Agree or Disagree: The Podcast-Danielle Smith and the WRP Crossing

Agree or Disagree: The Podcast-Danielle Smith and the WRP Crossing.

My friend Kevin Olenick has gathered some interesting people to talk about the now notorious crossing of Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and the 8 other members of the party, better known now as the Wildrose Nine.

Steven Britton is an outspoken libertarian, affiliated to no party, but a well known prior supporter of Wildrose.

Derek Fildebrandt was once the defender of the Canadian taxpayer, and now a spokesperson for the Oil Industry. While not a member of any known party, he considers himself to be politically right in general, and a facinating person to know.

Robyn Moser is one of Calgary’s brightest real estate stars. Stunning, clever and charming, she’s a staunch self proclaimed PC supporter, and one who sees Premier Prentice as a true leader.

It’s an interesting mix of people , all on the right, who have their unique outlook on Alberta politics, and by far have great unique insight on the crossing that most Albertans do NOT know and should. And more importantly, they’re the ones to know to see the story still unfolding in the backgroud.

The State of Terry 2014 – A Unique Year

(This is more of a personal musing on a life overly lived this past year. It may be of interest, it may not. But in the end, it’s an insight into the life of a quirky lover of Calgary.) Wow. As of Oct 15, I’ve spent 44 yrs. on this dusty ol’ planet of ours. 44 years where I got to see my waistline go from 0 to an astounding 48 and settle on 34. 44 yrs where I had to live with the knowledge of the lives I’ve saved, failed to, and outright lost through tragedy and simple fate. And 44 yrs to see my life evolve once more from someone who served a few to one who found a new path to help. Oh, and 44 yrs where I learned to write in overly sentimentalist terms. Ok, enough with the maudlin style of writing. Overly poetic and melodramatic, though the practice would help me get a job scripting the next Thor movie.

Struggling to keep the pants away... (with Kyle MacQuarrie, pic by Neil Zeller)

Struggling to keep the pants away… (with Kyle MacQuarrie, pic by Neil Zeller)

Now let’s see, I turned 44 last week. I’ve helped raise over $40K directly for charity in the last 18 months, and highlighted the Calgary food scene. I’ve left the Investigation business to become a Social Media Manager, and apparently a pretty decent food event creator as well. I’m well regarded in several social media circles, both locally and internationally, and even had a chance to highlight old media skills once more. More importantly, I did this all while wearing pants most of the time. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PTLKPx4kHA

In this time, I’ve come to enjoy my new position as a surrogate father to a gay son (go Terry… so proud of you) and a daughter that reminds me an awful lot of her late mom. Dragon boat paddling is still my passion in sports, though as the years go by I’ve started to see that my final years of competition are upon me as my back isn’t what it used to be. I’ve seen some great restaurants come up, and met far more interesting people.

What I have found though… – I’ve definitely become an outspoken atheist. As per my prior posts, I’ve found that the ongoing hypocrisy of organized religion is a far bigger problem than a support. I’m basically burning my political future with this statement, but I would rather be known as being true to my lack of belief than to mollify the sensitivities of theists; – I have so much to learn about being a dad of a LGBT kid. I’m trying though. I’m trying. It’s amazing what that sort of insight has done to my worldview, and I refuse to ever be quiet about their rights ever again as I was during my theist days. If anyone else wants to give me some advice, I’d love to know. – For that matter, I have so much to learn about being a dad of a 19 yr old daughter. In the almost 2 years we’ve gotten back together, she’s had 1 fiance, then a husband, was pregnant, then not, and still managed to succeed in law school. And that’s before I even get to all of the little lessons I’ve been discovering about the mindset of a girl. I always wanted a daughter of my own. Now that I do, I love and cherish her indeed, but I have to admit that it’s been a heck of a roller coaster ride.

The year to come will be a critical year in terms of special plans and personal growth. If you thought YYC Burger Week and YYC Pizza Week was impressive, keep an eye out. This is LITERALLY the start. – A year since the YYC Floods, I love my home city ever more. So where is this post going? I’m really not quite sure myself right now, as when I normally write I do have a tale in mind. Did I learn anything? Probably. Was it anything useful? Probably not. But what I can say… I’m surprised by the numbers of people who I’m proud to call my friends, my family and most importantly, the travellers who follow my path and dreams along the way. For that, I thank you all. And I’ll hopefully see you all soon. Cheers.

Cheers.

Cheers.

An Anatomy of YYC Burger Week

YYC Burger Week, the little event that could. Founded by Sabahat Naureen (First Founder), myself as @calgarydreamer (co-founder) and Chris Karaplis, the mysterious promo shy man in the shadows, we were all former Montrealers who had found our home, and our hearts here in Calgary. But as much as we did, it didn’t seem to be enough to simply just be here. We had to help, but just didn’t know how.

The YYC Burger Week Logo

The YYC Burger Week Logo

In 2012, while on a routine visit to Montreal, Sabahat had visited Montreal, and partaken in their own Burger event. It was an in-house event, dedicated to simply self-promotion of the restaurants with a competition aspect. However, as I understand it, there was no charity aspect. With that, a light bulb went off in her head, and she came back wondering about how to make this event come into fruition in Calgary. Finding that no one else was even thinking of a similar idea, she started to put out little feelers here and there to assemble a team to organize the event. Seeing a kindred spirit, and a burger lover myself, I was the first volunteer right away.

I’ve known Sabahat and Chris for almost a year by then. Sabahat and I were members of the Yelp Elite, assembled by our friend and current world traveler Wendy Peters, and Chris had attended as Sab’s date often.  I had no idea who the heck was the people I would meet at the first meeting, and was shocked to find out that it was them. That January 2013, the work began. We managed to assemble 16 restaurants and parlay what strengths we had into a city wide festival. Sabahat was always stronger in terms of openness and self-promotion, but I was the one who had the restaurant connections, and usually preferred to be the overall support as well. More importantly, I had a good working relationship with the chefs which we all ran with. Chris, ever hiding in the background and preferring anonymity, designed the back end with the initial website and voting system.

The Competitors

The Competitors

We hemmed and hawed, Sabahat ever being the most ambitious one (I believed we needed months to prepare… we actually managed to get 95% of the work done in WEEKS). We all agreed, there was no way on earth we were going to promote a chain like McDonald’s and the like, and wanted to highlight the local talent and the best that Alberta agriculture had to offer. We designed a system of 16 restaurants being voted in by the public and hoped that by making the voting a little annoying (needing a unique email per vote) that it would reduce the cheating. We contacted 8 local charities (it would have been 9 as we almost signed up 18 restaurants, but we just couldn’t wait any longer for their legals).

The 2013 Nainalicious Winning Burger

The 2013 Nainalicious Winning Burger

Despite that, we were still pretty new at this sort of game. Understandably, some restaurants had considered us to be questionable as it was the inaugural year. Some were just too busy, although even now we would LOVE to see them enter and we would gladly invite them again and again. But then there were the one or two who were actually pretty insulting. I’ve heard some rumors that a few thought they weren’t invited because I disliked them personally. Nope, if anything, there were simply too many restaurants that we sent invites in 2 waves, with a 3rd had it been necessary. Once the initial 16 spots were full, it was done. But then again, that’s the name of the game really.

The competition started, and it wasn’t without a few hiccups, but with such fantastic people as Anju’s Roy Oh (missing you this year), downtownfood’s Darren Maclean, Notable’s Michael Noble and more, it came across as a triumph. Still there were a few more problems, but it was a great week.

In the end? We raised over $6300 in a week of burger frenzy. We were a bit too ambitious in terms of charitable givings as we had tried to promote EIGHT charities at once. To try to spread the funds evenly, we partnered them with 2 restaurants each, one that we considered a heavyweight to every newbie, but it didn’t work entirely the way we wanted. Still, everyone got a lot of promo, and we had cemented ourselves as part of Calgary history, even if just for a brief blip in time. More importantly, a great story came about as little Naina’s Kitchen, the smallest and the least known of all 16 places, came out the 2013 Champion. Looking at owner Erin’s face was worth it all, and we couldn’t have been more pleased.

This year, it was much easier, but far more ambitious. We asked over 50 restaurants to join, but put in a caveat that it was a first come first serve basis. Originally we were shooting for 20, with only 2 categories in the $10 and $15, but as the names came in, we soon found that would be impossible. We ended up selecting 30 competitors, and learned from the previous year to ensure a great selection for our participants by adding the $20 category. Again, we also dared the chefs to come up with something unique, something special. It had bothered us a little that in Year One, many of the restaurants simply put up an existing burger on their menu up for the challenge. But this year? They REALLY stepped up, with so many imaginative takes on burgers made of elk, bannock, cranberries, sprouts, hemp, lobster, pork, beef of all sorts and cuts, foie gras, ramen, bao, mac n’ cheese, pepper steak, ahi tuna and more. It always surprises me by the creative energy of our chefs, and how wonderful it is to be a part of that scene in our small way. And to help promote such creativity, we created the Burger Ambassadors, comprised of some of the best food writer, personalities and bloggers in Calgary. They’ve done a great job, and their comments have help the diners choose their preferences.

Blowfish Sushi Lounge's Ramen Burger

Blowfish Sushi Lounge’s Ramen Burger

We also started looking for funding again, since we thought that it might not be as hard as last year, but was surprised that it was actually even harder as our contacts for many organizations had changed, and had to re-justify ourselves. More so, while YYC Burger Week came about, so did literally dozens of other new food festivals, and we ended up having to compete ourselves in a much bigger forum.

But as a wise man once said… the universe will listen. Things will work out somehow.

It did. We still worked on everything, and refused to compromise on our principals to promote Alberta restaurants, talent and produce. I wager that if we were willing to do so, funding would probably would have been a lot easier, but then, what would have been the point? We are CALGARY STRONG. It’s our home, and we wanted dearly to be at the heart of it all. More importantly, we found ourselves ever more in love with our city, and found inspiration in the people that united for those shining moments after the Floods. There would be NO compromise.

The team also expanded this year, with great new members joining in. Wanda Baker, noted food blogger of Baker’s Beans, came in with her knowledge and experience, and insight on how to approach matters while ensuring that the t’s were crossed and the i’s were dotted. Trevor Gibbons, our surprise Unofficial Judge in the Bacon Suit in 2013, also leaped in, and brought in a new energy and great ideas to promote our festival. More members with unique strengths still joined in, and now we number 11 strong. It’s a great team, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

With those skills, connections and energy, and the excited inclusion of ATB Agriculture, we found our little festival now stood toe to toe with some of the best festivals in the city. To date as I write this, there has been literally THOUSANDS of tweets, and who knows how many people out there roaming the city, discovering new and old restaurants for the first time, and personally challenging themselves to try all THIRTY burgers (for those who are doing so, I recommend our next festival YYC Soup and Salad Week…). We’ve been in tv, radio, print, and online all over the city. The restaurants are being lauded, tried out and challenged creatively in a fun and unusual way. And at the heart of it all, the 3 charities chosen this year will greatly benefit from the exposure and the funds.

So that’s really that for now. YYC Burger Week is almost at it’s 1/2 way point, and we’re seeing such an incredible energy through the city as people run into the restaurants with their passports. We love it. I love it.

To Calgary, from the 3 founders and the 8 new committee members, this is our labour of love, and our gift to the city. And we can’t wait until 2015.

Bon Appetit. And don’t forget to stamp your passport and VOTE by RATING your favorite burgers!

The Tyranny of the Yelp Reviewer – Thoughts on Responsibility

“Chef Michael Noble has had one of the most distinguished culinary careers ever for a chef. He is a multiple gold and bronze medal winner for Team Canada in several of the world culinary Olympics, former head chef of Catch (leading to the resto being awarded the Best New Restaurant award a…” – Dec 2010

Terry, not quite a renaissance man yet...

Terry, not quite a renaissance man yet…

Those were the words that began my journey into food reviews and blogging in the #YYC community. Since that time, I’ve co-founded a city-wide food event, became a bit of a fixture on Twitter and in person at certain restaurants, and have built a bit of a reputation as the go-to guy for restaurant choices. I’ve written well over 150+ restaurant and related market reviews, some serious and some especially whimsical (my TWO reviews of downtownfood are more than self-explanatory) and made friends at every stop ranging from the chefs (Darren Maclean of downtownfood, Duncan Ly of Yellow Door/Raw Bar, Dustin Schafer of Sky 360 etc), those who I call the established writers (Dan Clapson, Vincci Tsui, Linda Garson, etc) who make a living writing and working in the food industry, to the “next tier”, who are established in their own right but make their bread and butter in other industries. I’ve built a name that’s growing, and I’m honoured to know these people as they’re all fascinating, brilliant in their chosen arts, and passionate about their dedication to food and what I like to call #RealFood.

But while those words above started the journey, it was being awarded “Yelp Elite” status that gave me a voice on what I wrote about, and in some ways how to write even if I didn’t necessarily agree with the full structure. It’s a controversial review website, international in scope, with a structure and a power that in some places can make or break a business. As it’s the one I’ve been associated the longest, I’m going to start this week to give my friends and followers some understanding on the structure, and some thoughts on responsibilities that we all have to consider.

Yelp is basically a review website, with content written by the normal consumer (ideally). Literally 10s of thousands of reviews are written every day throughout the world, for the most part written by the average every day person, on virtually every known type of business from auto body shops to gourmet restaurants. Each reviewer is requested to give a star rating out of 5 (sorry, no 1/2 stars though Yelp really should allow that). The reviews are then analyzed by some special algorithm that tries to determine if it’s a valid review, a fake or even a deliberate attack. As a backup, there’s a small army of readers in San Francisco that reads the reviews themselves, and reviews can also be flagged by other Yelp reviewers. But there are 2 types of reviewers, the regular Yelp member and a smaller group designated as the Elite of which I am one.

Me in full Yelp Elite Mode in Yelp Sunglasses

Me in full Yelp Elite Mode in Yelp Sunglasses

What’s the difference between the two? Well, I’d like to say quality of writing and general integrity. A lot of the average Yelp writers tend to make a review about a few of their favorite places, or places that made an especial impression on them. Far more are what I call one-timers, that is they would write one or two reviews in all, all to help out their friend’s business, a popular local hangout, or in a lot of cases, to purposely attack to try to ruin a business with horrific stories, very often imaginary. A Yelp Elite will almost always write about their actual experience, especially engaged with their local community  and were selected for what appears in their writing and general personality to be honest overall (though occasionally incorrect). As such, especially as the Yelp Elite tend to be like a small percentage of the greater group, and highly sought for their opinions and reviews.

Now I will write a post on how the reviews are analyzed, how to write one and so on, but for now, I’m going to deal with one thing… what I like to call the Tyranny of the Yelper. Yelp, for better or worse, can seriously help or hurt certain businesses. In really depends on the nature of the business I find, but there have been actual published studies that back this up. As such, there have been offers by businesses to solicit a positive Yelp review from an Elite. Now this isn’t as prevalent in Canada as it is in the US, but there it is for all to see. The Yelpers, through social media, have an unprecedented amount of clout that otherwise didn’t exist 10 years ago. Bad word of mouth can always hurt a business, but through Yelp, it’s magnified a thousand fold in many instances.

Former food bloggers, the Calgary Foodies, were at one time the leading food blog in Calgary. But parenthood has superseded that passion understandably, and their site has since been shuttered. But I had contributed occasionally to their blog, including the review above about NoTAble’s Sunday Brunch, right up to a somewhat negative review I wrote about the last days of Mother Tucker’s in Calgary. It was never published, either on the Calgary Foodies’ site, or on my own.

When it was rejected, I looked at it myself, and then had a few friends’ read it as well. It wasn’t really a horrific review, just one where the age of the place was showing, and that for the very last Sunday Brunch sitting, it was pretty much without hoopla and protocol which was a bit saddening to see after such a long successful run. I never did ask Nolan, one of the foodies why it was never posted, but not too long after, he wrote a post himself about something he had learned himself, that just because you have a voice that people follow, it doesn’t mean it’s a voice that can be used as a hammer. A light flickered on in my head when I read that, and while my review wasn’t one that was slamming a hammer onto a business, it was one that was still negative in tone.

The Yelp Elite, and reviewers in general, have a voice that can do genuine harm to genuine people. A review about a bad experience in a restaurant could be the difference between a mom and pop shop being able to make the rent or shutter the doors. As my fellow blogger and friend, Wanda or @momwhoneedswine likes to state, Everyone could have an off day, or a bad experience. I’ve had some so-so dishes at my favorite places, poor service at my mechanic and so on, but this is something that should be expressed there and then WHILE you’re having that experience to give that business a chance to correct a perceived wrong. Your steak was underdone? Ask them to re-fire it. You don’t think your barber did a good job with your cut. Ask them to touch it up. But do it WHILE you’re having that experience.

Here’s where responsibility comes into play. Too many of us Yelpers and reviewers stay silent about a bad experience, and then take it out brutally on the business in a review afterwards. Again, if honest, a bad experience is a bad experience and if honest, should be reported, but should be done with the knowledge of the potential impact. I’ve admittedly written some pretty bad reviews as well myself, but no one can state that I didn’t at least try to give the business a chance to correct the issue. If the business still went out of their way to be complete jerks, well, so be it. But I’d like to remind everyone that we Yelp reviewers have a power to actually hurt people in real terms. This is our city, and I do my best to support it as best I can. I’d like to challenge the reviewers who are writing something negative that:

1) is the city really better with the loss of this business? Did I try to give them a chance to make amends?

2) depending on the nature and size of the business, am I crushing someone’s dreams? Do I really want to be the cause of the destruction of this venture?

In the 80s, an obituary of a legendary Montreal food writer had stated that she, over the years, deliberately shelved many a review of restaurants because while the experience may have been poor in execution, she knew that to publish a poor review would bankrupt that mom and pop business. I never understood why until I became reasonably well-known in the YYC Food community. There are so many that are literally struggling day-to-day, but have proceeded anyways because it was their dream.  I ask, unless it was truly a horrific experience, hold off. Give them a little time. Try them again.

To my fellow Yelp reviewers, especially the Elite, and to reviewers of YYC in general, I know many of you already keep this in mind. But there are so so many of us that don’t.

Next week, I’ll explain the Yelp review model, my thoughts on how it works and the pluses and minuses.