Friday, September 2, 2011

LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL - IFBC NOLA

Madame Lily Devalier always asked "Where are you?" in a way that insinuated that there were only two places on earth one could be: New Orleans and somewhere ridiculous.
- Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume


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.


New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.
- 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.

If there was no New Orleans,
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.

photo courtesy of Amy The Nifty Foodie

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.


Leaving New Orleans also frightened me considerably. Outside of the city limits the heart of darkness, the true wasteland begins.
- 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.

Who would imagine that we spent more time talking about Nigeria than macarons?
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.

photo courtesy of Nancie McDermott

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…

41 comments:

Sunchowder - Wendy Read said...

Gorgeous post about IFBC and NOLA! I wish that I could have gotten to know you a bit more.

Amy said...

Awesome recap! I really enjoyed the conference too, and I'm so glad you got to experience NOLA in person! :-)

Deborah Mele said...

Well written as always Jamie. Living in Italy 6 months a year, I too feel at times a bit estranged from the North American food blogger world which I must say appears to involve tight groups that meet often at these food blogger conferences I cannot not attend, and seem to connect primarily within their own groups. I feel at times on Twitter that I am back in High School and am the old girl out and the popular girls want nothing to do with me. I realize though that in fact these food bloggers have simply made great friendships with folks of a like mind attending all these food blog conferences together that I am unable to attend. I am thrilled you had a great experience in NOLA and will try myself to attend a food blog conference if I can when I return to the US in November. I am sure you did an amazing job and if you do get to Umbria in October you are welcome to stay with us!

Jamie said...

@Deborah Mele - actually and to tell the truth, I think that clique behavior does exist but what saved the IFBC was that there was an even mix between bloggers and pros with maybe mor pros than bloggers. So no high school popularity contest. This really worked because we all felt absolutely equal. And I'll let you know if we make it to Umbria (you know it's our favorite region). Would love to see you!

bunkycooks said...

You groupie, you! Oh, wait...I guess I am one, too! ;) This is beautifully written and brought tears to my eyes. How wonderful it was to finally meet and to be able to share this special weekend with you and other talented bloggers. I feel like I have gained so much by meeting several new friends that share many of the same passions I do. I totally agree with your assessment of IFBC and loved the quotes about New Orleans. It is truly a city that stays in your heart and soul long after you have been there.

Barbara said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the conference Jamie. Pleasing to read the clique behaviour was non existent. I see it on Twitter and find myself disappointed in the behaviour of some bloggers I admire.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

I am so glad that you've been able to experience NOLA and to not have to deal with the negative side of (food9 blogging! Meeting kind-hearted and honest people is always fun and gives hope.

Like you, as a blogger I live in a bubble. I'd love gto meet more people and participate to such events. My world is too virtual to my taste.

Cheers,

Rosa

asiangrrl said...

Looks like you had a fantabulous expreience, Jamie. N'Awlins is on my shortlist of places to visit!

Barbara Bakes said...

I'm so glad you had an amazing time. Now I'm anxious to visit NOLA. I think you should speak at the EVO 12 conference at Park City next year. I'd love that!

Dianne Jacob said...

Jamie, such a pleasure to spend time with you in New Orleans. I was surprised by how well the panel went. I attribute it to your honesty about your life, and how it made the audience think about their own.

When talking about a conference, it is hard not to name-drop and make it sound like there was a clique, but you have done so. NOLA IFBC seemed pretty mellow compared to other conferences I've attended. You picked a good one to attend!

Cake Duchess said...

Madame Lily Devalier always asked "Where are you?" in a way that insinuated that there were only two places on earth one could be: New Orleans and somewhere ridiculous. Love all the quotes you added here but this one makes me smile. How happy I am that I got to fall in love with New Orleans while with you and my other new friends. This was an unforgettable weekend at a fabulous event in an incredible city. sei fantastica. xx

Katrina {In Katrina's Kitchen} said...

A wonderful recap! I wish I could have been there!

merry jennifer said...

It was SO great to get to know you in New Orleans last weekend. I just finished off my box of Sucre macarons (yes, I ate the entire box myself, save for the two I gave my kids). Thought of you when I did.

I would love to reconnect with you again!

Jamie said...

@Sunchowder Wendy - Yes I know but I am glad we got to chat a bit. Thanks for introducing yourself.

@Bunkycooks - a huge thanks to you and Roger for taking me under your wing! And oooh thrilled I talked you into attending cause now I feel like I have know you forever.

@Barbara - I really think the mix of people who attended IFBC and the whole way it was set up eliminated the whole clique thing. It was really an equalizer and just really perfect! I am lucky I chose this one to attend, it fit me to a tee.

Jamie said...

@Rosa's Yummy Yums - gosh we really need to get a group of bloggers together for just a fun weekend! Absolutely. And you know that you are I are so on the same wavelength...

@asiangrrl - Dahlin', I so want to experience New Awlins with you...

@Barbara Bakes - oooh tell me what EVO 12 is! I'm always thrilled to speak... just need to start looking for a sponsor!

Jamie said...

@Dianne Jacob - I didn't mention particulars in the post, but so loved wandering around the French Quarter and talking with you! Next time we'll have that Sno Cone we were too sugared out to eat! And I do think there is something about our topic that so inspired people to think and share. I am flattered you attribute some of that to me... I really loved doing it (wish I hadn't been so nervous). So happy to have gotten to know you and spend time with you and look forward to the next.

@Cake Duchess - sei carina! I am thrilled you had the chance to attend and lucky me that we could be roomies. It was all truly unforgettable - thanks to you girls. xo

@Merry Jennifer - Oh boy you just made me laugh out loud! Ha ha ha good for you about the macs! Lucky kids to get one each. I have been too lazy to take pics of the cookies and chocolates so haven't let my mom touch them at all yet! LOL! And yes absolutely I'd love to see you again or connect in some way.

Sarah @ Mountain Man Approved said...

Jamie, I couldn't have said it better. Beautiful. I'm so blessed to have met you :) love! xo

Heavenly Housewife said...

Ever since I was in high school, reading books by my favorite author at the time, Anne Rice, I soooooo wanted to go to New Orleans. I still do. First stop would be cafe du monde.
What a fabulous reason for you to visit, and what a wonderful adventure.
*kisses* HH

arfoodie said...

What a great recap! You echoed my (as yet unwritten) sentiment perfectly. I've heard about all the cliques and such at other conferences, so I'm glad this was my first convo experience. I learned a lot, ate well, and networked to my heart's content. Lots of contacts made that will further my little work here. ;)

Maria Raynal said...

This is a terrific recap - I love the quotes and the lovely way you describe the friendship and fun we all had. And I so enjoyed meeting you!

Elra's cooking and baking said...

Such a wonderful thing to meet with other fellow blogger. Perhaps, I too will meet some of them one day.

Sarah said...

What fun! It's great to see what everybody has been up to after summer vacation. I feel the same way about the competition amongst bloggers (I've seen it first hand and it is ugly). Luckily the expat bloggers here are not that way and we meet often. New Orleans sounds fabulous!

Ivy said...

How exciting Jamie!! Always a pleasure reading your adventures! I wish it was closer (and cheaper) for us in Europe to attend as well.

tasteofbeirut said...

Your description of your son made me think of my Nick; so there is hope for him then! Maybe one day, he will be like your son, and help those unfortunate folks who need it so much (I am optimistic). In any case, lovely seeing you, you look relaxed and like you are having a great time.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

What a wonderful post Jamie! :D I felt like I was there with you and you must be a ball of fun to hang out with! Now when are you coming to Australia?! :)

Jamie said...

@tasteofbeirut - yes yes there is hope! :-)

@Ivy - we need to organize something like this!

@Lorraine Not Quite Nigella - oh, honey I dream of attending something in Australia! Who do I go to to work it out? :-)

Junglefrog said...

How I would have loved to be there with you jamie! It sounds like you had a really nice time over there in NOLA... As I said before New Orleans is high on my list of places to visit and well, maybe next year.. Have fun in Florida!

Eggs on the Roof said...

What a wonderful picture you paint, Jamie. I so wish I had been there to share it. Love the quotes you include.

Deeba PAB said...

NOLA NOLA NOLA... what a fabulous experience for them {and you darling girl!} You are the best. Could feel the pulse of the trip through your words and pictures. Vintage friends... right here too! LOL...xoxoxo

Carolyn Jung said...

John Besh is such a doll. I remember interviewing him by phone a couple years ago. He's so warm and charming that he makes you feel like you've known him for years. ;)

Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen said...

Glad to hear the conference was such a positive experience for you. I've heard the same things about the cliques and the artifice at these types of events and it was something that I feared about the upcoming IFBC in Nov. Hopefully that one will be as pleasant!

Meeta K. Wolff said...

A wonderful insight Jamie. Like you I am very cautious about the food blogging scene in the US and have heard everything from the really great to the really scary stories. Good to know that the IFBC managed to pull out the "great" together and make the conference a success!

Andrea Meyers said...

I was thrilled to meet you and really enjoyed the Food & Culture session with you, Jay, and Dianne. Take care and I hope you make it back to the States soon!

Neil | Butterfield said...

New Orleans sure does sound like an enchanting place. Some place that I would like to visit at some point in the future.

A Canadian Foodie said...

When I open one of your posts to read, I always grab a coffee. I know it will be an enjoyable short story and visit with you. What an (for lack of a better word :) :) ) incredible experience! I appreciate the time you took to weave in many of your highlights and insights for wannabe's like me! :)
I can only imagine how edifying it would be to meet so many of the people that you "know" through cyber space... and you have participated in more than a few of these kinds of experiences.
Thanks for the great read!
:)
Valerie

Lisa said...

Wish I could have been there, but I've learned to take each day as it comes and not get too upset over things happening beyond your control that prevent you from always doing what you want.

Fantastic recap, and you all look great!

Carol Peterman/TableFare said...

What a wonderful post. I was sad to miss IFBC this year and would have especially loved to have visited New Orleans again. I've been to the last two IFBCs when they were conveniently held in Seattle and loved every minute of them. So glad to hear you had such a spectacular time.

Cathy at Wives with Knives said...

Hi Jamie - What a wonderful experience! New Orleans is such a beautiful city full of great restaurants and amazing history.I hope to have an experience like yours sometime in the future. It's an honor to meet other bloggers and learn from them.

Elra's cooking and baking said...

Such a wonderful experience Jamie. I would love to go to one of this conference too.

LoveFeast Table said...

Sounds fabulous!! We're so glad you enjoyed!! Looking forward to the one day ~ some day! Your kindred Feast girls :) ~CA & K

Jeanne said...

Ooooh - so envious, both of the conference and just being able to visit NOLA! I really need to go... Looks like you made the most of it and thrilled to hear that the talk went so well :)

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