A recommendation from a food influencer can turn a newbie restaurant into the next darling of the local trend-set. Just ask Guten Dag – they’ll tell you about the sudden influx of customers the day after Per Meurling of Berlin Food Stories, the biggest expat food blogger in Berlin, posted a snap of their now celebrated Korean fried chicken on his Instagram. But how and why does one become a food influencer? Are they getting free food or even payment in exchange for their Instagram posts? We meet the biggest names and some fresh-faced upstarts in Berlin’s food influencer scene to find out what drives them.
The full-time foodie: Per Meurling @berlinfoodstories
The secret to being the biggest restaurant influencer in Berlin? “I try really hard not to be an asshole about my work. I always think about the chefs first.” In other words, if you want to have more than 76,000 followers on Instagram and around 250,000 monthly blog impressions, don’t bite the hand that feeds you. “I don’t write take-downs. On the blog, it’s all positive reviews. On Instagram… I call it constructive criticism.” This might mean calling “sensational” a Thai restaurant that’s already been celebrated all over the local blogosphere and posting pretty shots of “unimaginably tasty” dishes from the many restaurants he’s visited over the years (over 2450 posts so far). But Meurling is adamant he doesn’t accept invitations or payments in exchange for praise. “I research new joints online or stumble across them through word of mouth, I go there anonymously and pay for the food myself. For fine dining, I book under a different name,” asserts the 36-year-old. As a leading influencer Meurling is indeed treading a thin line – being positive and championing chefs is one thing, but lose the appearance of integrity and you’re disqualified.
Moving to Berlin in 2009, he spent three years “tech hustling” before writing his first experimental blog post anonymously in 2012. In 2013 his debut Instagram post followed, a shot of his Kanom Krok (coconut rice panacea for the uninitiated) lunch in Thai Park – back then it only garnered a dozen likes. 2016 was the tipping point: Meurling quit his job and used his savings to buy a professional camera, upgraded his blog, and started to post more often and show his face on his feed: “I went to more restaurants and tried to make my blog more personal and relatable.” So how does a successful food blogger make money? Recently a post on his insta was advertising a restaurant space for grabs, another was helping a local eatery finding a new head waiter – job ads! There also are the paid cooperations, like when ferry operator Scandlines hired him to write a Berlin food tip article, which featured on both the Danish company website and on his own Instagram. But Meurling insists that when it comes to for-money-collaboration he sticks to his (high) standards : “I decline 75 percent of offers. Discounters, shitty food, you know? And brands meeting my quality standards mostly don’t have the money to pay me much for marketing.” This means they won’t help him get rich soon. “I’m lucky I have a supportive working wife, especially now with two kids.” To bolster his income, Meurling offers food tours for individual visitors or big companies like Marks&Spencer, and also contributes articles for Eater and Vice, or, more recently, a Döner essay for Tagesspiegel. And the future? “I’ll have to see where social media is going, but I’d love it if we could reach a point when followers would be ready to pay for the content they like. This way, I could just focus on my reviews.”
Food tip: Black Apron, Invalidenstr. 1, Mitte – “Amazing tuna sandwich!”
The sustainable foodstress: Sophia Hoffmann @sophia_hoffmann_
When Munich-native Sophia Hoffmann came to Berlin 11 years ago, it didn’t take long for the now 39-year-old to ditch her Wurst-heavy Bavarian diet and jump on the vegan train. Today, you’ll struggle to find anyone hit harder by the capital’s sustainability movement, or more vocal about it. Hoffmann’s Instagram sits at 16,000 followers – “mostly women between 20-40”, but she’d love to attract more men to her profile “without taking off my clothes”. She is probably not helped by one of her most successful posts, a meme of her cooking with her secret ingredient “male tears”. But from her all-vegan recipes (like a seaweed and almond quinoa bowl with Berlin-grown Kohlrabi) to features on her latest sustainable restaurant discovery (vegan döner joint Vöner in Friedrichshain), her passion is clear and leaves little room for compromise. Since few sponsors match her ethics (exception made for FunFactory whose vibrators feature regularly on her feed), the money mostly comes in from her work as a part-time cook at Neukölln’s Isla Coffee where she prepares zero-waste food like roasted pumpkin on sourdough toast – she even devoted her latest cookbook, Zero Waste Küche, entirely to the topic, selling 15,000 copies to eager converts. But Hoffman sees herself as a precursor: “I claim I was the first one to bring the coloured bread bun to Berlin,” she jokes referring to the “black, red and green burger buns” she now sees all over the city. Case in point, Hoffmann’s very first Instagram post dating back to April 2013, shows a batch of oven-hot black burger buns topped with seeds! Today the indefatigable cook-author-podcaster-blogger is on a new mission: “I want to inspire women!” She dedicated her second book and podcast Vegan Queens to the many women who contribute to the food industry. “From the feedback I get from my work, I’d definitely call myself an influencer, and I’m happy that it brings people joy, optimism and empowerment!”
Food tip: Isla Coffee, Hermannstraße 37, Neukölln – “Great fair-trade coffee and zero-waste food!”
The vegan pragmatist: Oliver Fritzsche @veganberlincom
If you’re into veganism and you live in Berlin chances are you’ve come across VeganBerlin, and since October, a certain “Olli” aka Oliver Fritzsche, a 32-year-old native of Saxony with a passion for plant-based gastronomy, who until then had been posting anonymously: “I didn’t want to be that vegan guy”. Fritzsche, a web marketing consultant, converted to veganism five years ago, about a year after he arrived in Berlin, mostly out of environmental concerns. Today his instagram counts 15,000 followers and 439 posts, mostly positive reviews (all in English) about restaurants he tried and liked, and the regular round-ups he writes for his blog (“14 places for vegan pancakes in Berlin” anyone?). But what started as a hobby – mostly dinner with friends – has turned into dutiful excursions two to three times a week. “Eating out loses a bit of its magic when you do it that often,” says Fritzsche who admits occasionally accepting a little cash from food businesses or just a few thank you dinners (or the odd free vegan croissant in recognition for one of his posts). But only insofar as it promotes Berlin’s vegan scene. Meanwhile the full-time freelancer also manages a few restaurants’ Instagram accounts (like Satt und Glücklich Bistro), and occasionally works as an extra (Netflix drama Dark). Fritzsche says he doesn’t want to be a full-time influencer – though he’s happy to help those who do. His biggest tip? “Don’t focus on Instagram too much, it might be gone in a year.”
Food tip: Holy Everest, Gleimstr. 54, Prenzlauer Berg – “The Thali platters are fantastic!”
The ethical aesthete: Nü Trinh @nu_bites
A new upstart on the online scene, 35-year-old recipe designer Manuila “Nü” Trinh’s feed is full of her own unique concoctions like close-ups of a green-bunned basil tofu and Portobello Burger or a fleshy Tofu Banh Mi bursting with purple red (the carrots) and mango yellow (the habanero sauce). “I love to experiment with taste and colours. It’s scientifically proven that the more colourful your organic food is, the healthier it is.” With only a few hundred followers as yet, the former fashion designer from Vienna doesn’t shy away from calling herself an influencer. “I used to try turning others vegan by shaming them like ‘how can you eat this, it’s murder!’, but I couldn’t stand myself after a while.” Now, she sees purpose in convincing Berliners to turn vegan through the beauty of her food instead. Her occasional reviews don’t fall short of waxing lyrical about how “disgusting” vegan cheese is or criticising restaurants for using it. A vegan of eight years herself, Trinh launched her food blog this month, posting recipes and offering classes the likes of her €40 “make your own organic, plant-based hummus” – also a lesson on its advantages as a protein bomb. But her favourites are her one-on-one workshops: “Those are the best, because making food is very much about self-love, this way you can focus on what is good for you.” For this dedicated idealist, being an ‘influencer’ is less a business as it is a mission. “I could easily drop it all, live in the country and tend to my vegetables. But not using my skill for others would just be selfish.”
Food tip: Allmende Kontor community garden at Tempelhofer Feld – “Your own garden in the middle of the city.”