I’m just back from Austin, Texas, land of 1600 food trucks, endless barbecue, hipster farmer’s markets, and 100 degree temperatures that weren’t supposed to start until July. I was there to attend the International Conference of Culinary Professionals (IACP) annual conference, and to spend a few days afterwards with a friend.
The IACP annual conference is one of my favorites, and I’ve only missed one in the last decade or so. At this year’s conference, my only official task was to sell my book at the culinary book expo. I’m happy to report that Will Write for Food sold out.
Here are a few observations and confessions:
1. At the annual awards, every single winner of the Bert Green Awards for Food Journalism was a man, in a female-dominated field of food writers for publications and the web. (I’ve made the same observation before with the Beard awards.)
I corralled Saveur magazine’s Deputy Editor Beth Kracklauer in the foyer of the historic theater afterwards, to get her thoughts. The poor woman was trying to savor her two Saveur awards, and there I was, harshing her high. Though judging is blind (meaning bylines are removed), most of the finalists were men too. Kracklauer wondered if this trend has something to do with who gets story assignments in the first place. We vowed to talk about it more.
2. Views differed about attending sessions. Everyone had a different strategy about diligently showing up versus networking, sightseeing, running around the city eating, drinking or biking. At the start of the last group of sessions, one guy joked about whether he should go to his first one. That seemed a little extreme! Then there were secondary arguments about whether to go to sessions because you should go, versus sessions that you thought were fun.
3. Lots of people were talking about my recent post about conference anxiety and some tried to gauge whether this conference was similar to BlogHer Food in that respect. The BlogHer crowd is younger, but the usual cliques were apparent. I’ve decided that popular and successful people like to hang out together because they understand each other. That is my latest theory.
As for my own popularity, before the conference, cookbook author Amelia Saltsman invited me join her at a dinner of family and friends. To my delight, Deborah Madison, a longtime friend, came too. The three of us met and befriended each other at the Greenbrier Professional Symposium for Food Writers 12 years ago. Amelia’s daughter and son-in-law run the restaurant Ate.Cafe, and they spoiled us with course after course of exquisite tapas.
Cookbook author Martha Hopkins also contacted me beforehand because we had not met and we’re going to teach a class together soon. We went out for appetizers and drinks at Paggi House with the always hilarious food stylist Denise Vivaldo, discussing our upcoming class in Los Angeles on cookbooks while feasting on exceptional mussels and fries, beef tenderloin skewers, and fried calamari. The three of us will join forces to help you make your dream project a reality. Hope to see you in L.A!
4. The best part about attending conferences is the people. It was a thrill to see former and current coaching clients, some of whom I have never met in person, and some I only see ocassionally. I loved meeting strangers who said they read this blog, and people who have commented but who I’ve never met in person.
When two writers in the Hilton lobby said, “Your book changed my life,” simultaneously, I tried to think of a gracious answer and not choke up. I choked up. There’s no higher praise than that. Okay, maybe a close tie is when speaker cookbook author Dorie Greenspan and winner of the IACP Cookbook of the Year recommended Will Write for Food during a food writing workshop.
5. Even though conference-goers wore nametags, for some reason I remembered them based on their clothing. Here’s the problem: The next day, they wore a new outfit. I got a good conference tip about remembering people: You say, “How nice to see you,” not “How nice to meet you,” just in case you have already done so.
6. After the conference, there’s nothing sweeter than a few days with a good friend. I stayed with food writer Mary Margaret Pack, whom I met and bonded with at an IACP conference years ago. (See a theme here with forming friendships from conferences?) She took me to see the Number 1 tourist attraction, Austin’s bats, as well as toured me around to several culinary and cultural hotspots.
But enough about me. How was your conference experience? If you wrote a post, or know of any, please let me know. I’ve found this one so far: A Fulfilling Week at the 2011 IACP Annual Conference, Austin.
Next year’s conference is in New York, March 30-April 2, 2012.