How Food Blogging Has Become Big Business
These pioneering food bloggers show wannabes how it's done as they move on to bigger things
Ramon Hizon Enriquez has the face and personality for television. He did star in a beer commercial back in the ’80s when his marker-thin ’stache said “bold star” rather than “matinee idol.” The thick, expressive brows coupled with an almost permanent impish grin spell danger and yet Enriquez is so magnetic that you can’t help but shuffle closer to see what he’ll do next. It’s this enigmatic character, whiplash wit, and talent for suspenseful build-up and making the mundane exciting that made Spanky, as friends fondly call him, and his blog Manila Boy one of the most followed internet sensations back in the early 2000s.
He credits local blogging titan Anton Diaz for turning him on to the medium. “I discovered Our Awesome Planet because I was planning a trip to Tagaytay, and he had just featured Cliff House and Antonio’s. I became an instant fan and started leaving comments. Anton found out I was from Pampanga and convinced me to take him on a food tour. I brought Anton, his wife Rache, and company to all my haunts and by the end of the day, Anton was encouraging me to blog regularly.”
While Enriquez’s massive personality belongs in the spotlight, Ricardo “Richie” Zamora’s self-deprecating, charmingly funny style is what makes his posts and videos at The Pickiest Eater in the World tick. Once having worked as actor Troy Montero’s road manager, he doesn’t mind playing the everyman, the goofy sidekick that despite the lack of a six-pack gets to say the best lines. However, it’s hard to stay in somebody’s shadow, especially with the magnitude of Zamora’s talent and passion for food.
“I discovered Our Awesome Planet because I was planning a trip to Tagaytay, and he had just featured Cliff House and Antonio’s. I became an instant fan and started leaving comments.”
“I love eating out, and my wife Rina, even before the days of Instagram, had a fondness for taking pictures of our food. One time, when I was surfing the net for new places to eat, I came across a few Filipino-run blogs. Some amused me while others made me feel that I would have written it in a more entertaining way. Then I watched an episode of Man V. Food, and seeing TV host Adam Richman travel around America just to eat these gloriously sinful meals for a living, it made me realize that this is something I would like to do as well.”
With his brown eyes glowing at the sight of bacon, Zamora fits the food lover’s persona to a tee. However, if you judge Cebu-based renaissance man Michael Karlo Lim based solely on his looks, “food blogger” would be the last thing to come to mind. One photo in his blog Pornografeed shows a dimpled, smiling Lim with a low man bun, chiseled pecs hardly concealed beneath a V-neck tee. The look shouts fashionista rather than foodie, but Lim acknowledges that he was a food blogger before he ventured out into his rather varied interests: “It has gone beyond food to touch just about anything else but almost always has some food angle. Selected content from this site is now cross-posted to the web version of the paper I write for on their weekend and special issues.”
“The paper” is the Cebuano broadsheet Sun Star, where Lim is now a columnist and regular contributor. He still writes freelance and works as a consultant for food brands, while also producing events for both food-related and lifestyle brands. With that marketable physique and a notable talent for prose, he has made an enviable name for himself. The recognition has catapulted him to ambassador status for an app and various lifestyle brands. Aside from working in media, he has ventured into business. “I’m partnered in weekend food market Sugbo Mercado and function as the group’s marketing and communications director.”
While most would view this as success, there was a time when bloggers sneered at traditional media and frowned upon using their sites as a platform for business. However, Enriquez doesn’t see it that way. “We didn’t sell out; we were adopted! Are we still as credible and reliable as before? Many are. Those with their hearts in the right place. And stomachs, too, of course.” In Enriquez’s case, at least, this still holds true considering his many food writing gigs for broadsheets and magazines. He adds: “I’m now the marketing communications and social media consultant for many of the country’s top restaurants and hotels. All that directly resulted from my blogging. It’s all serendipity, believe me. And I’m very grateful. Thanks to blogging, I managed to escape my corporate career in advertising seven years ago. Nothing beats being my own boss.”
If you judge Cebu-based renaissance man Michael Karlo Lim based solely on his looks, “food blogger” would be the last thing to come to mind. One photo in his blog Pornografeed shows a dimpled, smiling Lim with a low man bun, chiseled pecs hardly concealed beneath a V-neck tee. The look shouts fashionista rather than foodie, but Lim acknowledges that he was a food blogger before he ventured out into his rather varied interests.
Zamora’s current day job, for instance, came after his five-minute vlogs captured the attention (and stomachs) of food porn lovers everywhere. Who would have guessed that a penchant for rich, fatty dishes—plus the fun, irrepressible character that translates so well to short-format media—would not only make him popular on social media, but also open corporate doors? It made him the obvious candidate as digital content producer for an advertising agency, a regular job that sustains him and his family of three. He also owns a small restaurant operation called Dennis the Grill Boy in Quezon City. The rewards of blogging, though, are not all monetary. Zamora counts experiences such as traveling for free, getting first dibs on newly opened restaurants, and enjoying staycations in the country’s best hotels as some of the perks. In addition, he notes that “meeting the most amazing people in the food industry, including Nigella Lawson and my idol Adam Richman” as opportunities he would not have been blessed with if not for his blog.
As much as they are grateful for the blessings the medium has bestowed upon them, these pioneers are also the first to tell you how the landscape has changed. Enriquez explains how, back then, “there were so few of us, we were considered a novelty. There were no freebies or loot bags or free meals in 2006. We were on our own and paid our own way. It was all very organic, and our output was very honest. Unlike, say, the press releases masquerading as articles in the traditional media at the time.” Zamora, too, is quick to concur that integrity—or lack thereof—is not exclusive to any particular medium, which is why he claims to not discriminate. “I regularly visit sites with credible writers from both traditional media and blogs, just the same way there are bloggers that just cut and paste press releases and provided photos.”
“Integrity is everything. Everyone owes that to themselves to begin with. One can only truly endorse products and services that one really enjoys, that one uses regularly and, most importantly, can afford for one’s self.”
Lim, too, gives his two cents on the I-word: “Integrity is everything. Everyone owes that to themselves to begin with. One can only truly endorse products and services that one really enjoys, that one uses regularly and, most importantly, can afford for one’s self. Sure, I enjoy a lot of special invites and perks. That comes with the territory and it never hurts to mention thanks to these brands but, again, I write only about what I like and skip what I don’t.”
Fame and freebies are part of the game, an accepted by-product of the now-lucrative blogging community. However, Enriquez warns the newbies: “Popularity is fleeting. Reputations aren’t. I caution my reputable blogger friends on monetizing too much. Our audiences are very smart. One whiff of a ‘paid post,’ and they tune out.”
From those who have been there, they look forward and upward yet glance fondly and gratefully at the past. While appreciative of the opportunities blogging has provided, they can’t help but be saddened by how its evolution has made it susceptible to abuse. Zamora speaks of bloggers who “throw fits if they don’t get invited to an event” or “go ballistic if they are not given loot bags or gift certificates.”
Lim admonishes the common practice of “click-baiting, buying bot followers, engagement data manipulation, the focus on search engine optimization, and pushing volume of posts versus producing great content.” In the end, their advice to those who want to get into food blogging is clear and simple: keep your intentions pure.
Enriquez confesses: “I had no goal. It was my diary. It was for me. Something to read when I was old and gray. That’s why I was really surprised when it started getting popular.” And, in that self-assured way that he has, adds: “Blog because you want to tell a story, keep a souvenir, share a memory. Do it for yourself, first and foremost. Do it because it makes you happy. Be the same person you are in your blog as you are in real life. Don’t be self-conscious and just do it.”