Do what you love, work hard at it, be yourself: IFBC 2010

I’ve been reflecting on my time at the International Food Bloggers Conference in Seattle this past weekend. Flying home on the redeye on Sunday evening, my mind was buzzing and full of ideas gleaned from both the sessions I attended as well as from simply chatting with other bloggers.  But where to begin?

Why with a coffee, of course! From Dr. Nathan Myhrvold’s presentation on “Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking”

Those of you following the #IFBC hashtag on Twitter might have had the impression that it was one giant eating and drinking fest. There was most certainly a party atmosphere…

I can’t think of a better place to hold a food blogging conference than at Theo Chocolate

Food bloggers get possessive over their beers!

What’s a party without cake?

Salty Seattle was dressed to kill for the party!

So yes, a very good time was had by all but it wasn’t all food and drink…  But how to encapsulate it all?

Already across the blogosphere, I see posts popping up. Beautifully written pieces like this one from Merry Jennifer, a bloggger I was thrilled to connect with in real life after becoming friends online.  This one from Jen who I applaud for her honesty.  And this one by Dianne Jacob, a writer I have long admired, who I also had the thrill of meeting, eloquently and succinctly outlining a much-discussed topic at the conference, that of giving one’s work away for free. And countless others. And I wonder what can I possibly add to the discussion?

Yes it was a weekend of partying but we worked hard too!

During the weekend, I tweeted a lot of the gems of knowledge being shared by professionals like Dianne, Kathleen Flinn, Penny de Los Santos and Molly Wizenberg but when I look back over my notes there are a couple of things that really stand out that were reiterated across many different sessions.

1. Do what you love to do.

2. Practice and work hard at your craft – whether it’s writing or photography or both.

3. Be yourself.

Number 3 resonated particularly with me with regards to my writing.  I remember when I first started my blog, I tried so hard to be un-opinionated and not offend anyone that my dad (former journalist and best editor ever) emailed me to say he thought I was doing a good job but where was Mardi, the sometimes-prone-to-massive-exaggeration and highly opinionated daughter he raised?  Slowly, over the past 15 months, I have started to find my voice.  We’re definitely not there yet, but on the right track.  So when Kathleen Flinn asked us to describe a lemon with all five senses in her session, I panicked.  Flowery, descriptive prose is simply not my style (in case you hadn’t noticed).

Kathleen Flinn and the infamous lemon

Bloggers are a competitive bunch (to say the least) and hearing people try to out-write each other made me wonder whether this was right for me.  All the fancy, poetic prose flowing freely from their pens was just not me, nor the way I write.  And I had to step back and remind myself that Flinn was simply asking us to consider different ways of looking at food and ingredients so that we’re not always using the same words and adjectives. A useful exercise to go back to every now and then to keep your mind fresh.  But above all, be yourself. Find your writing voice, practice.  In her session, Molly Wizenberg advised us to  write a little every day, even when we didn’t feel like it.  Because the more you write, the more second nature it will become and your true voice will emerge. Flowery and poetic … or not!

Awe-inspiring photography in Dr. Nathan Myhrvold’s book:”Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking”

The session on photography with Penny de Los Santos was one I had been especially looking forward to and it did not disappoint. Unless you have ever been in a room full of 250 food bloggers equipped with access to Twitter when they are in a session where they can poke fun at each other, like the writing one, or a session that is more an infomercial than a learning experience (uh, hello SEO “sell” session), you might find it hard to understand the power Penny wields.

During her session, there were no snarky tweets (no, not even Seattle Food Geek or Chef Reinvented could come up with anything) and the room was so silent you could literally hear a pin drop. The only sound other than Penny’s voice was quiet typing, bloggers tweeting her pearls of wisdom to those of you not able to attend. It was truly magical.  Her photos are stunning, breathtaking, mesmerizing. But Penny is no high and mighty “I’m so much better than you” photographer. She is so natural and approachable. So real. Like her pictures. She’s not into food styling involving a ton of shellacking and fake stuff.

Her tips included:

1. Make pictures, don’t take them. I loved this. In French, on fait une photo. So I got that. There’s a difference between making and taking.
2. Be inspired.
3. Know what makes a good photo: Consider light, tell a story with your food, compose your shot well.
4. Learn how to use your manual settings on your camera.
5. Give your food some space. Move away from the plate, shoot the full frame to give context.
6. Remember, not all food looks good from the same angle. Vary your angles.
7. Practice, practice, practice. Take photographs every day. Self-assign projects.
8. It’s ok to edit restaurant food. Take elements off a large plate and re-plate them on smaller ones.
9. Go prop shopping (love this one!)
10. Take the photographs for yourself, not the project. Shoot what you love.

See – it’s not easy. Taking good photos is hard work. That involves practice. But also, being true to yourself.

Another outstanding session was James Oseland (he of Saveur and Top Chef Masters fame) giving Saturday night’s keynote speech.  

He spoke about the impact food bloggers are having on the traditional print media.  Oseland claims to “love” food bloggers and apparently reads a ton of food blogs (not mine. yet.).  When he travels, he turns to food blogs for inspiration and help finding the best places to eat in a new city.  Oseland seems to “get it” re: blogging changing the face and future of food writing.  Saveur, indeed, does embrace bloggers (e.g. with its “Sites we Love” section).  Oseland showed his “travel photos” which reminded me strangely of mine (only much better!) – food.  He travels, he eats, he photographs it. I wonder if he needs an assistant for his next trip. I could, you know, carry his suitcase…

All jokes aside, I think the single most important statement that Oseland uttered on Saturday night was this:

“Food blogging should not be a popularity contest”

I think 250 bloggers simultaneously tweeted that statement!

Because you know what? Food blogging does sometimes feel like a popularity contest (actually it feels sometimes a little like high school, but that’s another post).  How many readers, how many comments, how many followers, what are my stats, did my picture make Tastespotting or FoodGawker (though those are questionable measures of popularity) – what does my blog look like to the outside world?

At the end of the day, Oseland says, it doesn’t matter. Write about what you love, be passionate and inspired. The rest will come. If it’s meant to be.

And that for me, was huge.  Those of you who know me personally know that I am competitive.  Which can be a good and a bad thing. I have drive and ambition and I like to do well.  In the blogging world, depending on your definition of “doing well”, it can take years to get there. And a lot of hard work and patience (I can do hard work, patience, not so much. But working on it!).  So it was incredibly reassuring to hear people I look up to tell me it’s ok to take things slowly. Baby steps…  Do what you love, work hard at it and be yourself.  Not just a food blogger’s mantra – one that many of us would do well to adopt for our “real lives” also.

(and in case you are wondering, yes, I did go up and speak to Mr Oseland. With, oh, you know, approximately 249 others. I told him I loved his speech, was an avid Saveur reader and would one day love to write travel and food-related stories for them. I gave him my card.  And then I went away and died from the embarrassment of it all).

Thanks to California Walnuts, The National Watermelon Promotion Board, The Ontario Tender Fruit Producers, The Ontario Apple Growers, The USA Rice Federation and Rosewood Winery for making it possible for me to attend IFBC this year through their generous sponsorship.

66 thoughts on “Do what you love, work hard at it, be yourself: IFBC 2010”

  1. Some good advice here and a lot of common sense as well. ‘Do what you love to do’ is very important in the blogging world. It’s not our job but for most of us, it’s a hobby we take seriously. Who needs the same pressures of work in blogging?

    I had to snigger when I read about the popularity contest. I see it both in the travel and food arenas, and it’s an ugly side of blogging one can do without. But it takes the majority to change their point of view.

    Great warp up, Mardi. I enjoyed reading your live tweets 🙂

  2. Fantastic write up – it seems like you too away from the conference some very valuable lessons, things none of us could experience solely by watching the presentations online. So wish I could have been there with you all… time!

  3. Hey Mardi – even with me not being a blogger, this particular blog of yours, and BTW, I LOVE your blogging – no impartiality here at all 😉 , rang so true for me for real, everyday life. Love reading your stuff.

  4. See. You did have something to add to the myriad of IFBC posts. And you wrote it with such voice, YOUR voice. This is not just appreciated, it is wonderful. Thank you for sharing your perspective—I am sorry I missed it.

  5. Beautifully done! Love the photos and the write up. For me, the phrase from the conference that I most enjoyed was “aggressive tweeting”. It was a great weekend and a pleasure to meet you.

  6. Great post, Mardi. Your summation says it all. Be true to yourself in all your endeavors and you’ll find inner success. Isn’t that the best way to live?

  7. Mardi, I loved your recap! Thank you for sharing your experience and tips.
    ps: I totally feel your voice in your posts. 🙂

  8. Great post! I am almost there with you. It is great to be in a room and learn and listen. We find our voice and I think it comes with experience and time. I can see myself evolve through my blog. I love it and I can’t imagine without it.

  9. Thank you for sharing! I was not at IFBC, but your recap is very well written.

    “Do what you love, work hard at it and be yourself”. Definitely life lessons…

  10. I’ve never once felt like food blogging was a popularity contest (that said, I’m sure everyone is RIGHT; I’m just saying that I haven’t seen it or felt it, thankfully). I write, simply, because I need to. I love to. It drives me. Same with photography. I shoot because I can’t NOT shoot.

    I’m like you — I don’t have a lot of flowery prose. I’m trying to break out of that shell a little bit, and add more (because I certainly FEEL deeply, and would like to learn to express it more in mere words) but generally, I’m a realist. I’m a straight-forward, non-flowery writer. (Probably due to my technical writing background.) 🙂 I loved this post; it doesn’t NEED to be flowery. Keep doing what YOU do. And yes, break out your REAL voice in your writing. I agree to try not to offend people, but other than that, HAVE AT IT, sister. 😉

    Very honest and heartfelt post. I enjoyed it very much. It was indeed an inspiring and wonderful conference. Glad I got the (all too brief) opportunity to meet you in person.

  11. I was very excited to read this after following all your tweeting this past weekend/week. I really like everything you had to say, especially the ‘blogging is not a popularity contest’ I have to remind myself of that sometimes! It sounds like you had a great time and learned a lot.. I hope I’ll be able to attend this conference some time!

  12. Wonderful article. You gave a interesting insight to an event I wish I could have attended, but my daughter’s 7th birthday trumps my adventures in blogging!

  13. Great summary of an overstuffed weekend. You’re right. I wasn’t after over-the-top flowery descriptions. The point of the exercise was just as you described it, to challenge yourself to be more creative in your own voice.

    Due to time constraints, I didn’t do the second part of the exercise. I select four or five of the longest, most poetic descriptions from the five senses exercises and ask students to distill the idea to one or two words. That’s the real challenge, to write well uses few words.

  14. Beautiful piece! It almost brought me to tears. I began reflecting on your 3 key pieces of advice and how they WILL apply to my life. I hate my job right now and cooking and blogging seem to be one of the only things that makes me happy. So, I cook, everyday!

    And I agree with your perspective on blogging being like a high school popularity contest.


  15. Agree, agree, and oh yeah — AGREE! My only regret — not getting a chance to meet you in person, as we’ve been trading tweets for, like, ever. Thank you for taking down the little gems of wisdom and sharing with the world. And thank you even more for being so honest and open with your thoughts. Blogging and the social media game can be just that, a game, and it’s easy to get caught up in it and forget why we’re doing this. At the end of the day, we all came to this place for the same reason, a longing to embrace a personal passion. I left the corporate world and I don’t think I could have done it without the refuge of a little corner of the internet to place silly thoughts and pictures, and I definitely don’t think it could have happened without the inspiration and community of bloggers like yourself reminding us all that no one is alone. *cheers*

  16. Really loved this recap of IFBC and I think you really hit home on some points. Definitely making plans to attend next year – and will be referencing this post when I need a little “food blogging wisdom!” Thank you again for posting this!

  17. I hate fangirling, but James Oseland deserved it for his amazing speech. I thought one of the lovely things about this conference is that (unlike some other blogging conferences I attended) it didn’t feel cliquey, like there were some important “popular” kids. It was lovely to finally meet you!

  18. Great post, Mardi! This was a fantastic summary of the highlights, and I love the themes that you walked away with. Be yourself is definitely a message that I took from IFBC, too. And, you know what? I love you being YOU. It’s what made me realize we were going to be friends in the first place. 🙂

  19. A fabulous summary of the highlights (and I love your photos!). You definitely walked away with some fabulous information and I love that you shared it in your voice. It was great meeting you this weekend 🙂

  20. Hey Mardi, one of the best parts of the conference was to meet you and give you a big hug, because so far I have only known you through Twitter and my blog. Thank you so much for all you have done for me, including this post. You’ve done a beautiful job capturing the energy and the warmth of IFBC.

  21. Hi Mardi!!

    I thoroughly enjoyed your post and I can definitely “hear” your voice – and it’s a good one!!! I am sorry that I couldn’t attend IFBC this year – it would have been great to meet such a great group of bloggers and of course hear from such gifted speakers.

  22. Great gathering of the best advice we got this weekend. For sure they don’t only apply to food blogging and that’s what I will remember for a long time. The weekend allowed me to feel included and inspired – and if it’s just to remain a part of this awesome community, it motivated me to continue working hard as a writer and a food blogger.

    Hope to see you again in the near future, we didn’t get to talk much! I regularly go to Toronto, maybe we can hook sometime. Cheers 🙂

  23. What a fantastic opportunity to hear all this great advice from the line up of speakers. I especially love the notion that blogging is not a popularity contest (my philosophy), and to simply do what you love. I think a genuine passion shines through a food blog. Thanks for sharing the highlights of this great event.

  24. Very nice and thoughtful post about IFBC. I am looking forward to Food Blog Forum Atlanta. I have a feeling we will be much more matter of fact and less flowery, but I am sure you had fun and enjoyed meeting everyone! 🙂

    • I don’t see that Mardi has indicated the conference was flowery Gwen but it was her self realization that she did not have to redefine her way of writing to fit what she heard from others that went down that path.

      It sounds like it was a good exercise to suggest stretching your senses without changing your voice!

      BTW, thanks for your wrapup Mardi, I’ve been reading several of the follow up blog posts and it’s been interesting to see the wide swath of attendees experiences but you clearly cited the common threads; doing what you love and retaining your own personal voice…what more can readers ask for?

  25. Really nice recap, Mardi. I like your thoughtful approach and I think you captured some really important points about an intense weekend that many of us will be processing for some time. I really love the photos you included in this post–you caught wonderful little details.

    And it was great to meet you in person!

  26. Thanks for sharing! It’s great to hear about these events but also about what the attendees get out of them. I loved Penny’s tips on photography and your three main tips concerning doing what you love and such – it’s a great philosophy and way to stay fresh in this community!

  27. Living in Spain I miss out on so many blogger events, my only involvement is reading other people posts of their experiences.

    Great to read thanks. In doing so I’ve learned a few tips too.

  28. Great post! I was following the hashtag and the live stream and I still find it amazing that this conference has 250 food bloggers. I was so moved by Penny that immediately after the conference I begged my husband to upgrade our camera. I wish I was there 🙂

  29. Thanks for the great recap of the conference. I’m with you on your dad being a former journalist and best editor ever. It’s the same exact situation for me! I love that.

  30. Very nice recap, Mardi, and great supporting images. It was an awesome conference full of relevant and thought-provoking content. A couple of my personal highlights was meeting and talking to both Diane Jacobs and Penny de los Santos…I regret not meeting Mr. Oseland. Still recovering from the weekend (brought home a cold from Seattle!).

  31. Great write up, Mardi, and thanks for your great point-by-points for those of us not lucky enough to have been there (next year, next year). You are right about writing. One thing that turns me off of a blog is reading something written that sounds fake, forced, someone trying to sound romantic, or poetic or whatever and it just doesn’t work. If you are expressing YOU then it shows! You writing, Mardi, sounds natural.

    Thanks for the photo points! I am still a long way from being comfortable behind a camera and I will read and reread your points again and again.

  32. Well done Mardi! The more your own voice shines through- the more you’ll engage like-minded readers and some who will challenge you for the better. Besides, as a write and in real life, I only know how to be me anyway 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  33. Thanks for this recap, Mardi. I was sorry to miss this conference, but really, I’ve so enjoyed reading all the reports that it makes up for it!

    Sounds like you brought a LOT away from IFBC. I’m so happy for you!

  34. Loved this post! I so wish that I had been able to be there, but sigh, it wasn’t meant to be. But thank you for distilling it down for me! “Do what you love, work hard at it and be yourself.” To me, that is you 10 times over! You never knew you had a mantra? 🙂

  35. Mardi…
    A thoughtful, reflective post. I love your dad’s message to you. But, I have a sense of your voice. I knew you were a type A way before you admitted it. Not just through your writing, but through your life shared here. And, I supposed I have evolved with my readings of you (not all posts) as your writing has evolved. I do find you honest and opinionated, but very aware of the impact and power of your words… so, you are what I would call a careful writer. I have taught English Literature for 30 years, and worked to develop voice in my students… and I consistently struggle with fine tuning my own. I loved what you wrote here today, as it has me turning inward and reflecting, too.
    I am so glad you were able to participate in such an incredible experience.
    The competition/popularity/power of blogging/bloggers is an interesting angle that you address here. I have been working at connecting our local food bloggers with a few others of us in the area, and it has made an incredible difference in that area. The collaboration and sharing that has started to happen is inspirational. We are currently in the process of planning the first stages of a provincial foodie conference here for the Spring. How can it be anything like this? It just cannot. But, it will be what we are, who we are, and about where we are from: the Alberta Prairies. And I am really excited about this baby step grass root endeavour. We Canadian food bloggers need to initiate more of the same here, too!
    Thank you for this morning coffee, Mardi! Happy September and school!

  36. That’s what I admire about you, Mardi, you’re a go-getter. 🙂 Plus, the opinionated side of you that you show to us is precious, and I wish I could do that same! It’s the middle child in me that doesn’t want to ruffle feathers most of the time.

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  38. love this post, mardi. so eloquent and so thoughtful. and your title? great advice for life. 🙂 and go you for giving oseland your card – well done!

  39. Mardi, what a fascinating post. I can relate to so much of what you’re talking about here. I am a perfectionist about things – as I suspect you are – and sometimes I think we can conflate, in our own minds, that drive with over-competitiveness. Does that make sense? I think I mostly compete with myself … but I guess that’s who I am, so it’s ok!

    Like you, I really shy away from flowery prose (I should say I cringe at it). It’s just not my thing, and it’s fine to write in a simple, clean way. Thank you for reminding me of that.

    I would have LOVED to attend that photography session; the SEO one … ug, not so much.

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  41. Trust a fellow Aussie for telling it straight. You raise many good points about these kinds of conferences, Mardi, not least of which is finding the inspiration and resisting all the stuff that can make a writer crazy.

    I found it helpful, actually, to escape to my friend’s pad each day just to get a little grounded, to keep things in perspective, and to remind myself why I do what I do and where I want to go with it. I’m sure you can relate.

    At the end of the event, though, I left feeling jazzed about this whole food blogging business — even if there are some 5 million of us (would love to know where that number hails from). Cheers, Sarah

  42. Belinda, I am still learning too!

    Corrine, it’s the unfortunate fact that anything where people have a common interest will necessarily provoke some form of competitive spirit.

    Jenn, I think you follow this line of thinking anyway but yes, it would have been lovely to have you there too!

    Edite – thanks for being a loyal reader!

    Jason, yes, the idea is simple in theory but not always easy in reality!

    Ken – she was inspirational!

    Thanks Nicole, I try my best – at events like that it’s always hard to encapsulate everything!

    Thanks Sandie, that means a lot.

    Lael – it was an honour and a pleasure to meet you! And yes, loved that “aggressive tweeting” !!!

    Gail – absolutely, a motto for life!

    Josie – thanks! Having met me I am happy that my voice shines through in my posts!

    Penny – I know – me neither. Where would we be without our blogs?

    Ivy – best quote ever!

    Amy – life lessons indeed.

    Winne – thanks!

    Jackie – so great to meet you (briefly). Thanks for your words of encouragement. They mean a lot to me.

    Evan – it’s good to remind oneself that the only person we should be in competition with is ourselves..

    Casey – oh I would say a 7th birthday much more important!

    Kathleen – wow what an honour to have you comment! I am glad I understood the point of your exercise!

    May Ling – totally!

    Molly – thanks – I need to apply those three things to my life every moment of every day.

    Wasabi Prime – thanks for your comments and thoughts. So true that we all do need to remember why we are here doing what we are doing. We will meet sometime!!!

    Jen thanks – and it was fun hanging with you!

    Lys – I need to keep this piece closeby and remember my own advice too!

    Barnaby – thanks for commenting and thanks for all your hard work. It’s no mean feat pulling off a conference like this for such a tough crowd!

    Kate – I am not a fan girl either but Oseland truly deserved that applause… So great to meet you and yes, agree that everyone felt like friends!

    MJ – thanks. It’s funny how we were both exactly how the other expected us to be!

    Carol – great to meet you too!

    Dianne – it was SUCH a pleasure to meet you at IFBC! Hope we will meet again soon…

    Nancy – thanks so much. Glad my voice is evident!

    Barbara, definitely a lot to think about!

    Marie – so wonderful to meet you and yes, definitely motivational! Please let me know next time you are in Toronto!

    Julia – yes, passion trumps popularity contests anyday.

    Gwen – oh it was pretty matter of fact 😉

    Thanks Barb for your vote of confidence.

    Anna, you’re so welcome.

    Geoff (Dad) – glad you liked it.

    Rowdy Chowgirl – so great to meet you too. And thanks – it’s ahrd to sum up the weekend in either pictures or words.

    Conor – Aw thanks. I am still waiting for the rest to follow!

    Laura – yes staying fresh is definitely a challenge but conferences like these help.

    Debs – glad I could help.

    Italian Dish, well it might never amount to anything but I am glad I did.

    Alisa – yes Penny was truly inspirational!

    Bren – love my in-family editor!

    Cristina – well I did not meet Penny so I think we’re even!!! Wish I had met you!

    Jamie – thanks – coming from you those words are very meaningful!

    ML – Cheers – I am happy you like my voice too!

    Aimée – Yes, LOTS to think about!

    Michelle – you’re welcome!

    Megan – It was not easy – so much to think about!

    Sara – yes I took a lot away from the weekend.

    Rachael, Wow – thanks. Means so much to me xoxo

    Valerie – re: your won conference, it’s not how big your conference is, it’s the power of sharing similar experiences and goals. I am sure it will be a huge success. And thanks, I prefer “savvy”.

    Charles – I loved them too!

    Joy – so great to finally meet you!! I like that you think I am a “go-getter” 😉

    Cat – totally advice for life. And Oseland probably wouldn’t remember me but I will remember his speech and meeting him for a long time to come.

    Trix – Yes, that’s our problem, we compete with ourselves. And our standards are high.

    Sarah – darn that Atlantic Ocean!!

    Sarah Henry – it was an absolute pleasure to meet you and chat with a like-minded Aussie! Even if we are but 2 of 5 million, it was so uplifting to be in that room sharing that experience!

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