How I love nothing more than talking about food with people. Well, other than maybe eating food with people.
This week I was lucky enough to have a chat and a coffee with Nicki Tudor, recent winner of the Best Food and Drink category at the Wales Blog Awards.
If you haven’t already, check out the very popular Cardiff Bites for all things food-related.
Hi Nicki, Where are you originally from, I saw that you are Welsh/Italian on your Twitter?
I’m originally from Port Talbot which is about half an hour that way, and my mum’s family are from Italy.
Wow, whereabouts in Italy?
Just right at the South on the heel, and for some reason they decided after the war there was no work, so they moved to South Wales!
Have you always been interested in food?
My grandmother and my mum cook a lot, so when I was growing up there was more concern about what was going in my tummy. By seven or eight I was allowed to make pasta or whatever. As soon as I could roll pasta and copy what my grandma was doing I was in the kitchen.
What is your full-time job when you’re not blogging?
I work in the voluntary sector as a project administrator for a charity, and I’ve been doing that for eight years now.
In an ideal world, would you happily give up your job to write and pursue your blog full time?
I don’t know. I like the freedom that of not being paid to do that gives me, so I can be a lot more controversial and honest. I can write what I want to write about. Obviously there are legal implications and everything… If I did it full-time would I get bored? I don’t know. What would my hobby be then?
It would be lovely to get paid to do something with food, that would be fantastic. I am a little bit wary of going freelance as I’ve grown quite attached to my paycheck. So really, I guess I’d like to find a happy medium. Working full-time for an organisation about food would be great, so maybe a food charity, or bringing my blogging into the work that I do now.
How do you balance a full-time job and your blog?
Do you ever find that the two clash?
People think that my blog is what I do. Someone said to me, “How do you have time for a successful blog? I bet you stay up all hours and don’t get any sleep.” Well no, that doesn’t happen, because I would be miserable and it wouldn’t be fun. I do Cardiff Bites because it’s fun.
So how do I find the balance? It’s about being prepared that at the weekend, I spend three hours on the blog. Some other people might spend three hours watching football or going shopping, this is my hobby and I do it because I enjoy it.
If I was running myself into the ground to try and maintain this blog it wouldn’t be fun. Obviously if it was my business, and I had to make money off it, I’d probably work even harder than I do now.
I think I put a lot of pressure on myself when the blog started properly, when I finally figured out that what I was doing was blogging. When I started putting the site together properly and doing guest posts for other people I found that really really difficult and it stopped being fun for a while. Then I got ill and I retreated into myself a bit. However, I do know that I have to say no to things now.
I saw you have an article in this month’s Olive magazine, how did that happen?
I do, I’m very excited. That was just complete loveliness. I don’t know how they found me, whether they Googled, or whatever, but I had an email off them asking me if I would like to submit to the Christmas issue. It was fantastic.
Have any more opportunities arisen for your writing since you won the Welsh Blog Awards?
There’s been a lot of interviews so I’m out talking to a lot of people. I’m getting more hits on the blog which is lovely. It’s been a crazy year. First I was a judge at the True Taste Wales awards in July, then shortlisted for this. Then there was the whole Snoop Dogg thing which was crazy. Then to win was just lovely. It’s just been a fabulous year.
Do you get a lot of people trying to use your position in the blogging world for their own gain, only to offer nothing in return?
No, but I think PRs are getting quite savvy and I think restaurants are getting more savvy. They can invite bloggers along and get feedback, but it’s measurable feedback. Customers can fill something in and say, “oh yeh, the meal was lovely,” whereas I think restaurants are now seeing that they can get bloggers in for real feedback. It is as an opportunity to get what they do out there, and create a buzz about a place.
I haven’t really had negative people. I’ve had a couple of negative comments on the blog but my blog is one opinion, they have another.
Do you ever get angry messages from restaurants or chains that you have given negative reviews of on your blog?
No! I’ve had one negative comment on my blog which said, “Oh, you’re stupid, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” and they listed a few reasons which I then addressed. Blogs have comments for a reason, and it’s my opinion. If they don’t agree with me, fine. Someone else might go there and have a fantastic meal, someone else might go there and think it was awful. So I’m not AA Gill, I’m not going to come in and tear you apart. I’m not going to be deliberately horrible.
Cardiff doesn’t have a Michelin starred restaurant and is unlikely to get one in the next few years, so I think you just have to take Cardiff for what it is. I think generally people are just positive at the moment that they have got people to come in. They want to show off what they can do.
Do you get a lot of invites for complimentary meals as your blog has grown over the years?
I probably get invited to about one launch event a month, and that’s usually through a PR company.
They will have business leaders, they will have TV, they will have journalists there. They want us all to be talking about it on Twitter saying, “I’m at the launch.” And they in turn want people to go, “Well how do I get invited to that?” I believe that any publicity is good, because at least you’re talking about somewhere.
What’s the best place you have ever eaten in Cardiff?
If I’m paying, then I love to go somewhere like Bangkok café in Canton. It’s a little family owned Thai restaurant. They do really cheap, good food. They do great lunchtime stuff and it’s really cool, chilled, laid back.
If someone else is paying, then probably somewhere like Patagonia. It’s just round the corner from where I used to live. They do fantastic fixed price menu. They do some really interesting dishes. The food is great. So if someone else is paying, I’ll go there!
What’s the worst place you have ever eaten?
I don’t know if I can say. I think some of the chain restaurants can be a little bit hit and miss. I don’t want to name names because that’s really unfair. Chains are what they are, we all eat there.
I’m not going to lie. I’m in Miss Millies in a Saturday with a hangover. I do think chains should be there for consistency. I expect that if I walked into a Pizza Express in Cardiff it should be the same as a Pizza Express in Glasgow. You should know what you’re going to get.
You’ve obviously eaten out at a lot of places, do you think chain or independent restaurants are better in Cardiff and the surrounding areas?
Independent restaurants definitely. You build up a good relationship with people if you go back quite a lot. When I was in Canton we tended to go to two or three restaurants on a regular basis. You get to know the staff. They know things like if you come in for Sushi, you are going to want a bit more wasabi and a bit less soy sauce. It’s just, somewhere you can relax.
I think that some chain restaurants, it’s about getting numbers through the door, and it’s, “Right. Well we’ve got to get them out of their seats by quarter to eight because we have to get the next family in who are sitting there waiting.” So on the whole I would try and support our local family restaurants because they are having a tough time of it at the moment.
What’s your ultimate comfort food?
Probably something stodgy, usually involving cheese. So if I’m feeling really run down it’s probably something like macaroni cheese. It’s just warm and comforting. It’s like the food equivalent of a blanket.
What’s the meal that you would cook for yourself if you really couldn’t be bothered?
I’m really weird, and you’re going to laugh at me, but I’m possibly the only person that could come in from a night out at three o’clock in the morning and really want risotto. I have been known at three o’clock in the morning, after several glasses of wine to be there cooking risotto because that’s what I really want.
If I really, really can’t be bothered then it would be something quick. Usually just something like a noodle soup. And it’s literally just a spoonful of say Thai curry paste, some stock, and some noodles, and that’s it.
How about if you want to treat yourself?
Probably just a roast dinner or something. Maybe a really nice piece of roast belly pork, and all the trimmings. Or something like pizza. I make great homemade pizza. That would be a real treat as well.
Thank you very much for your time Nicki