IFBC NOLA: The Highlights
Plenty of power strips for which to plug in your laptop and tweet until your fingers are numb. Renowned speakers including Dianne Jacob (author, Will Write for Food) and Andrew Scrivani (photographer, New York Times). Meals provided by some of New Orleans’ best restaurants. Sounds like a food blogger’s paradise, eh? Hence, the stage was set for the 2011 International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC) in NOLA this past weekend.
As a relatively novice food blogger, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from my first ever blogging conference and I was a little nervous packing up to leave. I’ve only been blogging for 8 months and many of the bloggers attending have years under their belts. I still take all my food photos with my phone (seriously) while most bloggers attending use professional DSLR cameras and multiple lenses to shoot. What if I was the newest blogger there? What if I was the only one without a fancypants camera? What if I wasn’t taken seriously?
Luckily, my fears were unrealized (except the camera part, I need one). I was overwhelmed by how welcoming and easygoing the food blogging community (or at least the members attending this conference) is to those at every level. The first person I met while checking in was a fun and engaging woman named Catherine who hadn’t even started her blog yet and was attending with the hopes of learning how. Phew, I definitely wasn’t the newest blogger! Throughout the weekend I met bloggers at every stage of their blogging “career,” all with very different points of view. I learned a lot just from conversing with them, not the least of which is that I really want a DSLR camera to upgrade my photography. Everyone else takes such beautiful photos and I have camera envy. Time to start saving my pennies!
Here’s a condensed version of the highlights of my trip. Hopefully you’ll feel like you got to come with me – I wish I could have taken you all (or y’all as they would have said down in Louisiana)!
The weekend was jam-packed with speakers, breakout sessions and demonstrations. Unfortunately, two of the breakout sessions I was most interested in attending (Recipe Writing and Development vs Marketing Your Brand) were at the same time. In the end, I chose to attend the recipe writing session and I’m so glad I did. I’m not sure what I missed in the branding session, but the distinguished panel leading the recipe workshop was phenomenal and the content was the best and most valuable I received all weekend. Dianne Jacob, author of Will Write For Food and one of the foremost authorities on food writing, moderated the discussion alongside fellow panelists Deb Perelman (of extremely popular blog Smitten Kitchen) and successful blogger and culinary instructor Kate McDermott (of Art of the Pie).
We discussed a wide variety of food writing related subjects, including giving credit when adapting a recipe, writing for your audience, the placement of photos in posts, developing recipes for outside companies and what that’s worth, how to discuss money with those approaching you for recipes, how to make the leap into paid writing assignments (where to look, who to approach, how much to expect) and how many times you test a recipe before you post it to your blog. Deb Perelman also crafted an exquisite peanut butter & jelly sandwich and we all did an exercise in writing our own version of the recipe for it in two minutes. My header notes were “Soft, fluffy white bread with an ample amount of stick-to-the-roof-of your-mouth peanut butter and a sweet layer of strawberry preserves nestled between. Nostalgia in your mouth.” It was a fantastic session.
Below are the other sessions I attended and one standout point or discussion from each:
- Blogging Your Values – should bloggers ask their readers for donations to support the time and effort they put into their blog? (Don’t worry, my view was no)
- Food Styling & Photography – Drips, smoke and spills all make enticing photos
- Writing about Food & Culture – Culture is not limited to ethnicity and religion, part of my culture as a Buffalonian is that we’re willing to tailgate in below freezing temperatures, or that we’d never serve ranch dressing with Buffalo wings
- Video Blogging – Don’t try to emulate a cooking show – stay out of the video! People want to see the food and what’s happening with your hands, not your face.
- Restaurant Reviewing – Don’t tell the restaurant staff that you’re writing a review. Don’t spend the entire meal tweeting, typing and photographing or you’ll miss the experience of the meal – stay engaged and focus on the food.
I was also treated to a speech regarding sustainability from Poppy Tooker, a cooking demonstration from Louisiana’s Chef John Folse and an engaging and entertaining speech from chef and New Orleans restaurateur John Besh.
As you probably imagine, they fed us foodies well at the conference, so I have multiple food highlights. The first were the mouth-watering appetizers provided by Muriel’s Restaurant during our “wine hour” on the first day which included prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and amazing shrimp and goat cheese crepes. I’m pretty sure I moaned with pleasure while eating those. I didn’t get any photos, but you can see them in the pics from the conference that Foodista posted here, if you’re interested. The second highlight was lunch on Saturday which consisted of a lineup of local restaurants each giving us a taste of authentic N’awlins cuisine. There was shrimp ‘n’ grits, alligator gumbo and po’boys galore. I’m not usually a big seafood fan (you’ll notice I don’t really cook with it often) but I decided to be adventurous and try everything (even the alligator).
Dinner Saturday night was another highlight, with a filet that melted into slices at the touch of my butter knife. At first I thought “it’s weird that they didn’t bring us steak knives,” but as soon as I cut in I saw it wasn’t required. My favorite part of the meal, however, was definitely the beautifully styled white chocolate crème brulee with a “blood orange infused Courvoisier coulis.” Since it was a fancy meal I managed not to lick my plate on that one. Barely.
I had never been to New Orleans, and after this whirlwind weekend there, I’d definitely like to go back when I have more time to explore. The city acted as a gracious and grateful host, with many locals involved in the conference expressing their thanks for bringing the conference to their city. As you saw in my above discussion of the conference food, I got a great taste of their local cuisine, but with so many amazing restaurants I definitely want to go back for more. In particular, I’m intrigued by Sylvain, a restaurant I didn’t have time to go to, but heard deliciously enticing things about.
We were given a short break on Saturday afternoon and I was able to walk around New Orleans a bit with Lisa from The Cooking Bride and Catherine (blog TBD). We quickly browsed the French Market and then hoofed it to Café du Monde to get beignets (which are to die for). I got a brief glimpse of Jackson Square and momentarily stepped inside St. Louis Cathedral. We passed an assortment of street performers and artists cluttering the cobblestone walkways and a creepy man dressed as a pirate commented on my “treasure chest.” (ew) It was a speedy tour of NOLA, but it was a fun glimpse into the culture and the beauty of the city. Our hotel (Hotel Monteleone) was positioned perfectly to walk to Bourbon street or any of the major NOLA attractions. I would love to go back and participate in some of the fun tours they have available, like the Plantation Tour, Haunted Tour, French Quarter Tour, Garden District Tour and even the Swamp Tour.
Hint: don’t wear black!
I also got to experience a bit of the nightlife on Bourbon Street. On Friday night a company called Nosh (they have a phone app where you can rate and review menu items at different restaurants) ran a cocktail crawl to three very different bars in N’awlins: The Old Absinthe House (a tightly packed, pseudo-grungy bar with business cards tacked all over the walls and football helmets dangling from the ceiling), Arnaud’s French 75 (a classy cocktail lounge) and Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse (a cool jazz lounge with a refreshingly light and tasty Pear Flower Martini and great music). It was a culture shock to see groups of people wandering down the cobblestone streets with open containers of booze in their hands, but it made for a very relaxed, fun and laid-back party atmosphere.
Additional Miscellaneous Highlights
I have a few more highlights I wanted to make mention of that didn’t seem to fit into my above categories:
– During our Friday night “Cocktail Crawl,” Nosh ran a contest for us bloggers to try a signature cocktail at each location and then review it using their phone app. One blogger was chosen from those of us who completed the task and I won! My prize was a brand new Google Nexus One cell phone, which I can’t actually use, but I’m going to try to sell it on eBay. Hopefully that will result in my prize being $ that I can put towards a camera.
– We got swag! When celebrities attend big events like the Oscars they always get a gift bag (called swag) for attending, and being the VIPs that we are, we received swag at the conference as well. My favorite thing in my swag bag was definitely the Pecan Bacon Brittle from Leah’s Praline’s in New Orleans. Unique and delicious.
– I got to meet one of my “blog crushes.” I may have just made that term up, but a lot of you probably know what I mean. I follow a lot of food blogs, but there are a few that really stand out to me, where I feel like I know the person writing or I look up to them and just love reading their content. Andie Mitchell of the blog Can You Stay For Dinner? is one of these bloggers to me. Not only is her weight loss journey inspirational, but her attitude toward food, life, eating mindfully and exercise is one I aspire to share. Her writing is beautiful and her content is relatable, honest and refreshing. She posts delicious recipes and also vulnerable peeks into her life and mindset. For those of you who are wondering, YES, she is that gorgeous in person. She’s also very sweet and did not treat me like a crazy person when I basically accosted her in the ladies restroom to tell her how awesome I think she is and how I’d like to be where she is someday. As a matter of fact, she bought me a drink later. She is the real deal, and she’s one of the people who organized this whole conference on behalf of her job at Foodista, so she deserves a lot of credit for that as well.
Final Thoughts and Lasting Impressions
I know this has been a really long post, so for those of you who are still reading, thanks for sticking with me and maintaining interest in a non-recipe post! I’ll keep my closing short and sweet. I went to IFBC hoping I belonged and I left feeling so proud to be a part of such a great community. I love cooking and writing about food and it was really fun to spend time with others who share my passion. Additionally, after The Great Gumbo Debate that kept popping up throughout the weekend (Cajun vs Creole – what separates the two? Answer: Creole has tomatoes), I am definitely working on a gumbo recipe that you’ll probably see on here soon.
Oh, and did I mention I really want to buy a new camera?