In spite of scathing Yelp reviews of restaurants in the undistinguished community of Gainesville, one cherished food blogger stands out among the rest. His words are plastered at the head of local restaurants’ sites and even on the marbled walls of local shops. It reads something like, "Ken Eats Gainesville said (insert restaurant) has the best (insert food item) he has ever had!"

Similar to a small-town Guy Fieri, Gainesville’s first ever food blogger, Ken Eats Gainesville, has completely shaken up Gainesville’s restaurant scene. Despite growing up with immigrant parents in the restaurant industry, Ken Peng went on to study business at the University of Florida. Upon graduation, he started posting his opinion on restaurants (putting his roots to work) alongside his day job in finance.

Around four years later, Ken has amassed over 20,000 likes on his Facebook page as well as nearly 8,000 followers on Instagram. Spoon University spoke with Ken to find out a little more about his empire and what it’s like being him.

What makes a restaurant stand out to you?

The menu kind of has to stand out, right? I need to see stuff that’s out of the norm. There’s a million and one of these places that are like sandwiches and burgers and wings. I look for execution in plating. You know, if it’s plated more nicely I’m more inclined to say, "Oh, this is interesting." Especially nowadays — we live in the Instagram age. How good a restaurant is depends heavily on how shareable its plating is.

Do you think you’ll ever do it full-time?

It’s just very difficult to balance that because when you get paid to write something by a restaurant, it’s very transparent and people can see that. I think part of the appeal of what I do is that I can say whatever the hell I want, and people trust that because they know I’m not going to lie to them. Even now, I get people accusing me of paying the play kind of deal but I know what I’m about, and I know what’s important to me.

What are some other downsides?

Any time you put your opinion out to the public, you’re not going to be able to please everybody. I hear about all sorts of things, about how I go into restaurants demanding free food or else I don’t write about them, or you know people give me gift cards in exchange for reviews. There’s even a group of people who made Ken Eats Shit stickers and passed it out to people. I think it was Winston Churchill who said if you’re not making enemies you’re not doing it right, right?

So do restaurants offer you free meals to review them?

Yeah, I do get people who do that. It’s always the same response every time, "Oh thank you, but I don’t do that." And I’ll just show up randomly one day unannounced.

You also publicly seem to have a distaste for the Gainesville Sun. Can you talk a little bit about this?

I believe they're dinosaurs in the sense that they're not shifting with the times. They've got a slew of writers who are all in their 50s and 60s who aren't really connected with the youth of Gainesville. We are a young town. I don't know if their writing style or topics really resonate with a lot of people. They're very set in their ways. 

Do you have any cooking hacks?

I guess one of my tricks would be if you’re boiling pasta just put it in a shallow pan with some water. You don’t need to boil an entire pot -- it takes forever.

What advice would you give for aspiring food bloggers?

HIDE YOUR FACE. *laughs* Yeah, I made the mistake initially — it’s not really a mistake because I kind of embrace it now — but it definitely makes it a lot easier to go into a place to review it if no one knows your face. Initially, I thought it’d be interesting to use it as my brand, just as a weird-looking guy, I figured I would be more recognizable that way — and it worked, it definitely worked. I have little tricks I use now to curtail that, but I’m not going to share those.

To check out Ken’s blog, visit here

Parts of this interview have been cut for clarity and brevity.