Where food bloggers get together to talk about, erm you’ve guessed it…..blogging and food
I’ve had a bit of a bumper foodie time recently. I’ve just returned from an amazing week long course at Ashburton Cookery School in Devon, and in September I attended a one-day raw food class in London (write up for both coming soon). In-between these cooking lessons I found a spare weekend at the end of September to join 100 or so other bloggers at Beaconsfield, a former Ragged School near Vauxhall on London’s Southbank, for Europe’s leading food blogging conference – Food Blogger Connect.
A food blogging conference?? Really?? Yes, that was my exact same thought when I stumbled upon the conference, through various food blogger tweets on twitter. I was astonished that such a thing existed – and had in fact been going strong, growing year on year since 2009. 2012 promised to be the biggest and best year yet, and following a couple of email exchanges with founders Bethany Kehdy (Dirty Kitchen Secrets) and sister Joslin Souza, I found myself appointed as part of the volunteer team – offering some time working on admin leading up to the event, and throughout the weekend itself.
A few weeks before the conference I met up with Bethany and Joslin, and the other volunteers Jo (Candids by Jo) and Sukruti (Bite A Snap) for a pre-meet. It was such a pleasure to meet with other food bloggers and chat so enthusiastically about what we blog and why – that it made me even more excited in anticipation of the event itself! Final volunteer Jacqueline (How to be a Gourmand) joined us on the weekend. We made a great team, and volunteering (even when clearing up empty coffee cups) never felt like work.
The event took place over a long weekend Friday-Sunday, and whilst I was only able to attend on the Friday and Sunday (due to an already paid for girlie spa day on the Saturday), I could not have learned more from the experience. I started this blog a year and a half ago because I wanted to share my healthy take on recipes with the wider world, as well as having an outlet for my random foodie memories and witterings. At that time I didn’t realise I’d have to learn more about photography, the technicalities of running a blog, the skill of perfecting recipe write-ups and learning how to promote my blog beyond the circle of people I actually knew. Food Blogger Connect gave tutorial sessions in most of that.
The bloggers that attended ranged from the absolute novice, to bloggers, who actually earn a living from blogging – but what we all had in common was a love of food and the ability to enthuse about it to others. What staggered me the most, was that even with well over 100 bloggers, no food blog is that same. I didn’t meet anyone who blogged Paleo-style! From focusing on cake, veganism, nutrition, nationalistic cuisine, restaurant reviews, or the art of food photography we all came along with our different ideas but with an eagerness and strive to be better bloggers. As well as the volunteers I got to know Karen (Lavender and Lovage) rather well, since I had offered her the use of my sofa bed for the weekend. We had great fun chatting blogging to and from the conference.
If I write about everything I learnt that weekend this post would be as long as War & Peace, so what follows below are a few personal highlights from me.
Lecture sessions: It was my responsibility to look after the timing and running of the sessions on Friday and Sunday so amazingly got to hear all of the speakers on those days. I realise how very lucky I was. Useful sessions for me included;
- A great couple of sessions with the Guardian’s Felicity Cloake on the ABC’s of writing and recipe development. The main pointers for me were; find and know your own style, edit edit edit, pause before publishing, inspiration can come from anywhere and make your recipes easy to follow. As a result I will now stop worrying that my recipe intros are rather chatty, I am editing this current post 2 days after I wrote it by reading it aloud, I permanently carry a notebook in my handbag, and am committing to translating my american recipes into g instead of cups…
- Paula Gardner from Do your own PR delivered a brilliant session on how to PR yourself effectively. Use your natural strengths of communicating to your benefit – are you a writer, speaker or connector? I’m still not sure what I am, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it… I’m a thinker???
- Sumayya Jamill from the Pakistani focused cooking blog Pukka Paki led a session on niche blogging (her notes from the session are up on her Blog). I guess I’ve never really realised before now that my blog is a bit of a niche area (to me it isn’t niche since it’s what I’m all about). Write what you know, consistency of approach and above all let your passion for your niche come across, were the elements I took away. You’re also allowed to evolve in a niche, which was a bit of a relief to discover.
- Leemei Tan author of the cookbook Lemongrass & Ginger gave a very informative session on the pleasures and pains of writing a cook book – again her notes from the session are up on her blog My Cooking Hut – thank you! (Info for me to bear in mind if I ever get lucky enough for my dream of being published to be realised – publishers out there – you listening???)
- I very much enjoyed meeting Grace Cheetham from Gluten Dairy Free blog, who talked about Allergy Free Blogging. We merrily shared stories after her session of cooking with alternative flours – Italian sourced chestnut flour being my favourite one!
- I also got to hear about a new app called Nuffnangx, which allows you to follow other blogs on a smart phone with some kind of regularity. Def going to check this out to help me keep up with all these new blogging pals I’ve met of late.
- Being in all the lecture sessions did however mean that I missed out on the workshops with food writer Dianne Jacob, and photographers David Griffin and Ellen Silverman. The general buzz from bloggers were that they were all awesome. Candids by Jo wrote a great précis of the Ellen Silverman Workshop.
Food: Now where do I start? Instead of having caters for the weekend the organisers had the brilliant idea of inviting in London’s finest Street Food traders, and food-preneurs to feed us. Particular gastronomic highlights for me were;
- Spicy Seychelles Curry by Vinn Goute.
- Live curry cooking demo by Maunika Gowardhhan.
- Gluten-free beetroot chocolate brownies by Sugargrain (I was already a fan of these from Borough and Brockley Markets).
- Finger Food by La Tentations. I have a very specific memory of a tender lamb cutlet … wow.
- Salt Beef by Brisket Bel.
- A splash of red wine from Lebanon Wines – particularly as Lebanese wine was not something I have come across before now.
- Lastly Vitamix (they make amazing blenders) were sponsors of the conference and kept our energy levels topped up all weekend with a stream of soups and smoothy tasters. I had already discovered on my raw food course that I simply need a Vitamix. Even more so now. I had high hopes of winning one in the give-away. Alas no.
Goodie Bag: Since recipes for my blog have such a niche gluten-free unprocessed slant, I couldn’t make use of everything in the goodie bag. However so far I am really enjoying a few of the products we were kindly given. You may start to see some new products pop up in forthcoming posts – such as Argan oil, Maldon salt and Steenbergs Koekkruiden Spice. I (of course!) very much enjoyed the Montezumas chocolate truffles and the Lebanese wine.
For me, Food Blogger Connect has not just taught me lots of things I really needed to know about successful blogging. It has also taught me that one of the joys of blogging is connecting with other bloggers. Other food bloggers aren’t competition – we all love food and as a result want to share our love of of food. Joyfully this also means we can chat till the cows come home about food – never a dull moment or awkward silence to be had. Sumayya from Pukka Paki summarised this perfectly in her talk- ‘FOOD IS THE UNIFYING LANGUAGE OF THE WORLD – it brings people, nations, neighbours and friends..’ Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Thanks so much to Bethany and Joslin for their superb organisation of the weekend, and for the opportunity of being involved as part of the volunteer team – it was a real privilege I’m already looking forward to the conference again next year! Follow @bloggerconnect on twitter for updates on plans to #FBC5 (the 5th year of the conference).
Photos: Since photography isn’t my forte and I didn’t take any pics at the conference (I was too busy running around in my red shoes clearing up coffee cups and tweeting under the hashtag #FBC12), Mondomulia has very kindly offered me her photos for inclusion in my blog post. Her constant stream of beautiful photos are the very reason I feel like I should stick to cooking and leave the photography to the experts!