Eat, drink, chat, blog – FBC5
The sun shone on Lavender Hill as I tramped up it towards my third Food Blogger Connect. This year I was ‘Chief of Tweets’ so spent a great deal of it glued to my iphone or computer, so enjoyed the conference in a slightly different way. As I’ve written before about what made me go in the first place and why anyone would want to go to a food blogger conference, here’s a bit about all the key ingredients that made up #FBC5 (the fifth anniversary).
David Lebovitz was as amusing offline as on it (see his from London here). Who else would write this answer for a prize draw trip to Canada ‘I want to visit Canada because….I can’t imagine life without maple syrup.’! His advice to stay true to who you are and blog about the quirky bits e.g. your mistakes as well as your successes really struck a chord. He is also a phenomenal grafter, despite his air of insouciance and told me he works all the time. He admitted to spending two hours to edit a post and testing recipes 17-18 times. Wowzah!. He also advocates making commenting on your blog as easy as possible – no captcha codes. Hear, hear.
Penny de los Santos was all about finding the story behind the food. She has been to some pretty terrifying places in order to do this. We were all entranced by her account.
I’ve always found that Niamh Shields comes across as, er…a bit formidable online. Being a complete whimp, I was rather nervous about meeting her. In reality she captivated me and everyone else with her warmth and Irish charm. Her talks about the blogging side of life were informative but when she took the floor to describe her visits to Canada she came alive and there were glimpses of the lengths she goes to really understand the food culture (delving into kitchens, tasting everything – flipper pie anyone?). At the end of it EVERYONE wanted to visit Canada!
The room was a bit hot and stuffy and after an excellent but technical session about editing recipes by Alison Bolus we were all flagging. Then Kerstin Rogers aka Ms Marmite Lover took that dreaded mid afternoon noon slot and it was like someone had just flicked the switch on Blackpool illuminations. Her stirring talk ranged from how she learned to cook (partly by sleeping with French men and then standing at the stove with their Mums; and she urged us to do the same), how every woman should have an independent income, to catering at dodgy festivals (no one on Ecstasy wants to eat anything until the morning when it wears off and they are desperate for a fry up). She set up the first supper club in the UK and kick started a whole movement. Confessing how ‘Ms Marmite Lover’ was used as a pseudonym at the beginning as she was terrified that she was breaking the law. She’s dealt with council regulations, planning, alcohol laws, even the London Underground who thought there might be confusion that her flat was a station (no kidding) and Warner Brothers who suggested she call her ‘Harry Potter’ themed evening ‘some other generic wizard’ dinner….which she did! Levity aside, she’s has my admiration for her impeccable, searingly honest writing and lyrical vocabulary, encyclopaedic food knowledge which she translates into very practical advice and the creativity of a true artist. And it wasn’t just me she inspired:
Some sound bites from some of the other compelling speakers:
For the many food bloggers who would like to take their content into print Ren Behan and Karen Burns-Booth detailed how to deal with magazine publishers. They recommended that digital magazines are not to be sneered at as many have greater readership figures than through traditional publishing.
Regula Ysewijn of Miss Foodwise is a walking embodiment of her brand, and, as a graphic designer, dissected all the key branding elements on and offline. An important question to ask yourself is exactly why it is you are blogging. And remember – a brand is not just a logo. In her passionate delivery I think she was the first person to use the F word during a presentation at FBC!
“Do something that scares you every day – it becomes addictive” – great advice from Dana Elemara, who left a high flying corporate career to found Arganic, a small food company that only sells 100% pure organic argan oil directly from trusted sources in Morocco.
One of the aims of Aine Morris of the Sustainable Food Trust is to bring about increased collaboration amongst all those working for better food. She quoted some impressive figures about how influential bloggers are as the reason we should all take our role as opinion formers very seriously. Our voices combined can have an impact on the way food systems and our world is shaped.
Many wise words of wisdom dropped from the lips of Aoife Cox of The Daily Spud but really (to borrow a phrase from Frank Carson) it was “the way I tell ‘em”. She spoke about creating a niche blog “I just love spuds” and humour in blogging where she recommended visiting some very funny blogs including this one.
Emily Jonzen styled the food for Penny’s workshop and also The Jewelled Kitchen. She gave a myriad of tips on how to make food in photographs look good and also gave an insight about what goes on behind the scenes for the stylised shots you see in adverts. When you next see a steaming turkey in an ad remember that it probably has boiling hot wet tampons stuffed inside it and boot polish on its skin! She prefers a much more natural look with her own projects. There was a point where she asked if she should answer questions or show more pics. “Show more pics” was the plaintive reply as over 100 bloggers slightly grabbed a tissue to mop their moistening mouths.
If anyone is thinking about writing about food in the UK, the Visit Britain talk was packed full of ideas of great content (visit the media page for some highlights). From the gin craze in London to the Ludlow food festival and everything in between, Britain is a very exciting place for food right now.
There were many more things to be learned – quite a few of the presentations are here.
Battersea Arts Centre is like Miss Havisham – a faded beauty. I’ll bet its 120 year old walls could tell some stories. Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst held suffragette meetings there when it was Battersea Town Hall. I wonder if there were cheering Ms Marmite Lover on from above? Edwardian baroque meets Arts and Crafts, there is a theme of bees running through the building most notably on the mosaic tiled floors. The rooms are elegant and labyrinthine and sunshine streamed in through the tall windows. The café, with deep red brocade walls, held all of us for brunch hosted by Chobani (with lovely recipes from Iris). The wireless connection could have been better but 150 food bloggers tweeting, instagramming and live blogging is quite an unusual strain on the system!
The theme of this year’s Food Blogger Connect was community and while I am perfectly happy to connect online it is meeting up offline is a real joy. I could spend the whole weekend nattering and eating. If I try to mention everyone they’ll just be a huge list and I’ll leave someone out. As bloggers travelled from all over Europe and North America it was fantastic to finally connect in real life with some old friends made virtually. Because of being glued to my tweets I didn’t meet as many new people as usual but loved finding new faces and putting many new blogs on my reader including:
Adventures in Fussy Eating – the best looking site I have come across in a long time
Chilli and Mint - foodie thoughts and recipes to make you smile
Hearty Food – beautiful food styling
Top with Cinnamon – young, talented blogger
Merlin Jobst – who came to FBC as a representative of Jamie Oliver but also has a music, photography and food blog of his own.
The street food wasn’t as varied or as abundant as last year; I believe this was due to a huge street food event on the same weekend. However, there were some treasures. Loved Dorshi – sushi made with local ingredients from Dorset (apart from the nori – they experimented with nettles and spinach but it didn’t work!). Yasmin from Lovedesh curry is either brave or mad. She lit a fire and cooked a Bangladeshi curry in a hanging pot (worth waiting for). I learned an awful lot about pepper from Peppermongers and will be replicating their pepper laced shortbread soon. Totally in love with the Funky Chicken van and who could resist a couple of tarts (especially when made with rhubarb from their garden)?
Not only did I hang round after the Lidgates excellent butchery demo to nibble
one two a few of their superlative lamb chops but ate the photography workshop steak as well (I have no shame). I was thrilled to meet Patricia Michelson of La Fromagerie again and made a serious dent in her cheese display especially the truffle brie – so ripe it was running off down Lavender Hill (infused with slices of truffle not that horrid old truffle oil).
Bethany gathered family members from Lebanon to help prepare a Middle Eastern feast and she buried herself in the kitchens for two whole days. Her husband was barbecuing aubergines for about the same length of time! The little pastry nests topped with venison meatballs and sour cherries caused many moans of pleasure! A great way to sample the recipes from The Jewelled Kitchen.
Ren not only spoke but did a pop up Polish Kitchen stall too and the food was divine especially the bigos. The honey and cherry vodkas in tiny ornate glasses went down well too (although it was the large measures of rum from the Appleton Estate stall that caused some merriment). Smacznego and Na Zdrowie.
The Chobani brunch was lovely – who knew that putting yoghurt in everything (including the scrambled egg) was such a good idea.
PS Tyrrells mustard pork crackling – oh yes.
If I didn’t meet you at FBC5 please say hello here – love to hear what you thought of it all. Have you been to any other blogger gatherings? Any you’d recommend? If not a blogger do you think we are all mad?
P.S. Only a few places left for the Food Styling and Photography workshop with Meeta K Wolf here in Dubai this October.