Steven Shaw, a founder of the influential online culinary discussion forum eGullet and one of the first writers to start his own food blog, died Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 44.
Quirky.com, a website and discussion board for inventors, announced the death but did not give a cause. Mr. Shaw had been an executive there since leaving eGullet several years ago.
Mr. Shaw’s role in contemporary food journalism was considered pioneering for the open-forum websites he created. The website eGullet and his blog FatGuy.com, which has been discontinued, became online hubs where chefs, serious home cooks, gourmands and people just looking for a new restaurant could meet and talk on end about food, setting a standard for the thousands of other Internet sites that are now the food blogosphere.
Mr. Shaw, a lawyer by training, quit his job with the Manhattan law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore to enter the then-unexplored country of online journalism in the late 1990s.
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The venture set off an explosion of clashing online opinions and philosophies of food.
“The eGullet site, at one time, could be a thrilling place, where a simple question might be answered by Anthony Bourdain or the food editor of the Los Angeles Times,” wrote Todd Price, a dining writer for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.
Price was among a large number of eGullet workers, volunteers and message-board regulars who went on to careers in food journalism.
Nathan Myhrvold, a former chief technology officer for Microsoft, started a thread on eGullet in 2004 (asking for advice on sous vide, a method of cooking in sealed vacuum bags) that led him to undertake “Modernist Cuisine,” a six-volume encyclopedia of food arts, biology and physics, published in 2010. David Chang, the chef and owner of Momofuku in Manhattan, has described it as “the cookbook to end all cookbooks.”
But it was another of eGullet’s Internet legacies that Bourdain wanted to talk about when, in 2011, he interviewed Mr. Shaw and eGullet’s co-founder, Jason Perlow, on his Travel Channel show, “No Reservations.”
“Are food blogs good for the world?” Bourdain asked. Or had Mr. Shaw and Perlow turned food writing — once an “innocuous pastime,” as he called it — into “a hotbed of hostility?”
Answering Bourdain’s question, Mr. Shaw said that online food commentary probably did more good than harm, but allowed that “there are probably too many food blogs.”
Brouhahas on eGullet could be fierce and long lived, whether about the quality of pizza or barbecue at certain restaurants, the proper preparation of soup dumplings, the calculus of tipping or the code of ethics for freelance food writers.
Mr. Shaw wrote about dining from multiple perspectives — not only the diner’s but also the chef’s, the prep cook’s and the waiter’s. He wrote about low-paid workers who deliver takeout orders, the hierarchies among waiters, the etiquette of Japanese restaurant dining.
Steven Anthony Shaw was born in Manhattan on June 10, 1969, to Penelope Shaw, a former soloist with the Erick Hawkins Dance Company who became director of sports programs for the disabled at Hunter College, and Peter Shaw, an English professor at Stony Brook University.
He graduated from Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan (where he cooked for fellow students after debate-club meetings) and the University of Vermont. After earning a law degree from Fordham University in 1994, Mr. Shaw practiced law for about five years before starting his blog.
He is survived by his wife, Ellen Shapiro; a son, Peter; his mother and his sister, Jennifer.
Mr. Shaw learned much about food, he wrote, while on an open-ended expense account for Cravath, Swaine. In his first assignment for the firm — making travel and hotel arrangements for lawyers, expert witnesses and others involved in a major trial being heard in Wilmington, Del. — he became familiar with a wide spectrum of the area’s restaurants and turned what he had learned into a restaurant “survival guide” that made the rounds of New York law firms.
“The world of restaurants is a world unto itself,” he wrote in the introduction to his 2005 book, “Turning the Tables,” “with its own language and laws, some written and some unwritten.”
He made translating that world for “civilians,” as he called those not in the dining professions, the subject of his book, and of his work in general — because, he explained: “I firmly believe that if you love restaurants for the right reasons, they will love you back.”