Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My First Food Blogging Conference

It's been a year since I started this food blog. In that time I've eaten, written, and learned a lot. But I truly didn't know how much I don't know about the world of food blogging until I attended the BlogHer Food conference in San Francisco. On this brilliantly sunny Saturday in October, I played sponge for a day, soaking in ideas, words of wisdom, tastes, and tips.

Some key learnings and insights:

- Food blogging really hasn't been around that long. It's estimated that fewer than twenty food bloggers existed in 2003.  Many old-timers have been blogging only since 2006. So this whole world has exploded in just the past four years or so.

- Many very successful food blog sites exist that I had never even heard of. Some get over 100,000 hits a day, or have over 200,000 registered users. We even have food blogger celebrities. Check out some of the blogs from people who spoke at the conference: Michael Ruhlman (he even has groupies), Serious Eats, Simply Recipes, Gluten-Free Girl, and the Pioneer Woman. We newbies have a lot to learn from these leaders in the field.

- I sat down at breakfast next to a nice looking woman. What a delight when I found out she is probably the world's #1 food stylist. Delores Custer is a legend, having worked and taught in the field for thirty years, including teaching at NYU and The Culinary Institute of America, and with Julia Child on her baking cookbook. I loved learning so many tips and tricks about what makes food look mouthwatering, such as white plates best highlighting food visually, using tools like steam irons to make cheese melt just so on top of chili, and how food styling has changed since the 50s. What a treat to meet Delores and learn from her wealth of experience. 

- We took a tour of the Ferry Building and learned a lot about its history, architecture, and incredible array of food available there. We also participated in a fun scavenger hunt, taking photos of various food items in the building. For lunch I had a delicious and quick steamed chicken bao and iced Vietnamese coffee from Out the Door. I ate it outside by the bay while people watching. What could be better?

- Food bloggers are a fun and passionate group of people: mostly female (at least at this conference), interesting, supportive, and in love with food and writing. Here no one had to apologize for their foodie obsessions, sharing in minute detail what they ate for lunch, the latest recipe under development, or how to make homemade almond milk. We could talk about the craft of writing, sharing our anxieties and triumphs in the way that writers do. We're all unraveling the technology, potential, and platform of blogs. I loved learning what other bloggers are passionate about and what they're doing, learning from a variety of seminars: recipe writing, storytelling, building a blog brand, food styling, writing tips, food photography, and building an online community.

- I ordered three books after the conference. Dianne Jacob has written a new edition of 'Will Write For Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More' which includes an entirely new section about blogging.   I've already read the first edition of her book but wanted to order the new version with its blogging guide. I also ordered Anthony Bourdain's new book 'Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook', after reading an interesting and convincing review on Michael Ruhlman's blog.   I have Bourdain's 'Kitchen Confidential' and 'No Reservations' books and enjoyed them both, and had a memorable Kepler's Bookstore sponsored dinner with him at the Left Bank restaurant a couple of years ago. Finally, I ordered Delores Custer's 'Food Styling: The Art of Preparing Food for the Camera' which took her fifteen years to write. It looks absolutely gorgeous, inspiring, and extremely informative. And I'm still so thrilled that I got to have breakfast with her.

I love discovering that there's so much more to discover about food blogging. For me it's a hobby, a creative outlet that combines writing, food, the Internet, and phototography. Now I see it's also a community, both in person and online, and a way to connect with others. The conference exceeded my expectations: I learned what I need to learn and do next to cultivate this blog. Time to get started.

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