Interview with Eugen Beer, the Mastermind Behind Cold Mud
We've been big fans of Cold Mud since its arrival on the food website scene in 2007. Arguably the most prolific, resourceful, and thorough aggregator of food news out there, Cold Mud is a required daily visit if you're at all interested in food. Since there was so little information on Eugen Beer, the man behind the website, we just had to track him down for an interview.
Eat me daily: We tried to find information on who's behind Cold Mud, and it's sort of a mystery. All we could find is a quick note on Eater that Cold Mud is "run by Eugen Beer, a PR and marketing exec in the UK." But the Independent UK says that the site is "Sydney-based." Which is it? Who is this Eugen fellow? Why is his first name missing an "e"?
Eugen Beer: It is Eugen — my father was Czechoslovakian — and I was a partner in a PR company in the UK that looked after bands, people, and stuff like:
The Dead Kennedys, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, John Lee Hooker, Loudon Wainwright, Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, JJ Cale, Taj Mahal, Brian Eno, Michael Nyman, Isaac Hayes, Peter Gabriel, Ray Davies, The Wall - Berlin 1990, Douglas Adams, Hal Roach, D.A. Pennebaker, Delia Smith, Victor Lewis-Smith, Little Richard, Myra Lewis, Ben Watt, Moby, The Soil Association, Viz, Fortean Times, Hello! Magazine, The Rock Gazeteer Of Great Britain, Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy Towel, The Good Loo Guide To London, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream (First 5 years in UK), Unilever - PG Tips, Brooke Bond Tea, Flora pro.activ, Colman's Mustard, OXO, Coca Cola, Tilda Rice, Mattel - Barbie, and Renault.
Blah blah... that was then.
Then we moved to Italy and I learned to cook, wrote a book, cut a lot of grass, harvested a whole load of olives and learnt about growing vegetables and fruit from an inspirational 80 year old called Filippo. (Not necessarily in that order)
The idea for Cold Mud was born in that farmhouse just outside of Orvieto in Umbria.
Then we moved to Australia.
And now we're back in the UK.. in Edinburgh... for the time being.
What are you doing for a living now? Still PR?
I quit PR in 2005. Once you step to one side it all looks very very silly.
I'm in this for the long haul... so work now, get it (whatever it is) right. That's the priority.
Why move around so much?
My wife is a journalist. I can be anywhere.
What book did you write when you were in Italy? We couldn't find anything by you on Amazon — did it get published?
Imagine your first and probably only book gets published... and they spell your name wrong (as usual) on the cover (hence why you couldn't find it!) It was published in the States by Barnes & Noble: Italy: History and Landscape.
The volume and depth of coverage of Cold Mud is truly impressive. Is it just one person behind it? What's the motivation for the site?
Just me. Motivation: I'm not interested in recipes or going to the latest fashionable restaurant. Food, for me, is quite simply the most interesting, important, and amusing areas of life.
The beginning, middle and end if you want. Without food where are we?
It's not just about the eating (forget the celebrity chefs and the cooking - hence no recipes) but it's also the politics, people, safety and economics of food that is riveting.
Matt Groening put it best for me, a long time ago, when (to paraphrase) he said that the big corporations did not have the best interests of their customers at heart. I cannot begin to explain how disillusioning it is to be inside an industry, like the food industry, and watch it implode with ignorant self-interest.
The idea behind the site (formed long before this 'credit crunch' was even a twinkle in a headline writer's eye) was to give people a daily 'global' view of food and drink news and writing. Hopefully mixing important with funny. To entertain and inform and maybe, just maybe, throw a few tidbits out there that would be new as well.
Of course, I also like the unusual stuff, the fact that food inspires amazingly off-beat stories such as baby rats dropping into someone's rice dish in singapore or the woman who poisoned her husband's christmas lunch or the restaurant romance could get us both fired — what do I do?
Cold Mud is hopefully not worthy and it's not snarky. I hope it's just interesting, that it makes people think in a pretty straight way and that it's fun in parts every day.
And timeless. I love finding beautiful old stuff.
I just think food is the most important subject in the world right now.
Those two are work in progress and there's a travel/transport one to come as well.
Animal news site? Animals... well... alongside food, bankers, and celebrity (leaving porn out of the equation) the media and people adore animal stories. It's also another of my great interests.
And as Gandhi said "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." There's a huge audience out there for animal stories and the stories tell a lot about us as so called "civilized people."
Radio Barking is a throwback to when I came up with an idea for a comedy radio station for London and got John Lloyd and Douglas Adams involved. Eclectic great writing, making people think, good humour, and great music.
Radio Barking is the nearest you'll get to me doing a 'blog'… it is an attempt at an eclectic view of the world that tries to take in different aesthetics. We all have our favourite newspapers, magazines, tv shows, radio progammes... I love the New Yorker, The Onion, Spectator, Private Eye... but they can never be utterly brilliant every single issue.
Radio Barking is a work in progress attempt at perfection every day and it has a long way to go.
If the idea behind Coldmud is to "give people a daily 'global' view of food and drink news and writing" — why not write your own blog instead?
I know my limitations. And (for me) there are already too many blogs out there that are daily being devalued by there being too many blogs out there. (Don't let's get into Twitter - or Twatter as I call it)
If there is a 'skill' in what these news aggregators do it is in what doesn't go on and how serendipity plays a part in the whole process. I love it when an unconscious theme emerges — with little or no plan or effort on my part.
Some could argue that Cold Mud is an unconscious blog on my part, because I put in what I am interested in at the moment and what I think other people should be interested in.
Matt Drudge may not like it but The Drudge Report could be seen as a blog by some people. Frankly it doesn't matter. If it's interesting and doing something to makes people think, then it is whatever people think it is.
Who needs or wants a label anyway?
All of this is not necessarily about what "I" think. I'll put both sides of the GM argument up reagrdless of where I sit on it If someone writes or says something genuinely interesting. I have opinions. Strong opinions. But I'm not hanging them out for everyone to see at a glance.
Radio Barking is different - when someone does a feature called "The 100 Worst Guitar Solos" ... well ... that means four new videos a day of fanatastic shredding torture ... and the rest.
People can join the dots... if they want to.
And you have to understand what incredible fun this is.
To wake up every morning and try and read the whole of the internet and always fail. But to glean incredible stuff in the process.
For example to discover this from the LA Times: This is an incredibly important story and an example of why 'old media' and investment in journalists and foreign correspondents is irreplaceable and middle management and accountants just aren't going to cut it.
I have always abhorred nationalism and parochialism (hence, maybe, the moving around) and all I can do is hope that there are enough broad (and kooky - thank you, Frank Bruni) like-minded people who are as curious and frustrated as I am about the world.
All of it.
Can you share a little about your working process? A crazy amount of RSS feeds? (What RSS reader do you use? What's the backend? etc)
I loved being in Australia and working when everyone in the western hemisphere was asleep. Even though Sydney was just a few hours too far ahead to be really comfortable. Listening to BBC World Service, WFUV, The Current 89.3, XM... it was a night shift.
I like the randomness of trawling and discovering things by accident. Deliberately allowing accidents to happen and getting something totally unexpected and most importantly interesting.
Backend is (I believe) Cold Fusion. First of all developed in London by Codegent and then enhanced and tidied up by Psionic in Sydney.
How do you make the judgment calls for what's important?
Is it really new news, interesting, a new product, funny, a different view, challenging preconceptions, pricking pomposity or just wonderful writing.
Favorite newspapers and/or blogs?
Anything that's not predictable and not up its own backside in terms of smugness and solipsism. In no particular order:
Northern Territory News, The Onion, BBC, Drudge (Hate/Love - it was the first, and the inspiration... leaving the politics aside), Daily Mail (Hate/Love - the Mail is a news-gathering omnivore and brilliant at it), CNET Appliances, Wired, Madonna of The Toast, NY Times, The Times, Guardian, Eater, Grub Street, Popbitch, B3ta... Intelligent Life, Stuffed & Starved, Transition Culture ...
Writers: Chris Hirst (the genius late lamented Weasel), Nicholas Lander, Matthew Engel, Susie Boyt on FT, Table Manners' Helena Echlin, Observer/Daily Mail's Jan Moir, Es - Faye Maschler, Michael Pollan, Frank Bruni, Michael Bauer, Brett Anderson, Charles Campion, Terry Durack, Matthew Fort, Eric Felten, Giles Coren, Bill Knott, Raphael Kadushin, Eric Asimov... the writers are the main thing. That's what keeps you coming back, because you trust them — it's like a enjoying a great film reviewer — it's about trust.
If I had one Cold Mud-centric wish it would be that Christopher Hitchens wrote about food.
Do you ever sleep?
Yes. Very well.