Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Food Media Forum 2013

It is really awful that it has taken me this long to write about such a fantastic weekend at the Food Media Forum back in early August at the Culinary Institute of St. Louis. I had skipped the first year because I really wasn’t too sure what it was about, but this year, I won a free entry thanks to a contest that I entered!

The conference is really the best of both worlds…foodies, food critics, chefs, restaurant owners, and local media were all available for speaking. Not to mention we were QUITE well fed three times a day! Not too many other conferences can say that! But really the best part of the conference was meeting so many people and making new friends, especially those that I had only known online.

All the meals were prepared by the culinary students so I made sure to thank them for working so hard to feed all of us on a weekend. Saturday morning we started off with waffles (with chocolate chips!), scones, egg strata, and potatoes. While at breakfast, I met a woman from Alaska who was sponsoring the event (and lunch) by Copper River.

Coho Salmon and Corn Chowder
I also met Ann Pollack, formerly married to local restaurant critic Joe Pollack, and a critic herself. I felt bad I did not recognize her, but she had quite a few things to say about restaurant writing and luckily I was able to attend her session during the conference.

I went to a lot of sessions throughout the weekend and while I have pages upon pages of notes, I hope to just hit the highlights. Yet, the first session was actually my favorite session, probably because it was most applicable: “Ethical restaurant reviewing”. I have been gently “encouraged” not to post anything negative in my food writing and that since I’m not a “critic” or a “reviewer”, I should be careful what I say and how I position my writing.

This session was a panel of restaurant owners and two professional food critics. They all admitted to the power of blogs these days, and yet they are afraid it may unfairly dilute the quality of the review. One point I definitely agree on  is to not write about a restaurant during a soft opening, or even when it’s first starting out (if you ask me). It’s better to let the restaurant get settled first. While chefs do read what the average blogger might say, they really just look at the overall view point. And don’t be mean since those kinds of comments don’t really help.

Next up was “How to adapt recipes to special diets”, which was a panel with a vegetarian (STLVegGirl), a woman on a gluten-free diet, and another on the “paleo” diet. The best part of this session was that all three ways of eating (not really a diet) are very similar and are geared towards eating healthy, nutrient-dense, non-processed foods to help fight disease.

At lunch time, the highlight was meeting my online nemeses MC Charcuterie! We started out with much debate “pig vs cheese”, but it turns out that the woman has one of the best collections of cheese in her refrigerator drawers out of anyone I know!


After lunch, I went to another applicable class, “Food Blog Design”, by one of my food blogging heroes, Stefani Pollack. I got to talk to Stefani in depth while standing in line for lunch and she is one of the sweetest people I have ever met. The best part about being able to make money from her blog is that she now has a lot more time to spend with her children. That was really inspiring.

The last three classes of the first day were about food photography and I definitely know very little about it. I struggle with whether or not to use a flash and I'm sure you've seen some awful pictures on my blog. I learned a lot, especially from famous local photographer, Jonathan Pollack (Stefani’s husband), but it’s really hard to do much with your camera phone while you’re at a restaurant. Without it, it seems too dark…with it on, the image gets whited out. I probably need to take those sessions again next year.

The first day ended with a goodies bag CHOCK FULL of stuff (everything from BBQ sauce to cake decorating tools) and a happy hour catered by Chipotle with Schlafly beer!

Now that I knew what to expect Sunday morning, I made sure to arrive on time for another filling breakfast.

As someone who is still trying to figure out how to monetize my blog, I found the 9AM “Selling Ads and Ad Networks” very useful. I had no idea there were “ad networks” that you could join as an easy way to get ads onto your site. Several ad networks include Federated Media, BlogHer, Platefull, Glam Media, and Martha's Circle. It was recommended that you should be in at least two networks to ensure that you constantly have ads appearing on your site at all times. Also, it was recommended to add “related posts” to your site to keep eyeballs there and increase page views.

Caryn Dugan, STLVegGirl, gave a 10AM talk about how to do a TV food demo. Caryn has become quite an expert after all her sessions on morning TV.

Another super useful session for me was the 11AM talk on “Affiliate Marketing”. I had no idea that some bloggers could really make a lot of money and Monica Matheny, with help from her computer expert son, was able to do very well through Amazon's affiliate marketing program. Unfortunately, a week later, Amazon announced they were ceasing all payments going forward so it is unsure if it will be reinstated.

The 1PM session was given by another familiar face, Angela Ortmann, STLwinegirl, who talked about branding. That's a pretty wide topic so Angie shared her opinion and gave some great advice from her point of view. She suggested that you shouldn't compare yourself to others, be unique, and find a niche to set yourself apart. Be a go-to person and a resource in your field. Build relationships and mentorships with others, so that it's a win-win situation for both parties. Face to face interaction goes a lot farther than just social media and use it to tell your unique, memorable, and compelling story. Be authentic, honest, and factual, which will help with loyalty in the long run. Say yes, be flexible, and experiment.

I got to meet some more of my writing heros in the 2PM “Freelance Writing” session. All the panelists had great experience writing for local publications and had a lot of tips. They suggested filling a niche, use good writing, and be able to meet deadlines. Don't write the same story for multiple publications and use your blog as a resume for editors to see your writing. Keep the focus on your story. Use social media to promote your work. Spell correctly and triple-check your work for typos. Send pitches to editors that are personalized, and explain how you can add value to a publication.

I did attend the 3PM session “WordPress 101” hoping to learn something new, but I think I have all the basics down. Unfortunately, how to host your site is a major debate for a lot of people still.

Resources:

St. Louis Food Media Forum = http://www.foodmediaforum.com/
Other Blogs:

Every Little Thing = http://www.everylittlethingblog.com/2013/08/food-media-forum-wrap-up-2013/

St. Lou Eats = http://stloueats.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/food-media-forum-night-one/