Warning: this post contains shameless namedropping.
I’ve barely dusted the beignet sugar off my sunglasses and have had barely a minute to breathe since I flew home yesterday, but I wanted to share some thoughts on the conference before I forget it all. House filth and work projects (many more since the conference) will have to wait …
Wow! Was it good for me? It was great, surpassing my expectations on so many levels–I’m jealous of myself!–professionally rewarding, endlessly inspiring and just plain fun.
The general sessions were moving and entertaining, and the seminars I selected mostly fascinating and educational. I attended two intimate roundtables at The Experts Are In, one on Perfecting the Pitch and the other Agent as Advocate (“Avoid Alliteration,” we were Advised). Then on to Southeast Asian Street Food: Rhythmic Sounds and Flavors (yum, a tasting of green papaya salad and chicken satay), The Future of Food Media: Video Blogging and Food Web TV, Environmental Responibility in Cookbooks, Magazines and Newspaper Food Sections (much more interesting than I thought it would be thanks to the erudite Russ Parsons of the LA Times), Have Laptop, Will Travel: How to Get Your Culinary Travel Stories into Print, and Memories You Can Taste: The Art & Craft of the Food Memoir.
For a semi-isolated writer, it was invigorating and intense to come face to face with so many people as into food as I am. “These are my people!” one attendee exclaimed. Although I’m shy by nature, there was an atmosphere of friendliness and talk-to-your-neighbor; the already-wildly-successful people I talked to were just as approachable as the ones just starting out in the biz.
Although there were over a thousand people there (I can revise this when IACP gives us a headcount), I tended to run into the same ones over and over because the Food Writers, Editors & Publisher’s Section is relatively small (not sure how many of us were represented there). I regret that I didn’t get to meet John T. Edge, writer extraordinaire and founder of the Southern Foodways Alliance, although a couple of his intimates told me “We call him John T.” and “That man is an angel on earth,” which I tend to agree with after a very kind handwritten letter he wrote me a couple years back. I got to see him close-up though, along with Bruce Aidells and Rick Bayless (I am a self-admitted food groupie). I wanted to meet Crescent Dragonwagon, who knows both my parents, and Tanya Steel, who runs epicurious.com and with whom I have a mutual friend. I would have liked to meet conference Scholar-in-Residence Dr. Jessica Harris as well, since I’m a big fan and have some of her wonderful cookbooks (Iron Pots & Wooden Spoons: Africa’s Gifts to New World Cooking, The Africa Cookbook, Tasting Brazil), and although the opportunity didn’t come up I got to listen to her deliver a stunningly moving talk about the rhythms and food of New Orleans.
I also got to glean the wisdom of Mr. Paul Prudhomme, Victoria von Biel and Kristine Kidd of Bon Appetit, Dana Bowen of Saveur, bloggers Ed Levine of seriouseats.com, Pim Techamuanvivit of Chez Pim, and Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan of thekitchn.com.
I was also blessed to meet personally authors Kathleen Flinn (author of The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry and the FWE&P section’s brand new chair), Irena Chalmers (a former IACP president, CIA prof and extremely prolific author who lives near me), Antonia Allegra (director of The Symposium for Professional Food Writers at the Greenbrier), Russ Parsons, Mai Pham, Nancie McDermott (full disclosure: she was already a friend), Jill O’Connor, Fred Thompson, Judy Bart Kancigor, Robin Asbell, Suvir Saran (I’m still laughing), Pableaux Johnson, Fred Plotkin, Nick Malgieri and Ken Albala, winner of the Jane Grigson Award for Beans: A History. I sat next to Cynthia Nims at the awards ceremony but didn’t realize it was her until the next day when she introduced herself at a panel. I met literary agents Lisa Ekus-Saffer and Larry Weissman, magazine editors Lisa Gosselin of Eating Well, Gretchen VanEsselstyn of Chile Pepper, Todd Coleman of Saveur, Charla Draper of Southern Living, Editor Lorna Reeves and Food Editor Betty Terry of Taste of the South, bloggers Danielle Wiley of foodmomiac.com, Judith Klinger of AromaCucina.com, fellow writers Lia Huber, Cheryl Sternman Rule and Lesley Jacobs, made new friends Cynthia L., Kat G. and Polly A. (who lives only 20 minutes from me!) and met several charming restaurateurs, food stylists and cooking school owners and teachers.
I loved New Orleans, had been there once before ten years ago and was so glad to be back. But I’m going on too long already and will have to save my experiences with her food and music for next time. Yes, New Orleans is a she. A grand lady, venerable, ample and weathered, yet exotic and charmingly irresistible. As soon as you leave her house, shutting the door gently behind you, you begin to count the minutes until you can return. A couple years ago she broke both arms in a tragic accident, but she’s on the mend, ever optimistic and indomitable.
I heartily encourage you to join IACP if you’re not already a member, or if you are a member, go to a conference if you possibly can (I had to cash in some ancient stock to do it). If you are, and went, did you find it rewarding? Was it worth the trip? Post a comment and let me know how it was for you.
Coming soon: blog posts on Katrina’s Aftermath and What I Ate