I’ve experienced New Orleans vicariously through the life my son has led over the course of the past year. Telephone calls filled with barbecues and po’boys, gumbo and jambalaya, Mardi Gras and brass bands. Excited words expressing the enthusiasm and passion of an entire town, the people of this magnificent city. A people and a city both rising from the rubble of Katrina like a phoenix, proud and beautiful, so appreciative for the love of those who came to help rebuild, such as my son. The romance of this very romantic city touched even a 21-year-old young man normally oblivious to his surroundings, usually wary of attachment and so very matter-of-fact. The generosity and the spirit of the locals galvanized him, their own love of The City of Jazz and Cuisine left an imprint on his soul that moved me and urged a visit.
- Mark Twain
I have experienced the American food blogging scene as through a glass darkly: watching from some hazy distance, a tiny peephole my only access, the activity on the other side of the door confusing and distorted, voices muffled. I have been mystified by the seemingly paradoxical extremes of positive and negative: the closeness and the cliques, the camaraderie and the competition, the honesty and the artifice. I have longed for the familiarity and passion of a world at once so close to my heart yet so far, yearned for the kinship and the support of a culture that I know so well, that fits me like a well-worn sweater shrugged on in the chill of a strange land. Yet the pandering and the falseness have inspired me with caution, the desperation and jealousy, the mean-girl snideness I have witnessed from afar has turned many a friend from their creative purpose and they have bowed their heads in shame and sadness. It has left me confused as to the heart and soul of the food blogging world, and I so needed to find myself on their shores, in their midst to discover for myself the truth of the matter.
Thus I found myself at Foodista’s International Food Blogger Conference in New Orleans surrounded by a hundred or more passionate, gentle, warm-hearted bloggers and professional writers, photographers and chefs. I was swept up in the excitement that being in such a breathtaking, sensational city inspired in each of us, the frenzy to discover such a culinary tradition and partake of the edible wonders of this fabled city. The enthusiasm and passion for this extraordinary thing that brought us together: food, writing, photography and cooking was intense and infectious and we shared and chattered non-stop, arms waving, faces lit up, laughter bubbling up and bouncing from one person to the next. There was no hierarchy; these cliques and the snubbing I had heard so much about simply did not exist; we all stood in that hotel as equals, thrilled at the chance to share our zeal, fulfill our hunger and feed our curiosity, meeting others with whom we share such passion and interest. This conference proved the interconnectedness of blogging with the professional food world and showed how we could merge into one rather than standing separately.
America would just be a bunch of free people dying of boredom.
- Judy Deck in an e-mail sent to Chris Rose, 1 Dead in Attic
The conference itself, organized by Barnaby, Sheri and Andie of Foodista along with Zephyr Adventures, was perfect: it went like clockwork, the food was amazing and the lineup of chefs and speakers was stunning! I had the honor to be part of an exciting and inspiring panel, speaking on the topic Food & Culture alongside Jay of Bite and Booze and the wonderful Dianne Jacob of Will Write for Food. I was more nervous than I had hoped to be but the topic is close to my heart, one I live each and every day and the words tumbled from my mouth and my soul. The room was packed with eager, interested participants who questioned and shared, fascinated by the subject, making the session a huge success.
One thing we all loathe and myself maybe more than most is the artful ploy of namedropping, yet I cannot pass up this post without, well, dropping names. Why? Because I was thrilled to meet certain people, inspired by their words and delighted to leave IFBC with more friendships than I could have ever imagined would be formed in such a short period of time. This, after all, is why we attend these things, isn’t it? To avoid gushing, which I am sometimes prone to do when so happy to have met and spent time with the wonderful and the inspiring, I will say thank you to a few who I had the good fortune to meet and listen to, with whom I had the chance to chat and share, those who left a mark, encouraged me, made me think and made me laugh, those with whom I formed what I hope will be long and lasting friendships or those who turned my world upside down with their thoughtful words and passion: Gwen, Sarah, Lora, Nancie, Dianne, Lisa, Merry-Jennifer, Kevin, Jeremy, Andie, Sheri and Barnaby, Kate, Kat, Shauna and Deb, Andrew, Robin and Adam, Chef Tariq Hanna, Chef John Besh and Chef John Mitzewich. As the fabulous and hysterically funny Nancie called us: new vintage friends.
The weekend was animated, informative, intense and, for lack of a more perfect word and at the risk of repeating myself once too often, inspiring. And not the less so for the bonds it created, the friendships and memories made. As I head back to my own little corner of the world so far away, I leave you with some photos (courtesy of Sarah, Gwen, Nancie and Lora as well as some of my own) of our time spent together. As I return to finalizing details on our own From Plate to Page workshop to be held in Italy in October, I hold onto the memories of this weekend in New Orleans, all I learned, all whom I met, the good times we shared and know that I will return to this magical city again and I am sure that I will attend another American conference and see my friends again.
- John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces
Outings included Café du Monde for fabulous beignets, Mr. B's Bistro for the Gumbo and GW Fins for a fabulous dinner and memorable food, Sucré for macarons and chocolates and Mena's for cheese & grits.
photo with Chef Hanna courtesy of Lora
Thank you all, each and every one of you, thank you IFBC, Hotel Monteleone and thank you New Orleans.
Oh, and did I mention Chef John Besh? The keynote speaker? One rarely has the chance to bask in the passion of such a one as he, or experience his love of food, cooking, family and his own city, New Orleans. It poured out of his every word, his body bouncing from one end of the stage to the other in his excitement to share this love and his story. And then, yes, we girls got a hug, gushing and giggling like teen groupies around their favorite rock star! Yeah… we did…