Monday, January 27, 2014

Food Blog South 2014

At the end of the year, I was reading a southern food magazine when I saw a listing for Food Blog South 2014 and decided to sign up. It's the fourth year food bloggers have gathered for this annual conference, and I'm so, so glad I went, and I thought you might enjoy hearing a little about it!

The conference was held at Homewood City Hall near Birmingham, Ala. It's a beautiful facility, and I realized after I'd registered that this is also where one of my husband's nieces got married a few years ago.

The main reason I wanted to attend Food Blog South is that one of the speakers was Hélène Dujardin, at right, a blogger and renowned food photographer and stylist, whose terrific book I wrote about here a few years ago. I was thrilled to be able to hear some of her tips and tricks, and I was also delighted to hear from her co-presenter, Tami Hardeman, at left, of the Running With Tweezers blog. They both came across as very down-to-earth gals, and I took notes as fast as my hands could scribble.

It was fun watching them style a shot of soup and hear some of the things they do when styling photos professionally. I was positively *thrilled* to hear Hélène say she thinks it is a myth that the best shots can only be accomplished with manual photography, as she doesn't always shoot on manual herself. She did recommend we all read our camera manuals, which, alas, I have not done. I bought myself a Canon Rebel T3 DSLR last year, figuring it would accomplish all I want and more, but out of pure laziness I have continued to use my trusty point-and-shoot, a Canon PowerShot. (Hey, it took THESE photos in generally dark rooms!) Still. Spending a little time with some professionals gave me, as I had hoped, a great longing to upgrade my photography skills and make this a better blog. (Tripod, tripod, where art thou?)

Another of the presenters was Cathy Barrow of the Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen blog. I loved hearing about the evolution of her blog, where her passions include preserving foods and finding locally-sourced foods. She also writes for other publications besides her blog, so as a freelance editor and writer myself I was taking lots of notes about how she went from a job in marketing to following her passion here. Hers was a very, very helpful presentation!

The emcee for the conference was Virginia Willis, who is the author of two popular southern cookbooks, "Bon Appetit, Y'all" and "Basic to Brilliant, Y'all." I've not met her but have heard many great things about her, and of course I have to like anyone who calls herself a "Grits Missionary," since my beloved grits is what I'd request as my last Death Row meal. It was so fun to come across people I recognized as "food celebrities." At one session, I was sitting next to a friendly woman named Cynthia Graubart who saw the "Tea With Friends" on my nametag and introduced herself to me as a fellow tea lover. A little bell went off in my head, and I said, "Wait a minute! You're not the Cynthia Graubart who … " and she laughed and said, "Yes, I am." She recently co-authored, with Nathalie Dupree, the best-selling cookbook "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking." (Nathalie Dupree, if you're not southern, is sort of the Martha Stewart of the South. Frankly, she's probably even more beloved than Martha here.) Cynthia was so gracious and utterly unpretentious. I was telling my husband about her on the way home, and we agreed that almost without exception, the most successful people we've met have also been some of the nicest. (I hope she got that cup of tea she missed at breakfast!)

Some vendors had food displays during the conference, and everyone was drooling over the breads by Lionel Vatinet, whose book is called "A Passion for Bread."

His breads from La Farm Bakery in Cary, N.C. are simply exquisite! (And I heard they were delicious, too, but I happened to have just eaten lunch when I saw this display!) It was fun to be around so many bloggers who are passionate about cooking and enjoying food, and several things about the conference surprised me. Briefly:

1. I wasn't the only middle-aged woman there. I had assumed almost all of the attendees would be 20- and 30-somethings, but that wasn't the case.

2. Some bloggers are trying to get a full-time job out of their blog, but most of those I spoke with at lunch and during breaks were "hobby bloggers" like most of us tea bloggers. Also, some are simply trying to increase their online presence to perhaps help them sell a self-published book or get a book deal.

3. A lot of people talked about "maintaining your own voice" and having an "authentic" blog. I totally get that. I've always liked that old saying, "Be yourself. Everyone else is taken."

4. Did you know that some blogs with large followings on Facebook have bought and paid for some of those "Likes" on Facebook? Good grief! I can't imagine doing that.

5. So many bloggers spoke about the great friendships they've made through their blog, and I definitely agree! That, I think, is really why most bloggers blog. And may it ever be so!


  1. Sounds like a fun gathering!

  2. What a fun conference to attend. Thanks so much for sharing some of the insights you gleaned from it with us!

  3. This type of event can always be so inspiring - sounds like it was!

  4. Oh how I would have loved this. Thanks for the review. I love Tartelette with Helene, it is one of my favorite food blogs. How fascinating to hear about buying likes on FB. I have never been good at promoting my website or blog, guess I need to buy some likes. Too funny! Would have loved learning more about the photography too. I keep thinking I need a new and more wonderful camera.

  5. That sounds like my kind of event. Thanks for the photos, info and new blogs to check out.


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