Food bloggers never go offline. Even when they come together, as they did last weekend in Seattle for the second International Food Blogger Conference, shouted greetings are undercut by the clatter of keyboards and the tapping of touchscreens. Typing was a steady staccato throughout the conference, which took place in a cavernous space in the back of Theo Chocolate Factory in Seattle's Fremont district. Meanwhile, every eye and lens was trained, in turn, on Victoria von Biel, Penny De Los Santos, Dianne Jacob, Kristine Kidd, Kirsty Melville, James Oseland, and Molly Wizenberg, among others.
The bloggers who attended the sold-out conference were hungry for the wisdom of the editors and publishers who represented traditional print media. And the editors and publishers who spoke made it clear that they were equally hungry for the best efforts of bloggers. James Oseland, editor-in-chief of Saveur, confessed he's a food blog addict, and announced that “without a doubt, this is a thrilling time to be consuming food media,” referring to “the schedule of the incessantly hungry, the constantly curious, the always awake.”
A lively panel on The Art of Recipe Writing with Dianne Jacob, author of Will Write for Food, and Kristine Kidd, cookbook author and former food editor at Bon Appétit, sparked strong opinions about semicolons, of all things. Kidd professed love for the much-maligned punctuation mark, while Jacobs said using semicolons when a period would suffice seemed “pretentious.” Blogger and cookbook author Amy Sherman, who moderated the panel, drew applause when she admonished bloggers not to give recipes away for free, though Foodista co-founder Barnaby Dorfman was quick to disagree, suggesting that giving recipes away for free is exactly what food bloggers should do.
In addition to all the talking, an array of local chefs produced a parade of food and wine pairings to sate the “incessantly hungry.” The foods and wines were designed to leap from plate to blog: baby octopus with chickpeas and preserved lemon in chorizo vinaigrette, beef cheeks with polenta stuffed squash blossoms, and even a gluten-free apricot lasagna. And the chefs plating the food were as likely to have a forthcoming book as the grateful bloggers taking the plates. (For instance, Ten Speed will publish New Italian Kitchen by chef Ethan Stowell, who was in attendance, next month.)
Senior contributing photographer for Saveur Penny De Los Santos urged those who want to take great photographs to “love what you do.” A charismatic speaker, De Los Santos won a standing ovation. This was a crowd that needed no urging and marched off to lunch armed with cameras—as usual.
In a nod to one of the most fun recent trends in dining out, a caravan of gourmet food trucks parked outside the chocolate factory. The husband and wife owners of Pike Brewing Company, Charles and Rose Ann Finkel, poured Dry Wit, Naughty Nellie, and Kilt Lifter beers. Panelist Kidd sampled the beer, and praised the Skillet burger, made with grass fed beef, arugula, bacon jam, and cambozola on a soft roll. Then she tried in vain to recall the old military adage of the 7 Ps (“Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance”) for Kirsty Melville, president and publisher of Andrews McMeel's book division. Melville was planning on divulging what she looks for in prospective cookbook writers—passion, purpose, perspective, and point-of-view—during her Pitch To Publish panel.
The panel also included Victoria von Biel, editor of Bon Appétit, and Molly Wizenberg, whose blog, Orangette, led to her book, A Homemade Life (which S&S released in paperback in March), and a regular column in Bon Appétit. In addition to her alliterative list of writerly virtues, Melville spoke of how satisfying a book in hand feels and the credibility that they bring to bloggers. She also mentioned the benefits bloggers bring to publishers. Von Biel agreed, adding, “We’re looking for writers who can bring an audience with them.” She predicted that as people get smarter about what they read online, better blogs will prevail. She was unequivocal about the importance of bloggers, saying, “The future of food writing and food publications is going to come from people like you.”
In response to von Biel’s praise for the versatility of bloggers who write, develop recipes and take photographs, a voice rose from the audience questioning the payment disparities between print and online work, noting that photos and recipes are rarely expected of writers in print media. Semicolon usage was long forgotten, but the question of giving recipes away for free remained. This question, paired with the adulation of the editors and publishers, created a sense of immense promise and commensurate uncertainty. Bloggers love what they do, and they know their work is valuable. The question now is: how valuable, and to whom?
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