Back from Austin, Y'all!

Just me and a steer outside the opening IACP reception. I've already been corrected after calling it a "cow." (If you took this photo with my camera, please remind me.)

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.

My booth at the book fair was next to Jacques Pepin's. This guy brought every Pepin book in his library for Pepin to sign, and Pepin did it!

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.

From left at the Ate.Cafe: Amelia's granddaughter Delfina; Amelia's former assistant, blogger Nealey Dozier; Amelia Saltsman; Deborah Madison; Deb's friend Emily; Joy Canovsky from the Sustainable Food Center (SFC); Amelia's daughter Rebecca from the SFC; and me. Photo by Ralph Saltsman.

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 [Read more…]

A Lone Food Blogger Takes On the Big Blogs

Hank Shaw of Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook got a double dip of validation this year: his blog was a finalist for the 2010 best food blog award from both the James Beard Foundation (second year in a row) and the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP).

What’s interesting is that the other finalists were not other individual bloggers, but compilation food blogs on large websites. Compilation blogs are defined by the number of people who write for them: usually the editor writes posts, as do staff writers for the website where the blog appears, and then there are freelance contributors who get paid per post.

For the IACP award, the other two finalists were blogs from alternative weekly newspapers: the SF Foodie blog of San Francisco Weekly; and Eating Our Words, the food blog of sister paper Houston Press. The SF blog includes posts from award-wining restaurant reviewer Jonathan Kauffman. The Houston blog includes posts from award-winning restaurant reviewer and author Robb Walsh.

And wouldn’t you know it? Hank won the IACP award, beating out these two compilation blogs, including content from two distringuished writers.

Then it was on to the Beard awards, where Hank competed with Serious Eats and Grub Street New York. Again, both are compilation blogs that are part of large websites. Serious Eats has a staff of seven plus three interns. A large stable of paid contributors includes Mario Batali. Grub Street has a smaller staff: an editor, a senior editor, and an assistant editor. The staff  contributes content and the blog pays for freelance posts. Serious Eats won the Beard award.

Like other bloggers, Hank writes all his own material. A former commercial fisherman, line cook, and newspaperman, he’s a one-man show, writing about hunting, fishing, gardening, and cooking.

So the question comes up: Is it fair for an individual blogger to compete with compilation blogs? Should there be one category for individual blogs and another for compilation blogs? Or will the best writing triumph, regardless of how the blog is structured or staffed?

I’m for two categories. I was on the executive committee of IACP the year we put compilation cookbooks (best recipes compiled by a magazine) into their own category. Now the compilations compete with other compilation books, rather than with individual authors.

Now tell me what you think.

(Thanks to Amy Sherman, who started a Twitter war on this subject, for bringing it up.)

Photo by Elise Bauer, used with permission.