch of our second restaurant, we created a video clip instead. That being said, I still communicated with traditional media, just in an untraditional way.
What do you see as the ‘must do’s’ in the social media space for any cafe or restaurant?
Establish a voice and tone, understand your audience and boundaries and be prepared to make fun of yourself.
Due to your success in this space, you were sitting pretty with Chin Chin listed as number two on restaurant review and recommendation website, Urban Spoon. What things contribute to getting a high organic ranking?
I’d say it is the amount of talk that surrounds you; it’s Twitter, Facebook, blogs, reviews, people feeling like they have to get online and rank you. People feel open, casual and as if they’re already part of the restaurant and experience when they get there.
Internally, though, it’s about high standards of service, product and atmosphere. There’s an incredible amount of training that the staff go through and it’s the personality and skill of a good service person that makes you think it’s natural.
What’s the acceptable daily limit for Instagramming coffees and food?
Ha! It depends who you are. I’d never Instagram a coffee, and at times I really can’t be bothered with taking snaps of my food, but it won’t stop me from looking at it. If you take a good photo of something I can consume, I’ll look at it. I’m guilty.
Image credit: Dirty Playground takes over Bar Ampere
You recently launched Dirty Playground (with Mike Barker). Tell us more about this initiative and why you think art is important in the hospitality space?
Dirty Playground was initially Mike’s idea with the aim of supporting emerging artists by providing a space for them to showcase their work. This is possible through renovating under-utilised, unloved, forgotten and dilapidated spaces and reinvigorating them as a temporary artistic space and gallery. We are now working together and refining the idea.
At the moment we are doing this with the basement of duNORD. There were five businesses worth of rubbish in it that 110sqm space. However, from July 1 it’s being shelled while we look over artist applications to use to use the space as a temporary studio and gallery space for the following four months. Three successful artists will be picked by the team at duNORD, Mike and I, to access the space. This will be decided on who we think best outlines how they would use the premises in keeping with the chosen theme of Six Months of Darkness.
This is a concept we hope to repeat in other venues. We intend on having many spaces over a period of time and the themes in each space and the artists we work with, will be on a case-by-case basis.
What we do know is that the artists will always be young, emerging and looking for a platform to develop their work for public consumption. Hopefully, we fill that platform in a non-traditional way. At the moment, we’ve only looked at hospitality spaces because that is our background. However we’re approaching the local council and are also working on a laneway project.
Image credit: In Melbourne? Work or play over a drop at Gertrude Street Enoteca
What are your favourite places to hang in Melbourne?
I love the Gertrude St Enoteca for a casual glass or 10. Rockwell and Sons to chill out any time of day, and I always encourage people to eat more than just their sandwiches. Piqueos is a favourite of mine for everything and the guys who run it are complete dudes. The terrace of Epocha is a favourite of mine for wine and cheese. The Aylesbury Rooftop on a Sunday afternoon or a Tuesday night is pretty ace. Danity Sichuan is a personal favourite for large groups, and even people who don’t like spicy food love it. And of course, there is Gin Palace.
What events do you recommend heading to?
Events are pretty subjective, I generally try for the left-of-centre ones or those with an educational or interactive bent because I’m already immersed in the industry. I would recommend going to an event that is comfortable for your level and likes. For example, I would never go to a dessert crawl as I would be the most annoying and hyperactive person you’ve ever met after the first venue. I love wine, but wine dinners are become less and less appealing for me as I’d like to try wines from more than one producer in one evening. But hey, that may be your thing. The MFWF is full of gems, you just have to be confident in what you like.
About our contributor // Jacqueline Shields’s inquisitive nature sees her say yes to pretty much anything – a Tough Mudder, an African Safari, sailing down the Nile in a felucca and even a HTML workshop. And each and everything she tries, she takes great joy in writing about. Follow her via @hillrepeats.