Interview with Dan of Saltshaker

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When the blog SaltShaker was chosen by our community as one of the top 50 Food Blogs of 2011 we were not surprised. Dan’s nature and passion for food and wine comes out in every blog post. He also appeals to the escapist in all of us. We’ve all dreamed of moving to a faraway land and make our dreams come true. Dan considered himself an “itinerant traveler” until he found himself living in Buenos Aires writing and enjoying the world of wine and food. If you are not familiar with SaltShaker, I definitely recommend putting it on your list of daily reads. In the mean time, take a few to learn more about the man behind the blog.

FriendsEAT: What inspired you to start “Salt Shaker”?

Dan: Originally I had started out planning to travel around South America for several months, followed by relocating from New York City to Key West. I started the blog as a simple travel journal to keep family and friends up to date on what I was doing and where I was. But, the best laid plans and all that – I ended up anchoring myself in Buenos Aires where, more or less, I started off the venture, when I met up with someone I’d met there on a previous vacation, and just kept extending my stay there.

FE: For those who are not familiar with your blog, how would you describe it?

Dan: It’s a food, wine and travel blog with three particular focuses – first, it’s a continuation of blogging about my various travel ventures, much of which now takes place in and around Buenos Aires, but also as we go other places; second, it’s a restaurant review blog, again mostly Buenos Aires; and third, and perhaps these days most important, it’s where I write about what’s going on in my own restaurant kitchen.

FE: Do you miss NYC?

Dan: No. I was already planning to leave there. I do miss some things there, particularly restaurants, and, given that I spent most of my adult life there, I miss many of my good friends still live there.

FE: Outside of Buenos Aires, what other city have you fallen in love with?

Dan: Sydney and Rome are my two favorite cities on the planet. So far.

FE: You’re a certified Sommelier. How long were you training for the exam?

Dan: That’s a multi-part question – the basic sommelier, or wine captain certification was a roughly six month course. But then I went on to study in both the programs from the Institute of Masters of Wine and the Court of Master Sommeliers – taking exams wasn’t my primary focus, the learning was, and it was fit in around working, so over a several year period I worked my way through to the higher certificate from the IMW and the Advanced Sommelier from the CMS. And, have continued to study since, with an eye to perhaps one day continuing in either or both those tracks, though again, it’s not the certification that’s all that important to me.

FE: What advice do you give someone who is just getting into wine. What is the one thing that can make their voyage in wine fun and less intimidating?

Dan: Literally, just have fun with it. Take it seriously in the sense of being passionate about it, but don’t take it seriously in the sense of getting yourself wrapped up in details that aren’t going enhance your enjoyment. Try wines, any wines, just to find out what you like and enjoy. Comparing similar wines is a great approach as well. And, don’t do it all alone. Wine is for sharing, drink with friends!

FE: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in starting a food and wine blog?

Dan: Don’t. It will take over your life and consume you until you realize that and figure out a way to strike a balance. And, think about why you really want to do it. Does the world really need, or want, what you have to offer? The truth is, a food and wine blog (well, any blog), is a public indulgence in self-promotion – you’re essentially stating to the world that you’re going to share your opinions and expect them to listen, and respond. It won’t take long to find out whether or not the world has any interest – you need to be thick-skinned when you find out that they’re not all hanging on every word you have to say, and unlike your friends, they’re not afraid to tell you when they disagree or when you’re being an idiot.

FE: I can definitely relate. What do you think was the biggest change to your culinary style when you moved to Buenos Aires?

Dan: Mostly just learning about new ingredients and dishes that I’d never tried before. I definitely incorporate those things into my repertoire these days.

FE: How do you manage the blog, your dinner club, being an author and an educator?

Dan: It’s taken awhile to strike a balance. Originally I felt obligated to post in the blog every day, sometimes with nothing worthwhile to say but I said it anyway. I tend to write now in the mornings and only when I have something that fits what the blog has come to be. On the days when I don’t blog, I work on the writing for various articles, books, etc. that are in process at the time. The “dinner club” is far more than that, it’s an actual restaurant, it just happens to be located in our home, and it’s near a fulltime job between public and private dinners and cooking classes.

FE: What has been the most exciting thing that has happened as a result of you starting “Salt Shaker”?

Dan: Meeting people online and in person from all over the world who I likely never would have otherwise – much of that because of it leading to starting Casa SaltShaker, my restaurant.

FE: If I came to visit you in Baires, what are the three restaurants that we’d visit?

Dan: Well obviously my own. Though, if we’re talking about me going out with you to places, I’d say likely we’d go to Don Julio for steaks, Urondo Bar for casual and creative Argentine cooking, and El Sanjuanino for great empanadas and classic Argentine regional dishes.

FE: And your favorite ingredient to cook with?

Dan: Whatever’s fresh and in the market today. Though, I love making pasta dishes and seafood dishes, and I’ll often start by looking for what’s interesting and fresh in the fish markets.

FE: How do you feel about Foodtertainment? Do you see it infiltrating Latin America as well?

Dan: It’s fun and as long as it’s viewed that way, I enjoy it. I don’t particularly like the shows that get heavily and nastily competitive – Hell’s Kitchen and Top Chef: Just Desserts come to mind. For my own part I often watch not so much for the entertainment value but just to get ideas – I almost always learn something new or get inspired to try something out. And anything that gets people to try something new, either dining out or in their own kitchen is of value as far as I’m concerned. We do get some of those shows broadcast here, usually several months behind their original air-dates, and there are a couple of local shows that are competitions of sorts, but nothing as major as the kind of shows being broadcast in the US, UK, Australia….

FE: If I say Ribera del Duero, you say?

Dan: Let’s go!

FE: Where do you see food and wine blogging in five years?

Dan: I think things are already changing. The people who really have nothing to say are already dropping out – I can’t begin to count the number of blogs that someone has told me I have to check out that come to a stuttering stop very quickly when the person just gets bored doing it, or can’t handle criticism, or simply run out of things to say. They come and go faster than earthworms after a rainstorm. I think that things will continue at about the level they are now – those who’ve developed a real following will likely still be part of the scene, though some will decide to stop, and there will be some new voices as well that will be worthwhile. I also think that video-blogging will become a more important part of the scene – although in some ways, at least for me as a writer, that’s a different phenomenon. It’s amazing how many people who are relatively good at speaking and/or demonstrating something are simply incapable of writing a coherent sentence. And vice versa.

FE: And where do you see “Salt Shaker” in ten?

Dan: Likely we’ll be in a different geographical location. Whether or not I’m still blogging, I honestly don’t know. My guess is, with the way technology is changing, ten years from now there will be some new way of sharing what we now do via blogging that we can’t even imagine right now.

FE: What do you see as the most important issue facing foodies today?

Dan: Oh, that’s a tough one. It depends on what you mean by foodies. If you mean people who are passionate about food and wine and sharing that with friends, family and others in their lives, the hardest thing is probably just discovering anything new – the way the world has become, sometimes it seems like it’s all been done and we’ve all tried everything already – it gets harder and harder to find something that’s truly surprising. However, if you mean the people who tend to self-describe themselves as foodies, who tend to be pretentious, smug, and self-important about the whole world of food and wine, the hardest thing they have to face (and perhaps never will) is that no one, really, no one actually cares about their “foodie credentials” and all they’re doing is separating themselves from the people who could make those food experiences so much richer and more enjoyable.

FE: Any last words?

Dan: If food and wine are not a source of satisfaction and enjoyment for you, and not a bridge between yourself and others, go do something else. Buy some nutrition shakes and drink those and leave the good stuff for the rest of us.

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Blanca Valbuena
I am one of the co-founders of FriendsEAT. Obviously, I love to eat. Other passions include A Song of Ice and Fire, Shakespeare, Dostoyevski, and Aldous Huxley.
Blanca Valbuena
Blanca Valbuena

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