A Food Blog With a Washington Flavor

By Jane Black
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Hosea's dish, barftastic," says Kate Steadman.

"Hosea's fish looks like a rock," agrees Spencer Ackerman. "Dear lord."

"Could it finally be his time?" Steadman asks.

This is the kind of conversation that occurs at 10:41 p.m. when friends gather for Brazilian stew, wine and an episode of Bravo's "Top Chef: New York." Steadman, 25, and Ackerman, 28, are friends. But they're also bloggers. That means that although the two are sitting just a few feet apart in a Mount Pleasant group house, this high-minded commentary isn't carried on verbally. They, along with Kriston Capps, are communicating via Google-chat. During commercial breaks, they upload their exchanges to the blog they share with their circle of foodie friends, the grandly named Internet Food Association.

After a long day's blogging about complex policy issues -- Ackerman writes about national security for the Washington Independent; Steadman writes for Kaiser Health News -- they could be forgiven for wanting to close the laptop and actually have a conversation. But for the truly hard-core, a glass of wine and a good post about how Toby Young has absolutely no business being a judge on "Top Chef" is a fine way to unwind.

Launched in November, the IFA originally was intended to provide a freewheeling, uncensored space to sound off on recipes, restaurants and, of course, "Top Chef," which the clique gathers weekly to watch and deconstruct. "We are music reviewers and online organizers. Political pundits and network security experts. Health policy writers and programmers," reads the mission statement on the IFA Web site, http://www.internetfoodassociation.com. "But we are united by a shared recognition that all those things suck, and we'd much rather talk about food."

But the 14 members' broad range of interests and expertise -- urban policy, education, health care, punk rock -- has given the site an only-in-Washington vibe. Try as they might, IFA bloggers can't entirely shed their wonkish tendencies.

Take one of Ben Miller's first posts: "Should chefs go to culinary school?" To find the answer, the 24-year-old, who by day blogs for the New America Foundation's Higher Ed Watch, examined an obscure education measure known as the cohort default rate. The rate, Miller kindly explains "for those who don't spend all day obsessed with higher education trade publications," is the percentage of a school's student loan borrowers who default within two years of graduation. According to Miller's analysis, the prestigious Culinary Institute of America had good results: just 2 percent each year between 2004 and 2006. But at the JNA Institute of Culinary Arts in Philadelphia, 10 percent of borrowers defaulted in 2006 and 13 percent defaulted in 2005.

"Think of the implications," Miller writes. "Over 1 out of every 10 students defaults on their debt," strong evidence that a culinary school diploma didn't help them land work.

But Miller's analysis also showed that culinary school might be just the ticket to a spot on the all-important "Top Chef": 73 percent of cheftestants on seasons two through five had a culinary degree.

Another example is the series dubbed "angry rant from a New Yorker," in which Brooklyn-born Ben Adler, 27, complains regularly about the lack of Middle Eastern cuisine, bagels and (insert New York food of choice here) within the District's borders. To Adler, who covers urban policy, the shortage of cheap ethnic fare not only is a culinary disappointment but illustrates a failure of public transportation and community building. "If you can't get to good Middle Eastern food without a car, it's wrong," Adler declared at the recent "Top Chef" get-together. "The ability to get a good bagel within walking distance is a basic necessity of life."

He was only half-joking.

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