A Food Writing Workshop in Hawaii

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restaurant afterwards; and one of the students offered use of a teahouse in the garden of her condo. That was a relief, because until a few weeks before, Mariko hadn’t found a place.

The morning of the class, I flew into Honolulu from the Big Island, where I was vacationing. Mariko picked me up in her SUV loaded with supplies. She took me to Honolulu’s Chinatown for a lichee/cherimoya shake and a manapua. Then we headed to the teahouse, where Mariko sprung into action.

The room was a little shabby, but Mariko was prepared. She hauled out about a dozen colorful tablecloths borrowed from friends, and put giveaway books tied in ribbons on each table. She carried in a projector and screen; side tables; coffee, water and snacks; extension cords and power strips; colored folders with handouts…I’m sure I’m missing a few things. She thought of everything, even soliciting several sponsors for door prizes and food.

Outside the Honolulu condo development, wearing my lei. (Photo by Kristin Tiufua).

Before we walked in, she pulled a stunning lantern flower lei out of a plastic clamshell and lifted it over my head. It happened to match my dress perfectly.

The students filed in, and we started out with writing exercises. The cohesiveness and collecitve experiences of the group floored me. One woman burst into tears when another read about her grandmother giving her the job of opening a can of corned beef, while her siblings played outside. It was right after I talked about the ability to evoke emotion in readers. Another read a story about his Japanese auntie, with “a tongue as sharp a a Samurai sword,” right after I explained the value of using similes.

He also introduced me to my new favorite snack food. After carrying his auntie’s groceries as a kid, he said, she gave him money for a matinee, where he dumped out the popcorn and mixed it with arare and nori. Many heads nodded, and the whole class reminisced about the popcorn mix, regardless of whether they were Asian, haole, or hapa. As soon as I got back to California I bought rice crackers and a shaker bottle of nori mixed with sesame seeds, and tried them mixed with popcorn. It’s an addictive combo of crunchy textures and saltiness, and now I’ve made it several times.

Later, three women at the same table found out they attended the same high school. Typically there isn’t this kind of connection in a group of students, but Hawaii is different. The students laughed when I remarked on it, saying in Hawaii there are only three degrees of separation, not six. I also loved spending a whole day with locals. I have visited Hawaii for more than 30 years, and I typically I only meet other tourists and those who work in the tourist industry.

If you stood outside the teahouse, this was the view of the condo's garden.

After dinner, Mariko and I went to the pupu reception and met people involved in Hawaii’s food and hospitality industry, and then she drove me to the airport. Here’s a post Mariko wrote where she talked about the day.

There’s one more thing I want to tell you. After announcing the Hawaii class on Twitter, I finally understood what Jaden Hair meant when she told me years ago she gets business from Twitter. Other food bloggers saw the tweet and inquired if I would be willing to teach elsewhere. I’ve already been paid to teach a private food writing class in March; and an Irish blogger, Dorcas Barry, is working on getting me to Ireland to teach later in the year. Talk about a lot to be grateful for!

Food blogger Mariko Jackson

I’d like to give a big thank you and virtual hug to the generous and hard-working Mariko Jackson for all she did to make the class happen. You are the best, Mariko!

And to you, dear readers, a Happy New Year and my best wishes for a productive year of writing in 2012. To help you get there, if you haven’t already, subscribe to my quarterly newsletter, full of tips and links to resources on writing and social media. Said Lori Galvin, senior editor of Cooks Illustrated, on Twitter: “Anyone interested in food writing should read @diannej‘s blog or subscribe to her newsletter. Solid stuff, seriously.”


  1. says

    I think you also need to come out to Malaysia. The most of the “food bloggers” out here only seem to know how to take pictures and comment briefly about food. Writing is an art and a skill that needs to be developed.

    • diannejacob says

      I’d love to, Nate! Maybe now that I’ve explained all that Mariko went through, you’d be hesitant to help me get a class together.

      • says

        It sounds like tough work, but actually the Sarawak Bloggers group that I’m affiliated with has got a great team. They pulled off a huge tweetup recently at the local mall with under 40 days of preparation from conception to execution. Amazing energy and enthusiasm to put on a highly successful event.

        • diannejacob says

          Okay then, let’s get going on it. I’ve never been to Malaysia. And I’d get to meet you after reading your comments for 2.5 years. Sounds like a plan.

  2. says

    This is a fabulous story and amazing turn of events of how it all transpired. I am so happy for you that you had this opportunity AND that the attendees of your class were able to learn from you…a win-win all the way around. How fun!

    And I love seeing the pic of you in the red dress. It feels fully like a face with a name situation much more after seeing that pic.

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks Averie. Is there a food-writing community in Aruba? Hah.

      I don’t typically put photos of me on my blog. I don’t think you do either.

  3. says

    That looks beautiful and what an exciting series of events! I love twitter and social media for the power it gives us to make things like this happen! And Ireland would be fabulous!

  4. says

    Waiting with baited breath to hear about you coming to Ireland!
    It sounds like your expertise will take you to all the very cool islands of the world Dianne.
    Thanks for sharing this glimpse into your workshop. Now, I want that nori popcorn.

    • diannejacob says

      Me too! Can you get those Japanese ingredients where you live, Mona? These days it seems like world cuisine is available anywhere.

  5. says

    I am thrilled your workshop turned out to be such a rousing success on so many levels, Dianne. The writing examples your students came up with are utter gems. Wish I knew how to say “You go, girl!” in Hawaiian.

  6. says

    It is amazing how it comes together with enthusiastic people.
    I am glad you had a blast and I am sure attendees got a lot out of it. Hope I can attend any of your future ones.

  7. Vivian says

    Hey Dianne, glad you had such a good experience out in Hawaii. I am certainly willing to help you organise something out this way, whether you come with Denise or on your own… What do you think? Sounds like the gang in Malaysia is game too, perhaps you can combine the 2 as they are so close together?

  8. says

    Aloha Dianne,

    Just wanted to thank you and Mariko again for this wonderful workshop. Not only did I get a chance to learn through your clear examples and exercises, but I made new food-loving friends and I have been brainstorming ideas for a new blog. It was inspiring and the book has been invaluable.

    Mahalo nui loa and I hope that you’ll join us in Hawaii again sometime soon!

  9. says

    How fun Dianne! I can tell by that huge smile on your face that it was a very successful trip. Those Hawaiian bloggers were lucky to have you come and teach. Taking a class like that is a good way to either end or start a year, with fresh inspiration for writing and blogging. Like sharpening your knives, but sharpening your mind and skills. Now I am wishing I could take a refresher with you locally. Sounds like you will be doing a lot more traveling and teaching this year!

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks Sally. I did a lot of traveling last year and enjoyed it, so I’m game to keep going. Next week I’ll be teaching writing at Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico. Just drive on over. It will be fun, and the spa is amazing.

  10. says

    I am just bursting with the memory of it right now. I can’t tell you the relief I feel that it went well on the technical side of things, since I always knew you would be great.

    Thank you so much, again. Now that I’ve been through it once, I would know better for next time. There will be a next time, right? :)

  11. Kristen Tuifua says

    The workshop was amazing, and it was a pleasure to meet you! I learned a lot about food writing, and the do’s and don’ts., and which areas of food writing I’m most inclined to enjoy. I’ll say I have a lot of work to improve, but you were very motivating! And yes, Mariko is amazing!

    Many thanks and much Aloha,

    Kristen Tu’ifua

    • diannejacob says

      Hey Kristen, thanks for snapping that photo of me with the lei. I’m so glad you got something out of our day together.

  12. says

    No way! I’ve been to that tea house before. Wish I could have been there. Totally nodded and laughed when reading about the furikake popcorn and finding out the people at your table went to the same school. It happens all the time in Hawaii!

  13. says

    Mariko certainly sounds like the kind of girl to have on your team if you need to get anything done! Sometimes one person can be the perfect catalyst to bring people together – I think it will be interesting to see where life takes this lady. It certainly sounds like a very productive day.
    If you do decide to go to Malaysia, Dianne, then perhaps we could combine that with a trip to Australia? We have a growing blogging scene here now, with lots of bloggers keen to improve their technical skills. Our biggest problem is that we are a relatively small bunch spread over a massive area, but I’m sure that, with enough time, we could try to pull something together.

    • diannejacob says

      It was terrific, Amanda. I hope my story conveys how much I enjoyed it.

      Whoa, Malaysia and Australia. That would be fun. We will have to discuss this in more depth. Thanks for bringing it up.

    • diannejacob says

      It’s amazing, isn’t it? And the power of social media too, to make things happen. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by this new world we’re in, but overall, it’s fantastic.

  14. says

    Hi Dianne!
    It was fun to be at your workshop and even more fun to hang out afterwards and drool in the crack seed store!

    That’s funny about you going back to California and eating popcorn and furikake.

    Wow, I’m envious that you get to go to Malaysia. It’s a food paradise there, and wonderful people. A horribly underrated country, but maybe it’s better that way; it won’t get overrun with tourists. You must be sure to eat some Roti Canai, and Cendol…and Char Tow Kway and Char Kuey Teow…(something like that)…I get them mixed up, but they are both delicious. (I have some info on my blog, in case you want to start drooling before you leave. haha.)

    And no, durian did not make it into any of the recipes in my book, nor will they…I can’t stand durian, nor can I understand why anyone would find rotting onions delicious…but you can have it in any form you want in Malaysia, so get ready for an adventure, la!

    Alina Niemi
    Author of The New Scoop: Recipes for Dairy-Free, Vegan Ice Cream in Unusual Flavors (Plus Some Old Favorites)

    • diannejacob says

      Hi Alina, nice to hear from you. I’ve already eaten all my crack seed. I found out from one of the Dames that the hair on the olive footballs is licorice root. I couldn’t figure it out. I was asking her: olives don’t have hair, so what is that?

      Nothing is set up yet about Malaysia. I have to talk with Nate. You are making me salivate with all those dishes. I better go take a look on your blog.

      • says

        Aha! Another food mystery solved. :)

        I think I’ll make some Malaysian curry tomorrow, with sticky rice. You got me in a mood! (Now if only I could learn to make the roti canai…sigh…)

        Alina Niemi
        Author of The New Scoop: Recipes for Dairy-Free, Vegan Ice Cream in Unusual Flavors (Plus Some Old Favorites)

  15. says


    Did you announce this event on your blog? I don’t recall seeing it. Did I miss it? No, I don’t live in Hawaii, however, if you ever are hosting a course here in Phoenix or nearby, I would definitely want to know about it, tweet it out, and attend. No shame in a little self-promotion if it’s of value to your audience.

    And a question: at what point in the book writing process can one call themselves an author? Journalists just starting quoting me as an author in their stories. My book comes out in December and I submitted the first half of the manuscript.


    • diannejacob says

      Hi Michelle, I don’t think I did. Usually I just say when I’ll be at a conference. I don’t have anything planned in Phoenix, but if you ever want to help me set up a class like Mariko did, let’s discuss. I’m working with someone else who’s having a smaller class in her home.

      Re your question, you are definitely an author. Journalists say so! Congrats on your book.

  16. says

    Well, Dianne so generously shared with us a few guidelines when it comes to food writing, and I immediately went out and violated each and every one here: http://www.outrigger.com/explore/hawaiian-islands/view-from-here-blog/2011/December/going-vegan-at-roys-waikiki-beach-restaurant.

    So, now, I am reading her book, because I am determined to get this right. Next time!

    Mahalo to Mariko for organizing the event and Dianne for spending the day with us. Next time, I say let’s go for the swanky restaurant. Why not!

    • diannejacob says

      Hah! You did not violate them, Kim. Thanks for letting people know about your post. Would love to come back and teach another class, whether or not it’s at a restaurant.


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