Food Blog South 2012
Posted by AdamTuesday January 31, 2012
The 2012 food blog conference circuit is in full swing. Bloggers are sprawling out from state-to-state, blogging (and eating) their way across the country en masse. It’s quite a feat, and one that is shaping up to be even more robust than 2011. For our part at Harvard Common Press, our active involvement in that category of conference life began this past weekend at Food Blog South in Birmingham, AL.
This was actually my first time in BHAM (or The Birm, as I’ve been calling it), and I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of food on offer throughout the area. For a complete run-down of all the eating and drinking that The Birm has to offer, check out the concurrent blog post running here.
Food Blog South is in its second year and its popularity within the food blogging community is evident in the attendance from bloggers across the food community. Sitting down with co-founder Shaun Chavis, she tallied the total attendance just shy of 200, which actually put this towards the top of the list of conferences in the country based on those attending. For our part at Harvard Common Press, we decided to sponsor a table at the event and use that as a way to display some books, meet great bloggers, and enjoy some good food.
The official conference kicked off on Friday night with an opening party at Jim N’ Nick’s Barbecue. There was an optional media training event on Friday afternoon with Lisa Ekus and Virginia Willis, which, while I did not attend, I heard was really quite outstanding and well-received.
The opening party brought out an extensive group of those in attendance during the full-day Saturday event. Everyone came together on a rather chilly Birmingham evening to enjoy some great barbecue and good drinks. I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to sample any of the amazing spread of food on offer (though the wings were calling out to me) as I was engrossed in multiple conversations both with old friends and new acquaintances. It was a great way to start off the event, as it gave everyone a chance to introduce themselves and get ready for the networking to come. I played it safe on the drinks front, ordering a simple gin and tonic (my old standby). It ended up working out well that I didn’t pick at the platters, as we ended up having dinner at Chez Fonfon that evening, which you can read more about here.
Saturday kicked off with a slew of conference sessions at Old Car Heaven. For those of you looking for deeper meaning in the naming of this event space, there’s nothing there. This is really just a space filled with old cars, and an interesting one at that.
Since we had our table set up in the main event space, I only had the opportunity to go to the Track A events (table-manning duties took precedence here), but the conversations happening around food during these sessions were quite intense. The day started off with what I thought was likely my favorite conversation with Kara Neilsen, a trendologist at the Center for Culinary Development. She had a great deal of information to share, not only on the trends for 2012 (who hasn’t heard about those?), but also the anatomy of a trend, how it moves from Stage 1 to Stage 5 (think concentric circles, with Stage 5 being the most prevalent). While she only had about 30 minutes at FBS 2012, it turns out she’s doing a more extensive panel at IACP with other people involved, so I’m looking forward to checking that out.
Kara’s session was followed up by another (in a pair called “Lightning Rounds”) on video blogging from Jay Ducote of Bite and Booze. I was actually quite interested in the topic, especially because it’s a great alternative for authors who are good on camera, but don’t have time to write. I’ll say, rather unfortunately, that the video portion of Jay’s presentation ended up not working, which was rather ironic given that this was the focus. But the audience took it in stride, and I think we all had a good laugh over it. He still had plenty to say on the topic, and overall, it was useful to hear the ways in which one can better their video blogging (one key takeaway, never shoot vertical video, that is, always orient horizontally).
Given the layout of the room, HCP was actually quite fortunate in that we were positioned right near the lunch service, which was being provided by Shindigs Catering. They were bringing in tray after tray of hearty Southern fare, so I was gearing up for lunch around 11am…hard to keep your attention on anything else with a rumbling stomach. I was blown away by the food they had on offer, which included braised beef, broccoli rabe with sautéed garlic (the garlic was so good, I was eating it whole), a pilaf smothered with mushrooms and gravy, as well as (what looked like) cranberry stuffed meatballs and spaghetti squash, all cooked tremendously well. Everyone was raving about it, and I went back for seconds. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had on the conference circuit (rivaled perhaps only by the raw bar at IFBC), and that was for lunch!
One can imagine that after two loaded plates of food, the only rational thing to do is take a nap. While that wasn’t what happened, FBS followed lunch with a beer tasting from Dennis Malcolm Byron (AKA Ale Sharpton), with beers on tap from Good People Brewery. Kudos to whomever came up with that idea, it was an instant pick-me-up. Dennis and GPB teamed up to offer three different cans of beer (dispelling the myth that good beer can’t be served in a can): their brown ale, IPA, and the Snake Handler, a 10% ABV monster that will knock your socks off. Overall, the beers were all really unique, and it was also really useful to get tasting notes and tips (remarkably, I found out that I have been drinking beer incorrectly for so many years. It turns out that beer is best served around 50 degrees, as it unlocks the flavors and allows them to truly take shape).
As the afternoon started to wind down, I took a quick trip into the back room of Old Car Heaven, with the intention of seeing some of the classic cars on offer. There were a ton of great things to be seen in that garage, from the truly old-school to some that you may still see driving the streets of Birmingham and beyond. Inevitably, I ended up getting kicked out after 5 minutes so the garage could be closed down for the night, oh well…
After giving away almost all of the books (people seemed to love that), we made our way to Ollie Irene for a quick dinner before heading to the grand finale of the evening, a beer and cheese pairing event at Good People Brewery (these are truly good people).
FBS attendees had a chance to walk through the GP brewing facility, sample five different beers (all those offered during the morning, plus the pale ale and the Oatmeal Chocolate Stout) and pair those with some outstanding cheeses, spanning a range from subtle and smooth to super stinky. I loved it, having always admired those sorts of pairings from afar without ever having a chance to try them. It was truly as good as it sounds, and I think the gouda from Sweetgrass Dairy definitely took the cake. It was unlike any gouda I’ve ever had, with a very definite, yet not overpowering flavor that matched the beers perfectly.
As a sidenote, I will say an enormous thanks to the folks at Good People, they pulled out all the stops for us, with a beer that truly stacks up against any of the craft beers I’ve had during my time as a beer lover. Bravo indeed.
Overall, I truly enjoyed the FBS event. It had a lot to offer, both in the way of good food and good people. I found out also that most of the proceeds for the event go to benefit the Desert Island Supply Company (or DISCO as it’s colloquially called), run by the enviable Chip Brantley, who I coincidentally met many, many years ago via Twitter when he lived in Boston and co-founded CookThink.com (in which he is still involved). A success all around and a can’t-miss event for next year!