Friday, September 24, 2010

IFBC 2010: Day 2

Day two of the International Food Blogger Conference started the way more mornings should. Doughnuts! But no dunkin' around here, these were Seattle's best, yummy Top Pot Doughnuts. Combined with a cup of Caffé Vita coffee I was ready to dive into another day of culinary radness. The delicious irony was that the first session of the day was on the topic of "specialized diets" focusing on gluten-free and vegan... There was more than an audible rumble among some specialized bloggers about the choice of doughnuts (though frankly I found it a little obnoxious, as there was an entire table of wheat-free, vegan muffins from PCC Natural Markets and gluten-free muffins from Udi’s Gluten-Free...). I kept quiet and enjoyed my French cruller.
The Food Blogging For Specialized Diets panel starred Shauna James Ahern, author of the blog Gluten-Free Girl and the book Gluten-Free Girl: How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back…And How You Can Too (and I say star because this woman is loved by her disciples) and the quietly winning Alex Jamieson, author of Living Vegan for Dummies and The Great American Detox Diet. One of the most impactful moments of the weekend came at the beginning of this session when the panelists asked all of the vegans in the room to stand up, followed by vegetarians, then gluten-free, those with a wheat allergy, lactose intolerance, etc. all the way down to issues with spicy foods. By the end, basically everybody was standing, point being: everyone has a specialized diet. A laugh erupted when Jamieson was asked about her militant vegan critics and she responded "oh, don't get me wrong vegans drive me nuts!"
Next up was Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, a titillating session led by Dr. Nathan Myhrvold, CEO and found of Intellectual Ventures, a firm dedicated to creating and investing in inventions. Myhrvold gave an exciting visual preview of his soon-to-be-published multi-volume food and cooking book Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking. Meticulous cross section digital photographs and slow motion high-def video of spilling wine and gun-shot eggs had the room in enraptured silence. Myhrvold's books cover the science of cooking ("bread is actually a gel") but also include parametric recipes that make contemporary molecular gastronomy seem like child's play. A full live taping of the presentation can be viewed here.
The next session was far and away many bloggers' favorite, Digital Food Photography presented by Penny De Los Santos, award-winning documentary photographer (contributing photographer for Saveur Magazine, National Geographic and Martha Stewart Living, and cookbooks including the nationally acclaimed book “Asian Dumplings” by Andrea Nguyen). De Los Santos' slide show and stories were awe-inspiring, my only disappointment was that it was not a hands-on photography workshop as I somehow misunderstood, rather a conceptual overview and inspirational talk. What I took away and appreciated most though was De Los Santos' use of the term "making pictures", for we are not taking anything away, we are creating beautiful imagery.
Our lunch break on Sunday was an exciting one, featuring Gourmet Food Trucks of the Pacific Northwest. Familiar with the droves in LA I was intrigued what the Northwest had to offer. I couldn't get to all of them (regretfully missing El Camion and Dante’s Inferno Dogs) as I also had to fit in a Theo chocolate factory tour and time for enjoying some local beer selections from Pike Brewing Co.
Charles and Rose Ann Finkel might be THE most charming business owners I've ever met, and reading their adorable history on the Pike Brewing Co. site, I have an even more enormous amount of respect for the way they've built their empire. Rose Ann laughed while pouring us Kilt Lifter and Naughty Nellies, two of Pike's cheekily named brews.
My lunchtime partner-in-crime Sharon (of Delicious Musings) snuck us beers to make the truck queue more bearable.
My favorite bite was from Skillet, a grass fed beef burger slider with arugula, bacon jam and cambozola on a soft roll. So good! I want to buy this bacon jam (and apparently for a pretty penny I can).
Next we got in line at Kaosamai Thai. Their Pla Sam Rose was the most gorgeous street food I've ever seen, an elegant deep-fried trout topped with fresh sliced mango, red onion, carrot, cashew nuts and a sweet & sour dressing. Their pineapple curry with salmon was also top notch.
The Georgetown neighborhood's Hallava Falafel truck represented, serving a tasty slow roasted lamb shawarma served with Russian red relish, spinach and cabbage mix, tzatziki, wild Armenian pickle, and a "super secret" spice mix on a warm pita.
Sharon enjoyed the wild Armenian pickle with her crispy falafel.
I was impressed with the portable wood-fired oven Rolling Fire employed, the closest thing to a truly portable restaurant yet. The crust of the white pies was bubbly, crisp and light. Ingredients were clearly farm-fresh, a refreshingly clean pizza!
I didn't indulge in one of Anita’s Crepes, but always enjoy watching the process...
Olive Oil ice cream sounded soo good, I was very excited to try a taste. Unfortunately the pointed Molly Moon’s Ice Cream vendor declared that he was closed and told the woman in front of me that she was the last customer. I looked behind me and there was no one. I waved and asked if he could make an exception given it's only one more... and he shook his head. The blogger in front of me loudly exclaimed "Sorry!" over her shoulder. Dumbstruck I left the line, not terribly stoked for ice cream anymore. More beer!
Though not part of the corral of IFBC-sponsoring trucks, the Maximus Minimus truck had an undeniable presence, serving porcine dishes to the neighboring farmer's market crowd.
Sharon and I finished our beers and headed to the main Theo building for our guided factory tour. Our docent Kathleen was totally awesome. After a run-down of exactly where the cocoa beans come from and how Theo stands apart from other chocolate companies, she walked us through the color-coded process under the roof that produces all chocolate bearing the Theo logo. Their small batch chocolate production is truly an art form!
Goodies from the Theo chocolate shop...(You can taste everything!)
Capturing the magic that is Theo's PB&J chocolate truffle... Meanwhile, back at the ranch lunch was definitely over.
Photo contest winners were picked for capturing and posting the best food truck images, judged by IFBC presenters.
And then the final, highly-anticipated panel: Pitch to Publish, lead by Victoria von Biel, Executive Editor of Bon Appétit, Kirsty Melville, President, Book Division at Andrews-McMeel, and food blogger It girl Molly Wizenberg, Bon Appétit columnist, author of the blog, Orangette, and A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table. Here is where the bloggers' burning questions finally came out, receiving both helpful advice and also some discouraging realities in return. Presenter Dianne Jacob from the first panel of the weekend won me over yet again with a devil's advocate rebuttal to the panel's [sometimes vacantly] encouraging advice: How many cold submissions are ever actually published at Bon Appétit or by Andrews-McMeel? The answer was obviously none, and the panel smiled knowingly, as did Dianne and half of the room. Naturally, following the presentation the line to meet these women was a long one.
I think with everything I learned throughout the weekend, a certain clarity and pride about what I already do was the most beneficial take-away. Every panel dropped the line at least once "you're here because you love it, it's not supporting you, it's your passion." Nor is it a popularity contest, as James Oseland stated. Wizenberg's cornerstone advice was to have a story to tell. And the burrito baby of all of it is to keep on truckin'. So I am.
This is my story, World. Eat it up.

Monday, September 20, 2010

IFBC 2010: Day 1

I was amazed I made it on time. The clock was not my friend the first morning of the International Food Blogger's Conference, head heavy from a long line of wine tastes and "Pom-tinis" the night prior. But I made it to Seattle's beloved Theo Chocolate factory bright and early in time for the first panel.
The continental breakfast was prevailed by Bakery Nouveau's french pastries, alongside offerings from PCC Natural Markets, Driscoll’s Berries and coffee from Caffé Vita. The massive berries and strong coffee helped get my mojo going...
The first panel presentation was on the Art of Recipe Writing, which I admit sounded a little dry for 8:30am. That said, it ended up being one of my favorite sessions of the weekend, thanks to the lovably opinionated panel of Amy Sherman, food writer and recipe developer (author of Williams-Sonoma New Flavors for Appetizers: Classic Recipes Redefined and the blog Cooking with Amy), Dianne Jacob, best-selling author of Will Write for Food, and Kristine Kidd, cookbook author, blogger, and former food editor at Bon Appétit. "Do NOT give away recipes!" Sherman urged, to approving nods from Jacob and Kidd. Topics included the ins and outs of the recipe development business, rates, the imperative of thorough testing, nutritional data resources, and recipe writing peeves. "Season to taste" at your own risk!
The next session on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Building Traffic, and Social Media was the one I sharpened my pencil for. With several years under my belt, I definitely still have a lot of trouble growing traffic. Joy Victory, "Editorial Czar" covered blog traffic and analytics, while CEO Barnaby Dorfman (the overall conference moderator) gave some great advice and resources on SEO and building revenue. Mani Dhillon from presented the benefits of using their "spoon backs" in restaurant blogging to reciprocally help build traffic.

For more on any of the specific panels discussed, you can view the full associated power point presentations here
I was decidely too hungover to fully immerse myself in Kathleen Flinn's rollicking workshop Writing With All Five Senses, but appreciated the anecdotes read aloud by attendees, bringing the at-times bawdy tone of the conference's ongoing Twitter commentary to the surface for a good communal laugh. Flinn was buoyant and charming as a teacher, I can see why she sells out her writing course at Richard Hugo House in Seattle. I was certain to pick up her book “The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry” along with Dianne Jacob's at the Readers to Eaters booth during the lunch break.
After a long morning inside, lunch out in the sunshine was a welcoming respite. Bloggers mobbed the tables presenting small plates (on Bambu renewable serveware) with wine pairings by the Walla Walla Wine Alliance. First was the gorgeous dish by Chef Shannon Galusha of Bastille, Marinated Octopus with Chickpeas, Preserved Lemon, and Chorizo Vinaigrette - Suggested paired with Skylite Cellars 2008 Sierra (73% Pinot Gris & 27% Sauvignon Blanc). I was shocked how ravenously I consumed the little bugger, perfectly matched with the sturdy chickpea and warming chorizo dressing. My favorite of the bunch.
Next I happily gobbled down the Steak Tartare by Chef Daisley Gordon of Campagne, with a 2007 Windward Canyon "Artist Series" Cabernet Sauvignon.
Chef John Howie of Seastar Restaurant presented a gorgeous King Salmon Carpaccio so thin it was practically absorbed by the porous Bambu plate. Flavor was so light that even the crisp L’Ecole No. 41 2008 Semillon-Columbia Valley overpowered my palate.
The popular Chef Jason Stratton from Spinasse garnered enthusiastic rooting upon taking to stage to announce his dish, a Zucchini in Capione with Fennel and Apricot, paired with 2009 Carderetta SBS (79% Sauvignon Blanc, 21% Semillon). Though a blogger fave, the cold zucchini dotted with apricot puree did little for me, and as the end of the line made me a little sad there was not a more hearty offering to the overwhelmingly light and raw tasting lunch.
I returned for a second octopus (as many bloggers headed to the PCC market nearby for a sandwich) and took a seat in the grass with new friends Sharon of Delicious Musings, Robin of A Chow Life and my Wikia partners-in-crime from the night before.
We flipped through Amy Penington's new cookbook with her, Urban Pantry: Tips & Recipes for a Thrifty, Sustainable & Seasonal Kitchen, oohing and ahhing at Della Chen's lush photographs and her recipes.
 Seattle Urban Farm Co.'s cheeky mobile garden.
After lunch the group seemed a little punchy, perhaps from the light lunch and abundance of wine, small eruptions of laughter from the Twitter feed as the Writing/Technology panel on Law & Ethics of Food Blogging began. Another topic which misleadingly promised a dry informational format adversely pricked up the ears of all in the room when IP attorney, author and food/wine blogger Robin Goldstein introduced his power point presentation "Recent Advances in Bullshit Reduction." The following hysterical dead pan exposé of the Wine Spectator’s Awards of Excellence program had droves of tipsy bloggers drooling between guffaws and tweeting up a lusty storm; the highlight of the conference for many.
The last panel of the day ended on a feel-good note, on the topic "From the Source: People Who Will Change The Way You Think About Food." Jack Czarnecki from Oregon White Truffle Oil gave us a glimpse into the curious world of the truffle, Debra Music from home team Theo Chocolate shared an in-depth exploration into their fair-trade organic chocolate production, starting with the lives of their farmers, and finally Andrew Stout, CEO/Founder of Full Circle Farm shared his optimistic view of an organic future, each speaker giving us a bit of hope and pride in our inherent mission of raising food awareness.
Outside the food tent had been transformed into a lounge for a pre-dinner mixer featuring a selection of fine sherries hosted by the Secret Sherry Society and tapas by Chef Philippe Thomelin of Olivar
A spectrum of sherries (Fino, Amontillado, Olorosso, Pedro Ximénez...) were paired with nibbles such as Tortilla Espanola with Caramelized Onion, Albondigas de Cordero (Lamb Meatballs), and Croque Monsieur with Manchego & Serrano Ham. The range between the sherries was dramatic, from sharp dry flavor to full port-like raisiny smoothness. I never realized how food-friendly the apéritif is!
My favorite bites were the Spicy Tuna Empanadillas alongside the cooling Fino Sling cocktail. I had several of each! More delectable Theo truffles also helped prime us for dinner, meanwhile I cleared up a myth with Czarnecki, whether [the other kind of truffle] grew only on the roots of trees that had been struck by lightning. (It's not true, but they do emit an odor similar to pig pheremones... Why pigs are used to snuff them out. They're looking for love!)
Hungry bloggers!
Before the Winemaker’s Dinner began, we were treated to an incredibly thoughtful and inspiring keynote by James Oseland, Editor-in-Chief of Saveur magazine. I don't know what I had been expecting, but was floored by the visual trip Oseland took us on through his own young food writing career via gorgeous travel photos and anecdotes, extending generous insight into the new food writing frontier. Oseland waxed on following your passion, and on his own love for... us! (He adores food blogs!) Oseland continued in commencement speech mode to recognize that blogs are the future, and the future is now. The room erupted into riotous applause when Oseland declared “Food blogging should not be a popularity contest!” A welcomed sentiment in this age of twitter followers and traffic statistics. I think everyone in the room felt a humble glow of recognition, a magazine executive gifting us all a heartfelt fan-boy valentine for doing what we love.
And then we ate.
I was shocked when we were released Top Chef-style upon the tables of chefs outside all at once, 250 hungry people hemorrhaging out one warehouse door. Somehow I did manage to get to each chef's table eventually, starting with Dana Tough and Brian McCracken of Spur who prepared a chilled sous vide Alaskan Sockeye Salmon with Mascarpone, Cherry Tomatoes, Cucumbers, and Chiles. The textural stunner had eyebrows raising around the room with its condensed flavor and smooth coalescence. The tiny dallop of clear tomato gelée on the edge of the plate was a exclamation point on a great dish.
Ethan Stowell (Staple & Fancy, How to Cook A Wolf, one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs, multi-James Beard Award nominee) prepared a Beef Carpaccio with Wild Watercress, Pickled Cauliflower, and Pecorino Toscano. The gorgeously marbled beef, like the salmon, glowed with the surreal hue of uber-freshness.
Jeff Mall and Josh Silvers (both widely acclaimed chefs at Zin Restaurant and Syrah Bistro in California) blew me away with their conceptual corn duo: Jeff's "Down Home" - Falls Mill Stone Ground Grits with Creamed Collard Greens and Summer Tomato Vinaigrette paired with Josh's "Downtown" - Saffron Summer Vegetable Stew with Corn Polenta. Both were insanely tasty and had me licking the plate.
Unlike lunch, there were plenty of gluten-free plates leftover so I snagged one because the description sounded so intriguing. Chef Kaili Mcintyre (of Wheatless in Seattle) prepared Roasted sweet potato, caper, and parmesan with fresh arugula dressed in balsamic and truffle oil, Mushroom ravioli served with a peach vodka sauce, and Vegan Panzanella. Mushroom and peach! Who knew?!
Tamara Murphy (of Elliott Bay Cafe and Terra Plata, one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs, James Beard Award winner) created a looker with her Smashed Chickpeas with Baby Carrots and Olives, a simple dish with deep flavors and a gorgeous candied orange ornament on top.
My worst photo goes with the best dish, by Holly Smith (of Cafe Juanita, Winner of the 2008 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Northwest), Braised Snake River Wagyu Beef Cheeks with Polenta Stuffed Dog Mountain Squash Blossoms, Chanterelles and Corn. After recieving my plate (it was easily the longest queue) I stood in line for the corn duo, with full hands, watching the beef cheek juices run down the plate and over my hand, occasionally having sneak a lick of the ambrosial runoff. Heaven!
I was so full after so many courses, and slowly finished my wine (provided by Rodney Strong Vineyards and Columbia Winery) at the table chatting with neighboring food worlders Kate of Savour-Fare, Mary of California Greek Girl, Carol of Table Fare, Jeska of Wikia Inc, Chef Cathy Shambley, and Rick of Joy of Baking. Just when I thought the night was over, a surprise of Molten Chocolate Cake with Malted Cream and Salted Caramel Sauce appeared in front of us, created by Autumn Martin of Hot Cakes. It was delicious, but a sin to consume at that point. I rolled myself to the street corner where my lovely friends arrived to pick me up and take me home to be tucked into bed and fall immediately into deep foodless sleep.
International Food Bloggers Conference 2010