“How incredible to be amongst those who understand what you are talking about. Those who do not look around embarrassed or cringe as soon as you whip out the camera at the sight of plated food. It was great talking with so many bloggers who shared the same passion and were on the same wavelength and often faced the same issues. I was loving it.”
These were the words that opened my eyes to Food Blogger Connect in a blog post written by Meeta of What’s For Lunch Honey. The sense of fun and camaraderie was tantalising, the location sophisticated and elegant and the food looked exquisite. I yearned to have been there.
I signed up immediately on the Food Blogger Connect website and waited for details of the next one… The first update I received was an article about couch surfing. Go and stay on a stranger’s sofa…why not? In my experience people who are fascinated with food are sharing and caring. Hopefully I wouldn’t be proved wrong.
As soon as the tickets were released I signed up. Paypal decided to make things difficult for me and several emails went back and forth between me and Bethany, conference founder and organiser. She must have wondered about my frantic tone but I couldn’t bear to miss out this time. I also signed up for the food photography workshop with Beatrice Peltre of La Tartine Gourmande. Would I be in over my head with my newly acquired DSLR? I barely had the L plates off my point and shoot.
Bethany got in touch as she was traveling to Dubai where I live. We met at the Armani Cafe in Mall of the Emirates. I felt like a nervous newbie, she was calm, cool, incredibly glamourous and really interesting. It was great to know there would be a friendly face in London.
Excitement mounted as the conference grew nearer. The hashtag on Twitter came into play and other excited attendees, some familiar to me and some new, all connected. Helen from Fuss Free Flavours offered me an airbed in her front room. I leapt at the chance. My teens were appalled. “You’re staying with someone in London that you met on Twitter?”
Finding my way from the tube to the venue – an exciting destination in itself as a temple of minimalist design – I plunged into the FBC11 welcome reception which was already buzzing and sponsored by the Wines of Lebanon – which, having lived in the Middle East for 16 years, I’m a big fan of. I took a deep breath, a glass of wine and joined a table outside. I was thrilled to find I’d found some of my favourite food blog authors and given that my enthusiasm was palpable, they made me welcome (either that or they felt sorry for me!).
The next couple of days covered many topics that I expected – in fact it boosted my confidence that I was already quite knowledgeable about some subjects. Other speakers were unexpected. One of my food heroes Tim Hayward had me hanging onto his every word; partly because he’s an ex-ad man (my background), part charisma, and part naked enthusiasm. Fiona Beckett provided a journalist’s view which was enormously thought provoking and practical. The whole room was transfixed by the advice from Jonnie Leger of specialist food photo library StockFood and Jaden Hair from Steamy Kitchen cleared all clutter from my thinking and had me focussing on what I really wanted from my blog (and my life!). Beatrice Peltre was a pleasure to meet and we spent an informative and enjoyable time with her in the garden – as it over-ran I missed cook book author Vanessa Kimbell’s presentation. However, the beauty of a small conference is the opportunity to talk with everyone you want to. I mentioned how much I liked Vanessa’s recipes but couldn’t get things like elderflowers in Dubai and she offered me a bag of edible lavender. It was the connections that I made which were as important and enlightening as the sessions themselves.
Helen Best-Shaw of Fuss Free Flavours was the perfect hostess; I received such a warm welcome and a special insight into the London food blogging scene from her. May Chong generously introduced myself, Helen, Ren Behan from Fabulicious Food and Sarah from Maison Cupcake to a unique food experience. I’d expected that a bunch of us might head off to a swanky Michelin-starred venue or the like. Instead we joined Malaysian students who were breaking their fast after Ramadan in a student restaurant right in the heart of central London. I loved it – the experience, the food and the fascinating conversation. I am thrilled that both Helen (professional blogger) and May (SEO demon) are speaking at this year’s conference and feel privileged as if I’ve already had a private session with them.
What did I take away from FBC11? A broader perspective on food blogging and a clearer direction for My Custard Pie plus lots of practical advice. Living in the UAE I was fortunate to be part of a network of supportive food bloggers already but FBC extended this to help make valuable friendships with bloggers in the UK and Europe. I was astonished when I wrote a recap of the year in January 2012 how much I’d achieved and experienced, and Jaden inspired a new mantra for my blog (and life).
So I’m pinching myself that I’m lucky enough to be off to Food Blogger Connect 2012. A chance to attend a workshop with the legendary Diane Jacob who has set the standard for intelligent advice about food writing and whose blog I have commented on regularly. To meet up with Silvana de Soissons for the first time – the formidable force behind The Foodie Bugle (which I have written for). To get to know Sarka Babicka a bit better – I was introduced to her work at FBC11 and I’m a huge fan of her beautiful photography. To grow in understanding and experience in food photography with advice from the amazing David Griffen and Ellen Silverman. To catch up with FBC mastermind Bethany again who presides over the conference with a big smile.
And most of all I’m looking forward to connecting with old friends and new. Food bloggers are the most welcoming and generous people on the planet – you heard it here first. Pump up that airbed Helen!
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