Wednesday, September 1, 2010

2010 International Food Bloggers Conference Recap: The Unbearable Lightness of Being Influential

I rarely get sick, but somehow caught a head cold (or as the local's refer to it, "nasal grunge") in Seattle, at the 2010 International Food Bloggers Conference. I've been hitting the cold medicine pretty hard, and this had delayed any attempt at a coherent recap. Instead of continuing to wait, I figured what the heck, this is my personal blog after all, I'll just post all the rambling, half-baked thoughts I have so far, and call it a day. Really, how much worse could it be?

By the way, since I was actually at t
he IFBC to report on things for my American Food site on, I will be posting a less-ridiculous blog article about the event sometime this week. But, for now, here's what I got. You've been warned.

The only thing better than being told you are influential, is being told you are influential for three days by the leaders of your industry, while enjoying beautifully made food, fine wine, and craft beer. Oh, and did I mention the event was held in a chocolate factory? Such was the case at the 2010 International Food Bloggers Conference in Seattle.

We're all way past the point of wondering whether the food blog phenomenon is a passing fad – it's clearly not – but when it comes to real, quantifiable, billable (bribable?), monetizable influence, have online taste-makers eclipsed those in traditional media?

I sure hope so. This is fun. Let's see, which restaurant chain should we bring down this week? After that, just to mess with people, let's all write that stewed prunes are the new macaron. We could start a whole new movement.

The event kicked off Friday evening with a reception at the Hotel Monaco, hosted by Foodista & Zephyr Adventures. An impressive array of appetizers and drinks helped the 250 attendees settle in for what would be a busy weekend of telling each other how influential we are, and pretending we read everyone else's blogs. This has to do with what I call the Food Blogger Paradox.

I rarely use the word paradox correctly, and this is probably no exception, but the more knowledgeable and successful a food blogger becomes, the fewer food blogs they read, and the less knowledgeable about food blogs they become. Paradox or not, at the very least, this paragraph has some decent key word density.

So, at these gatherings, you can simply pretend that you read Mary's post on the deconstructed "quinoa, pork belly, salted caramel canel├ęs," or, like me, just admit you haven't had time yet. If you're lucky, no offense will have been taken, and if you're really, really lucky, Mary will give you a little recap of the post, orally. By the way, I hate it when people confuse "snarky" and "sarcastic."

Despite my insecurities re
garding not being up on everyone's latest post, the reception was a blast. Talking to so many smart, funny, passionate people about a shared joy never gets old. Also, the beer was very strong…like, I-forgot-the-name strong.

Swag-bagged bloggers floated around from small group to group, forming spontaneous flash cliques, which only existed for a few moments before the cast changed, and another formed around an entirely different topic.

The appetizers were very nice; my personal favorite being renaissance-faire-sized lamb chops. I first learned of its fragrant existence from a close-talker, who waved the lamp chop in my face rhythmically, like a hypnotist's watch. We discussed Twitter, SEO, and cooks with tattoos, but mostly she made me hungry.

The star of the evening was speaker Morgan Spurlock of "Super Size Me" fame. He rallied the troops with talk of using the new power of food bloggers as a weapon in the fight to improve America's diet. Good luck with that. He's not fooling me one bit.

My sources deep inside the independent film industry tell me that whole documentary was an elaborate hoax simply designed to give Spurlock (if that is even his real fake name), and his a-little-too-hip facial hair, an excuse to eat at McDonald's every day for a month. Well played, you ruggedly handsome bastard, well played.

Saturday and Sunday were filled with a wide variety of topical sessions, held inside the beautiful Theo Chocolate factory. The space had a very unique vibe, with super-high ceilings, garnished with vintage-looking candelabra light fixtures. It's the kind of place one of those affected design reality show contestants would get all aroused over. The bowls of amazing chocolate shards in the back of the room didn't hurt either.

Barnaby Dorfmann, founder of Foodista, was the event's MC, and gets huge props for keeping everything moving, on schedule, and relatively on-topic – no small feat for these types of affairs. In fact, it was so smoothly run, part of me suspects foul play.

The lectures and panel discussions ran the gamut from the practical, "The Art of Recipe Writing," lead by fellow San Franciscan, and food blogger "O.G." Amy Sherman (who knew a debate on semicolon use could be so exciting?) – to the surreal, "Writing With All Five Senses" – an exercise led by author Kathleen Flinn, where we were asked to describe a lemon using all fives senses, without using the word "lemon." What followed was as predictable as it was borderline inappropriate.

Let's just say that many of the bloggers' creative skill
s outpaced their powers of self-editing. For a little taste, or lack there of, search the hashtag #IFBC and "lemon." In a related story, projecting the Twitterfeed live all weekend was the best idea ever.

Admittedly, I didn't technically "learn" anything during that specific session. So what? Was that a requirement? It was fine with me it just ended up being funny. On balance, I thought the sessions where interesting, informative, and entertaining.

Some of the highlights:

My friend Shauna James Ahern, aka Gluten-Free Girl (seen here getting all smart-phony with husband Danny), made everyone in the audience feel special during the "Food Blogging For Specialized Diets" session. It's not about what you can't eat; it's about what you can. Amen, sister.

James Oseland, Editor-in-Chief of Saveur Magazine, gave everyone goosebumps during his keynote address at Saturday's Winemaker’s Dinner. More than just delivering a pep talk, Oseland thoughtfully reinforced the message of just how influential the food blogging community is, and will continue to be.

Please keep in mind, that's coming from someone who's magazine we're supposedly putting out of business. He even referred to himself as a sort of food blogger back before there was an Internet. It was a great speech.

One tip: if you have the flu, and James Oseland starts walking towards you with a sharpened coin, run. Sorry, I do realize there are only 250 people in the world that will understand that reference.

Speaking of sharp coins, Penny De Los Santos received a well-deserved standing ovation at the end of her Digital Food Photography lecture and slideshow. Her stuff is so damn good, I felt like smashing my camera against the giant pig truck parked outside. Yes, there was a giant pig truck parked outside.

Robin Goldstein, IP attorney and wine blogger, during the Law & Ethics of Food Blogging session, completely and utterly eviscerated the Wine Spectator…tore out their rotting guts and strangled them with it. Long story short: their "Awards of Excellence" are total bullshit. This was blogger-as-influencer personified.

There's nothing sexier than someone endowed with a huge, throbbing brain, and by the time Goldstein finished making all those brilliant points, and using all those cool adjectives, he had the predominately female audience in full worship mode.

To help his cause further, I decided to sit next to him at dinner, so that he would seem even hotter by comparison. Well, I was sitting next to him, until one of the aforementioned bloggers asked (and by asked, I mean told) me to move, so she could sit next to him.

Besides all the wonderful inedible information, there was tons of fantastic "eating and drinking," as we influential food bloggers like to call it. I should probably do a separate post on just the food. I was really impressed with virtually everything the large collection of chef's prepared.

From the usual local suspects like salmon, mushrooms, and blackberries, to the more strange and exotic offerings, like hot dogs, I found the food to be plentiful and delicious. Pictured here was one of my favorites, Chef Shannon Galusha's marinated octopus with chickpeas, preserved lemon, and chorizo vinaigrette.

A few folks complained about not getting to try this, or that, but I mostly attribute that to not having my buffet-grazing skills. You know that Man vs. Wild lunatic? I'm "that guy" for buffets at food fests. When the covers come off, I go full Bear Grylls.

On Sunday, we were treated to an extra special lunch from the finest food trucks Seattle has to offer. There is no trend as hot as food trucks right now (well, maybe except for stewed prunes).

It was epic, and I mean epic in the true poetic sense, not the casual way food bloggers throw it around nowadays. Dude, the tartar sauce was good, but it wasn't epic.

In conclusion: I had a great time, learned some new tricks, was inspired many times, and would definitely recommend the event to any food blogger with the ways and means to attend. I met so many great people for the first time, as well as reconnected with friends from the past foodie adventures.

Well, I need to go take some more cold medicine, so I'll end this rambling stir-fry of a recap right here. Besides, it's almost 4 PM and I still have a bunch of influencing to do. Stay tuned for more conventional coverage soon!

All photos (c) John Mitzewich, except 3rd,4th,and 5th photos (c) Foodistablog's Flickr photostream

More Great 2010 International Food Bloggers Conference Recaps:

Use Real Butter: IFBC 2010 Recap and Then Some
Stephanie Stiavetti: I Heart IFBC! on Wasabimon
Salty Seattle: International Food Bloggers Conference: Sex, but No Drugs or Rock n Roll
Poor Girl Eats Well: International Food Bloggers Conference Reception, Morgan Spurlock and Urbanspoon Seattle Scene party!
ShowFood Chef: Food, Photos, Friends (and other sexy stuff) at IFBC
FoodBat: Another Less Favorable Perspective on the IFBC
Paula Thomas Photography: 2010 International Food Blogger Conference Recap
Will Write For Food: Giving Recipes Away a Big Subject at IFBC
Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: IFBC and Book Giveaway
Gourmeted: Why I don’t Eat SEO for Lunch, plus the Triumvirate of Food Blogging Events


Blaine said...

chef Gordon Ramsay would love to see your blog

Bull City Food said...

Excellent recap of IFBC... I had many of the same thoughts. So far I've only managed to post on the first night. Those lamb chops were amazing as were the little fish sandwiches from Crush Restaurant. Did you try those? I also loved the octopus from Saturday. Mmmm so much delicious food. And, oh yea, some good information too.

Amy Sherman said...

Fab post, you had me laughing out loud!

Chef John said...

Thanks! Very high praise indeed! Can I quote you on Twitter with that? I'm just about to do some aggressive tweeting. ;-)

Andrea Meyers said...

Though I also wrote my IFBC post while high on cold medicine, yours is way funnier. Loved meeting you!

Veeda said...

I love your point of view. I wish I could have gotten a chance to meet you, maybe next time. Oh, and yes then twitter feeds were hilarious!

Anonymous said...

Wow. What kind of cold medicine are you taking? I want me some. You were really on a roll!!!!!

showfoodchef said...

Loved the whole rambling - you may want to consider a link to that cold medicine. Really enjoyed your post!

Amber said...

This is just hilarious! Nice to have met you. Until the next #IFBC...

Unknown said...

Were we at the same conference? Just kidding! What are you like without Meds? Great review of the weekend.

Marie (Food Nouveau) said...

Funniest IFBC recap ever! You had me laughing out loud and it's no small feat, since I'm afflicted by a very nasty flu and been in bed for the last two days. (Do we all share the same bug?)

Get well soon and thanks for sharing :)

Alice said...

This is one of the best recaps I've read so far. I was literally LOL. Bravo! It was also great meeting you!

TableTalkPeha said...

Excellent re-cap! You hit on pretty much everything. I agree with a few others - no need to write one now - you summed it all up! I'm still chuckling. Glad you liked the lamb.

Dawn (KitchenTravels) said...

I'm heading to bed, and too tired to search the hashtag #IFBC and "lemon" before I go to sleep. But darn, now I'm not sure I'll be able to rest peacefully until I see the results! Great recap, wish I could have been there. The IFBC tweets from various attendees were alternately hilarious and informative.

Elana said...

Great post --gives a real flavor to those of us that weren't there!

Unknown said...

Great post, I felt like I was there. No, wait. I was there! I thought I was the only one who went home with a cold. Hmmm....250 bloggers in one room for two days...yep. That's how it happens.

Chef John said...

Thanks everyone!! Glad you got a chuckle from the post.

MPG Narratives said...

Yumm and very funny, great post.

Anonymous said...

Daym Chef! If that was incoherent, I am afraid to visit - I may be blown away!

Your Man vs. Wild snippet brought a big grin to my face! BTW How do you rate Bear Grylls' culinary skills?

Mardi Michels said...

Fantastic recap! Not just a fabulous produce of videos, a talented writer! Great to meet you this weekend.

Chef Gwen said...

You're hilarious! I would have made Robin Goldstein move so I could sit next to you.

Chef John said...

thanks again everyone for the kind words!

The Italian Dish said...

Enjoyed reading your recap. Seriously thought of going, but will be at BlogHer in San Fran in October. IFBC next year! Great links at the end of your post, too.

Bernard Pivot said...

1. a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.
2. a self-contradictory and false proposition.
3. any person, thing, or situation exhibiting an apparently contradictory nature.
4. an opinion or statement contrary to commonly accepted opinion.

Hope this helps :)

gapey said...

Loved the post and the pics. I think writing about the food in a separate post is a great idea. Wish I had thought of doing that before writing mine. It's WAY long and I only attended for one day.

Grant said...

Thanks for the funny recap - helps those of us who weren't there :(

Barnaby Dorfman said...

Very funny...great photos, glad I got to meet you! Not sure what sort of foul play you have in mind...but I'd love any suggestions you may have....mwuuuaaahaaahhaaaaa!

Kathleen said...

Great post. I love the "paradox." I think that's accurate.

Chef John said...

Thanks Barnaby and Kathleen! So, glad I got to meet you guys. It was a really fun weekend! Looking forward to No.3.

Jen Yu said...

You cheeky monkey, you! I totally hear you on not reading other blogs - it isn't a preference thing, it's a time issue! That's why these gatherings are so important. Then I get real face time w your hilarious self and next month, I get to see your beautiful wife too!! xoxo

Chef John said...

Yes! More blogger conferences I say! Maybe one a month, always in some cool local w/ even cooler people. And the food, don't even get me started on the food.

ClaireWalter said...

I didn't even know there was such a thing as a food bloggers' organization, let alone a group. Another frontier for my to cross.

Anonymous said...

Chef John--I think your "cold" was probably an allergic reaction to the ubiquitous mold that seems to permeate Seattle due to its infamous rainy weather.

Don't get me wrong--I love Seattle and its people but that is just a fact of life. I am, however, happy to live on the other side of the mountains.

feedyourself said...

Chef John,

I never got the change to say hi but I kept spotting you in the crowd. Next year. Your post is epic, dude. This was my first conference and I had a good time, in spite of a few frustrations.

Janine said...

Next time please invite me to come with you! ;-)

Dianne Jacob said...

Could I get some of that cold medicine too, please? Maybe I could be as funny as you.

What a refreshing change to read a conference recap like this. I hope you are going to BlogHer Food so I can look forward to another one.

Oh and just for the record, here is my post about the session on recipe writing you mentioned:

Sari @ Cook Your Dream said...

Love your hilarious influential recap! :) I wish I was there!

Chef John said...

thanks Diane! i just linked to your recap as well. Not going to Blogher but live in SF, so don't be surprised if you see me at a party or two, ;-)

Carrie Oliver said...

Did someone really ask you to move so she should sit next to Robin Goldstein? That is hilarious!

Thanks for the fun read, you brought back all my positive memories of this fun event. I used to have buffet-grazing skills, carefully honed at industry parties (now likely banned) on Capitol Hill. Sadly, I've let those muscles atrophy over the years so I missed out on some great food.