Now that you’ve read about my social life at the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference in Austin, you should know that I learned something too. Here are highlights from some of the sessions I attended:
1. Writing. At a session on The Craft of Food Writing featuring speakers Antonia Allegra, head of The Symposium for Professional Food Writers at the Greenbrier; The Washington Post‘s Food Editor Joe Yonan; and cookbook author Dorie Greenspan, Allegra handed out a list of the job titles for food writers, including
- culinary anthropologist
- culinary historian
- food scientist
- food market economy writer
- industry researcher
- public relations writer
- television script writer, and
- video food writer.
Yonan said he runs 52 freelance pieces a year, and gets pitched 30 queries a day. When it comes to first person narrative, pitches that focuses on how food tastes makes him crazy. “Get me out of the inside of your mouth,” he implored. “Write about how food has turned you into what you’ve become. Food writing often involves memory and nostalgia, and food that means something to you, in crucial times in your life.”
He recommended the book Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing to sharpen writing skills. “More than anything, your goal is clarity.”
Greenspan spoke about recipes as “what we do to pass along tradition, keep customs alive, transmit what we discover, and preserve culinary information.” She said our one responsibility to readers is to be accurate, “no matter how boring that might be.” In the headnote, she tells about taste, texture, and perhaps a technique. She teaches about an ingredient or a custom. She likes to tell a story. “Place a recipe in a culture, tradition, country, or ritual. Associate it with a person or an experience.
Finally, Greenspan said, the best thing we can do is “encourage the cook to make (the recipe) part of his or her own story, to understand how to adapt it, and how they can then own the food. Recipes can be a glimpse into a place they dream of going.”
2. Blog-to-Book. In an “Experts are In” session with blogger Hank Shaw and Greenspan, Shaw, a former news reporter, spoke of a “relentless level of professionalism” on his blog. “The only successful blogs are when you open a vein,” he said. “People want to read you.” For his new book, Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast, 80 percent of the material is original.
As to when they post, “I always post on either Sunday or Monday,” says Hank. “Most people read blogs at work, they want something fresh when they get in.” Never blog on Saturdays, he advises. And overall, he says it’s better to write less often than more often and badly. Greenspan, on the other hand, posts when inspiration strikes her, often triggered by a photograph. She referred to her blog as a monster. “It’s like having a dragon in your house that’s always hungry.”
3. Cookbooks. Who says the cookbook is dead? Rux Martin, senior executive editor of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, said in a session called “The Ever-Expanding Cookbook” that, despite rumors to the contrary, the printed cookbook is alive and well. She had her best year ever in 2010. One of the books she edited, Hello Cupcake!, sold 1.2 million copies. What’s New Cupcake! has sold 600,000…so far.