Learning & Hanging with The Food Bloggers – IFBC 2012
My first food blogger conference…
A couple months ago, I heard about the International Food Blogger Conference (I’m going to now call it “IFBC”, so I can get this post up before the next one twelve months from now, K?) My ears perked up when I also learned it would be held right here in my town. Would I like to go? Um, YES. A food blogger conference? How could this possibly suck? Well, I’m happy to say, it didn’t.
IFBC was a varied, diverse and very much opinionated group of people. I fit right in (or at least I like to think so). I also learned a LOT, which I’ll share. I met some really inspiring (and downright fun to hang with) people there, a few of which I will tell you about. Why only a few?
A VERY short sucky story…
The only lame thing about the conference was really not the conference at all. It was my car being broken into on the morning of the last day (Sunday), in front of my favorite coffee shop, on the way to the conference. For the photography session. Which I was looking forward to since the day I registered. So, my iPad, camera, purse (luckily not my wallet *phew*) and ALL the business cards I had collected were stolen. Yes, it’s sucky, so to those I am not listing, I still think you’re awesome sauce. (And please get in touch, I know I’m missing some names!) So, enough of my story, except to tell the *bleeping* thieves to SUCK IT. My iPhone and I will be burning up the photos (and retouching them) on my blog for a while. Luckily there’s an app for that. Or two.
The experience started on a Thursday evening…
The weekend began before the weekend even started, which was Thursday night. Through some miraculous event (quite possibly my strawberry rant post, or my name being mixed up with some other girl… shhh… ), I was invited to a hopelessly classy dinner hosted by the Northwest Cherry Growers at Paley’s Place. I knew what we were in for, as it’s one of my favorite places to eat in this restaurant rich foodtown. It’s an anniversary and birthday place for grownups, with cloth napkins and lots of gleaming stemware. If you haven’t eaten the culinary stylings of a James Beard winning chef, put down that TV tray and get thyself a reservation. Do it. Do it now.
I arrived early, and go to know the lovely people putting on the the dinner: Todd, Torie & James. Then the bloggers arrived. I immediately felt out of my league camera-wise. Cameras with very long lenses were popping up, snapping what I’m sure were professional level photos of food and drinks on the table. I had to reassure my iPhone that we were OK. Someday we’ll have a big girl camera, but today, we’ll make good work of the megapixels and point and shoot action we have. Cuz that’s how we roll. (Besides, how would one fit a DSLR in one’s pocket? Ok, I’d be willing to try. I’ll definitely need bigger pockets.)
Oh, the wines, the wines…
Throughout the dinner, the Biggio Hamina wines were poured, explained and sipped around the table. I’m not afraid to ask the newbie questions, so I was delighted when Todd (the winemaker, and super-nice-non-condescending guy) didn’t flinch. Even when I said the wine “jumped” on my tongue. Hey, people, I’m not making this up, a girl’s gotta start somewhere. (Is there a term for “I don’t know jack about wine, except when I taste one I like”?) Here’s what I learned (besides confirming that I LOVE Pinot Noir):
1st Thing I Learned at IFBC 2012:
It’s only tingly when you first open it: Wines have a certain carbonation effect that happens inside the bottle, as a result of fermentation. When you first open it, it feels like it’s bouncing off your tongue. As the wine comes into contact with the air outside the bottle, it dissipates. Or, as my home girl next to me jokingly said, “the pop rock” effect goes away. Who knew?
Some very talented people who chose to sit by me (or maybe they drew the short straw) and I carried on some laughter and enlightening conversations (… and sarcasm…):
Gabi from The Broke Ass Gourmet – As you might suspect from the title of her blog, she’s fun!
Peter from Hooks & Cooks – He kept the fun in sarcasm, and knowledgeable actual food writer (yes, I’m jealous, and perhaps unworthy), with some really insightful things to say.
And so it begins…
Friday morning brought the Evernote Food Blogger Meetup I coordinated. I met some users of Evernote, both experienced and newer users. (Wait, did you know I’m their Organization Ambassador this year? Well, you know now.) One of the attendees uses Evernote for medical research. Um, wow! That’s a level I’ve not taken it, so I was impressed!
I also met other users throughout the conference, when they saw my conspicuous sticker on my badge (ok, it was a tiny bit pink.) It was an easy conversation starter! Thanks to those who came to have a pastry and coffee with me that morning at Grand Central:
Meanwhile, in the conference halls…
I arrived early, and picked up my badge and a little bit of swag. I headed into the book fair, and hung out with my pal, Mary, as she was manning the Hashcapades book table. (If you haven’t yet, go check out the Hashcapades blog and Clark’s new book!) I took some time to look around at other books displayed in the hall, and met the lovely author of Food Blogging For Dummies, Kelly Senyei. What a complete sweetheart!
I picked up Kelly’s book a couple months ago, to learn the nuances of food blogging. Even though I’ve been a blogger since 2006 (which is about the time Noah was rounding up the animals in blogging years), I had much to learn about the food blogging segment. My original food blog was started in 2008, but you won’t be able to find it now, as it’s (mostly) part of this here blog you’re reading (oh, and some of those posts will never see the light of day again… cuz they suck.) Photos, food styling, recipe writing and writing in general on my part were needing to step up a bit.
That’s where Kelly’s book came in, and I am grateful to her for it. It was a pleasure to meet her – she’s a bright spot of sunshine! If you’ve never heard of her blog, go check it out: Just a Taste blog.
2nd Thing I Learned at IFBC 2012:
Sometimes people you want to meet are as cool as you think they are, and maybe cooler than you had hoped. Duh, I know, but it bears repeating!
The rest of the day was spent in sessions (see a comprehensive list here) and meeting other food bloggers. After a lightning round of all kinds of food from around Oregon, we headed off to breakout sessions throughout the conference rooms. After filling our heads and notebooks with information, it was time to sample some more local food and wine. And a little more wine… somehow I missed the vodka table. Curses.
What I didn’t count on soaking up every second of, was the pig butchering. Yes. Pig. Butchering.
>It lay there, half a pig, on a table, surrounded by a broad selection (herd? treasure trove?) of knives. I was completely intrigued, and then she started to show the process of taking it from this raw state, to protein we grill on the barbeque, slow cook in the oven, or braise in stock. I could not turn away. I was hynotized, and immersed in this labor intensive process I had never seen before. Did you know that a tenderloin on an animal who’s had the good fortune of roaming around, is surprisingly small, about the size of a daikon radish? Forget that dinosaur sized tenderloin the size of a pool noodle floating device. Totally different scenario.
One of the most fascinating bits about this demonstration (besides the tools she was using… let’s just say, THAT’S how you sell a knife), was her explanations. This section would become prosciutto, this was bacon, these could be cut larger for double chops (or something like that). Getting an idea of where the food comes from, and how long it actually takes to break it all down, I’m sure there were those who turned away, and couldn’t watch it. The first few minutes were a little out of my comfort zone (like when she sawed off the trotters), but I wanted, even needed, to know what this process took to get meat on the table. I came away from that table with a new appreciation for the animal, and where my bacon comes from. I appreciate it more, and surprisingly, want it less, and savor it completely when I do consume it. It deserves respect and careful selection. The conversation I had with Camas after the demo was equally enlightening. I’m planning to take a class where she teaches us ordinary folk to do what she did, only it will take four hours. Learning takes time.
(You can learn more about the Portland Meat Collective classes here.)
3rd Thing I Learned at IFBC 2012:
Learning about pig butchery is fascinating. Ironically, I eat less bacon, buy the good stuff, and appreciate it more. I feel better knowing the animals we eat had a good life. We are, quite literally, what we eat.
Day two started off with much needed coffee. Throughout the day, I learned about food blog monetization, SEO for food blogs, recipe writing & development, and “the devil in the details” for food writers.
The last session I attended was with Kathleen Flinn, chef and author of The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry. I read this book months ago. I admired Kathleen’s writing style, and was looking forward to her session. IFBC had run her session (and others) twice in a row, taking away that agonizing decision of which subject we love more. You could almost have it all!
I came in for the second round of the session, and sat down at the table. There were a few stragglers from the first round, and they had rave reviews for what was to come. They informed us of Kathleen’s request for volunteers to read the writing exercises throughout the session. Gulp. I vowed there was not a chocolate bar’s chance in a room stacked with PMS-ing women that I would raise my hand. Uh-uh.
As the session got underway, and she pointed out numerous writing blunders most bloggers make, I shrunk down in my chair, sure I was the only one in the room making such obvious missteps. Oy. The first writing exercise made my brain hurt, and I kept my vow to leave my hand firmly resting on the tabletop. I ain’t no sucker, friend.
Then we wrote the second exercise, and it happened.
My hand shot up like gravity had released itself only within the footprint of my chair. And she called on me. I think I babbled something about “being terrified”, and read my feeble sentences aloud. When I was done, I looked up from my words, and waited her critique. She turned her head to the side, and after a couple agonizing seconds said, “I like it.” Well, roll me in chocolate and cover me with sprinkles! Kathleen Flinn liked my sentences! *insert lip biting Roger Rabbit dance move here* (She also had some suggestions to make it better, and I have every intention of using those words in a forthcoming blog post.)
4th Thing I Learned at IFBC 2012:
Spontaneous, fear-be-damned hand raising can have surprising results.
We rounded out the day with a Farm to Table dinner put on by Wildwood Restaurant and Oregon Wines. As I sat at the table, and overheard a conversation three chairs away, my ears perked.
“Are you Nicole?” I asked.
“Yes I am.”
It turns out the book I had been schlepping around all day (Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots, by Nicole Young), was indeed the work of someone three chairs from me at dinner, in a room of what must have been at least 200 people. I sheepishly asked her to autograph my book, which she did. I ended up talking with her and another blogger for what must have been an hour after dinner. What a delightful gal, who lives surprisingly nearby.
Later on, we visited the MailChimp after party. Let’s just say there were knitted monkey hats, wine, a photo booth and a whole lotta crazy going on. I stayed for a little while, and chatted with some of my new friends. No, they did not lure me into that photo booth. What happens at IFBC stays at IFBC.
5th Thing I Learned at IFBC 2012:
The person you
forgot you were stalking wanted to meet might be close enough to pass the (blogworthy) butter.
A huge thank you!
All in all, IFBC was a fantastic experience. As I have at other conferences, I enjoyed the hallway conversations, food and new connecctios just as much as the sessions. As unlike other conferences, the food was quite tasty. Thanks to all those who were involved in pulling it off: the organizers, food purveyors, winemakers, chefs, artisans and sustainable companies who kept us well fed (and some a little tipsy at times). Thanks also to all the bloggers and people in the industry I met over the course of the event, who made my first food blogger conference a memorable experience.
See you all at IFBC 2013 in Seattle!
Go check out some of these other bloggers I met over the weekend: