Back from Austin, Y'all!

Jun 082011

Just me and a steer outside the opening IACP reception. I've already been corrected after calling it a "cow." (If you took this photo with my camera, please remind me.)

I’m just back from Austin, Texas, land of 1600 food trucks, endless barbecue, hipster farmer’s markets, and 100 degree temperatures that weren’t supposed to start until July. I was there to attend the International Conference of Culinary Professionals (IACP) annual conference, and to spend a few days afterwards with a friend.

My booth at the book fair was next to Jacques Pepin's. This guy brought every Pepin book in his library for Pepin to sign, and Pepin did it!

The IACP annual conference is one of my favorites, and I’ve only missed one in the last decade or so. At this year’s conference, my only official task was to sell my book at the culinary book expo. I’m happy to report that Will Write for Food sold out.

Here are a few observations and confessions:

1. At the annual awards, every single winner of the Bert Green Awards for Food Journalism was a man, in a female-dominated field of food writers for publications and the web. (I’ve made the same observation before with the Beard awards.)

I corralled Saveur magazine’s Deputy Editor Beth Kracklauer in the foyer of the historic theater afterwards, to get her thoughts. The poor woman was trying to savor her two Saveur awards, and there I was, harshing her high. Though judging is blind (meaning bylines are removed), most of the finalists were men too. Kracklauer wondered if this trend has something to do with who gets story assignments in the first place. We vowed to talk about it more.

2. Views differed about attending sessions. Everyone had a different strategy about diligently showing up versus networking, sightseeing, running around the city eating, drinking or biking. At the start of the last group of sessions, one guy joked about whether he should go to his first one. That seemed a little extreme! Then there were secondary arguments about whether to go to sessions because you should go, versus sessions that you thought were fun.

3. Lots of people were talking about my recent post about conference anxiety and some tried to gauge whether this conference was similar to BlogHer Food in that respect. The BlogHer crowd is younger, but the usual cliques were apparent. I’ve decided that popular and successful people like to hang out together because they understand each other. That is my latest theory.

From left at the Ate.Cafe: Amelia's granddaughter Delfina; Amelia's former assistant, blogger Nealey Dozier; Amelia Saltsman; Deborah Madison; Deb's friend Emily; Joy Canovsky from the Sustainable Food Center (SFC); Amelia's daughter Rebecca from the SFC; and me. Photo by Ralph Saltsman.

As for my own popularity, before the conference, cookbook author Amelia Saltsman invited me join her at a dinner of family and friends. To my delight, Deborah Madison, a longtime friend, came too. The three of us met and befriended each other at the Greenbrier Professional Symposium for Food Writers 12 years ago. Amelia’s daughter and son-in-law run the restaurant  Ate.Cafe, and they spoiled us with course after course of exquisite tapas.

Cookbook author Martha Hopkins also contacted me beforehand because we had not met and we’re going to teach a class together soon. We went out for appetizers and drinks at Paggi House with the always hilarious food stylist Denise Vivaldo, discussing our upcoming class in Los Angeles on cookbooks while feasting on exceptional mussels and fries, beef tenderloin skewers, and fried calamari. The three of us will join forces to help you make your dream project a reality. Hope to see you in L.A!

4. The best part about attending conferences is the people. It was a thrill to see former and current coaching clients, some of whom I have never met in person, and some I only see ocassionally. I loved meeting strangers who said they read this blog, and people who have commented but who I’ve never met in person.

When two writers in the Hilton lobby said, “Your book changed my life,” simultaneously, I tried to think of a gracious answer and not choke up. I choked up. There’s no higher praise than that. Okay, maybe a close tie is when speaker cookbook author Dorie Greenspan and winner of the IACP Cookbook of the Year recommended Will Write for Food during a food writing workshop.

5. Even though conference-goers wore nametags, for some reason I remembered them based on their clothing. Here’s the problem: The next day, they wore a new outfit. I got a good conference tip about remembering people: You say, “How nice to see you,” not “How nice to meet you,” just in case you have already done so.

My host, Mary Margaret Pack, at a pie social. How does she smile in 100 degree heat?

6. After the conference, there’s nothing sweeter than a few days with a good friend. I stayed with food writer Mary Margaret Pack, whom I met and bonded with at an IACP conference years ago. (See a theme here with forming friendships from conferences?) She took me to see the Number 1 tourist attraction, Austin’s bats, as well as toured me around to several culinary and cultural hotspots.

But enough about me. How was your conference experience? If you wrote a post, or know of any, please let me know. I’ve found these great ones so far:

P.S. Two more things to know about IACP:

  • Next year’s conference is in New York, March 30-April 2, 2012.
  • Watch all the IACP sessions for only $69 with a Virtual Conference Pass.
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  40 Responses to “Back from Austin, Y'all!”

  1. Dianne, I met you in the Hilton lobby too, but was a little too shy to say to you in person what a profound impact your book has had on me this last year. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I mentioned you several times to people at the conference. I was at that craft of food writing workshop and many of the points mentioned at that session were already in your book (same with the advanced blogging session). So, basically, your book rocks! P.S. There’s an additional post IACP blog I came across today

    • Thank you so much for saying so, Shef. That’s okay that you were shy. I have been there too. But eventually we did meet and had a good conversation — by the elevators, I think.

  2. It was great to see you and share family stories on our hot and balmy walk back to the hotel one evening… I haven’t mustered up the energy to write my meaningful post about the Kids in the Kitchen event, but did manage to write this one:
    It’s about…you guessed it, good friends.
    ps. Glad you got to see the bats. They were amazing! I even included one of my favorite photos from the river the night that we went out.

    • Hey Michelle, yes, even though we are both in the Bay Area I seem to spend more time with you at events elsewhere! Your photo of the bats is amazing.

      Seeing old friends and making new ones is one of the great pleasures of IACP. I see that we have the same theme.

  3. Great post Dianne,
    Sounds like IACP was a resounding success. I heard the conference is in NYC next year…I’m already planning to go :)

  4. Dianne, I’m really happy I worked up the courage to say hello to you. I didn’t get to attend many panels due to my day job but being around so many accomplished people in the food industry was inspiring and I tried to soak up as much as possible.

    I didn’t realize Mary Margaret was the friend you were talking about! She’s lovely; I hope I get the chance to know her more than just in the food swaps we do here.

    So glad you enjoyed your stay!

    • Hey Megan, it was funny to see on Twitter that I was one of the people you were too shy to say hello to. Glad we finally got to meet. Yes, Mary Margaret told me about the food swaps. She had a few jars on her kitchen counter from the trade. Austin is so incredibly cool.

  5. Thanks Dianne for your summary and observations especially the contrast to BlogHer Food. I’ve yet to attend a conference having been blogging less than a year but have to admit the focus on blogger summaries about the social dynamic does not lead one to want to buy a plane ticket in the near future! I’ve been surprised that is at the forefront of summaries versus the quality of educational content (which speaks to the prominence of it all). Thus far this conference seems to present to have the strongest professional content and ‘ambiance’ if you will. I’m sure there is good and bad about them all but early reports favor IACP I think! Thanks for the write up.

    • BlogHer is a valuable learning experience for bloggers. It is just a different scene. I have written about it before and there is lots to recommend.

      Believe me, there was lots of conference anxiety going around at IACP as well. People talked with me about others’ behavior and their own sense of uncomfortableness in being in crowds. Normally I wouldn’t write about my social life during the conference, but I thought I should provide some contrast.

  6. Dianne,

    Thanks for your update on IACP. I wasn’t able to attend this year and hope that Winnie is right about NYC next year.

    I’m intrigued about your #1 observation regarding men vs women getting awards and assignments. I would be interested in more about this trend. In fact, I hope it’s a trend, not a reality. (I’m a relatively new food writer) On that note, back to my next article.

    You and your book deserve all the praise you get. I have the original and the revised edition. Thanks. Welcome back.

    • Oh that is sweet, Maureen. Thank you.

      Re this men vs. women thing, I’m afraid it’s reality at the top, not a trend. I need to talk to more people and think hard before writing about it again.

  7. Hey DJ,

    Your book sold out at the cookbook fair? Way cool—I don’t even think Jacques Pepin sold out of his, which is not to say that I didn’t love his little baked cheese dish that he demo’d. I love that he said you could make it lighter by serving it over salad greens. The perception of lightness, perhaps. : )

    It’s so true that any conference is an exercise in planning which class to go to, how to get invited to dinner with x, and whether playing hooky for fun stuff can be justified when the conference fee is coming out of your own pocket. The only thing I know for sure is that I can’t know which session will be good until I sit in it. The most boring-sounding ones can be the most fascinating, or I can sit next to someone who ends up becoming a dear friend. Playing hooky at last year’s IACP in Portland yielded a collection of bitters that altered my cocktail-making life and a pair of peacock-printed leggings that make me look significantly cooler than I am.

    This year, Shirley Corriher took the cake, so to speak, for me with her pie crust. (The secret? Combine super-cold flour and rectangular cubes of fat—not using your fingers or a food processor or a fork—but rolling the two together on your kitchen counter with a rolling pin to create thin sheets of flour-coated butter.) This may be old-school for all you bakers out there, but it was news to me.

    Here’s to some flaky pie crust in all our futures, serendipitous conference connections, and New York City 2012. Casey, be careful what you offer!


    • Jacques Pepin probably had way more copies to sell than I did! But still, I was happy to hear that. I felt badly for those who had to wait in line for 1 hour to buy books, especially because the book fair was only 2 hours long to begin with. And yes, I loved those little baked cheese dishes in his session. They looked awfully caloric, though.

      I was hoping someone would address this issue of deciding which sessions to go to and when to play hooky. It’s so true that you can only know by going. I went to the blogging session while Corriher taught her class, and we could hear the peals of laughter in the next room. I can’t say I learned anything but I felt obligated to go. Thanks for the tip about pie crust success.

  8. Dianne, it was fantastic to finally meet you in person in Austin! Thanks for your write up and thoughts. I found myself nodding as I read. It was our first conference and we had a great time. I wish I had joined IACP years ago and been going to conferences, but all things in their own time. This was the time for us to start. We learned at ton at the sessions. I took 15 pages of notes on my laptop! We wrestled at which sessions to take sometimes, because there were multiples going on at once that sounded good. Some I missed and wish I could have split myself in two. Actually, we did split up to cover more sessions. It was wonderful to connect with you and meet so many neat people from all walks in the culinary world. And as you know, my copy of your book it dog-earred, highlighted and sticky-noted. No Surprise it sold out. I’m a walking advertisement for you! Darina Allen was listening to you intently during a round table, so I passed your website link and info to her, which she appreciated. Such a good week! So much learning to unpack. NY is already on the calendar. Talk with you soon.

    • Thanks Sally. I met Darina at an IACP conference years ago. She and I were just two tired participants, chatting at a table during the culinary expo, and someone came up to me afterwards to tell me how famous she is.

      You could probably sell those 15 pages of notes– I am sure most people did not do that kind of note-taking. But you are an excellent student, Sally. I was so happy to meet you and Kent at last. Your star is ascending.

  9. Dianne, I don’t think I need to tell you again how happy I was to finally meet you properly. I’m sure hundreds of people want to chat with you during those conferences but you were always so gracious, patient and generous. All of us in the food writing/blogging community are lucky to have you!

    All men winning: I hope you’ll get back to us with another post about this trend. It’s very intriguing.

    Popular bloggers: I do think as well that they hang out with each other because they find it relaxing to be with others who have reached the same level of success they have (and avoid having to answer to countless questions and compliments for an hour or two). These get togethers can feel overwhelming at times, I can only imagine how it is when you have someone new presenting him or herself to you every minute. I totally got it when I read a tweet by Penny De Los Santos on Thursday morning: “I’ve already had 200 30-second conversations and it’s only day 2 of #IACP.” Most are totally graceful with new people but at some point, I think they just want a break from it all.

    • Marie, thank you. Re popular bloggers/popular people, you have said it well. If they hang around with each other, it’s not so overwhelming. Also they want to hang around with people in their own class, not to mention people above them, just like the rest of us. I’m trying to give them a break.

      • Marie and Dianne, to piggyback on your discussion, I think another reason successful bloggers tend to clump together is that they’ve been attending these events for years. It’s always easier to talk to someone you’ve met before, regardless of her status in the group.

        • Another good point. We are doing such a good job of trying to understand celebrity.

  10. Thanks to mention the Virtual Conference Pass, it sounds as a great resource for people like me based in Europe. Your post really gives the conference atmosphere.
    Any similar European Conference?

  11. Dianne, I’m so glad that you enjoyed your time in Texas. And yes, even we natives, think it’s too hot too soon. Unfortunately, my intentions to attend (hey, it was a quick 3-hour drive south on I-35) were upstaged when I was asked to prepare desserts and give a cooking demonstation that weekend for the Tea in Texas magazine annual Tea Event. My fellow speaker was Millie Coleman (Frances Virgina Tea Room Cookbook) who drove to Dallas after attending the convention. She said it was great and she definitely knew you. Thanks for giving us non-attendees some sense of what went on at the convention.

    • Hey, you had a working gig — that’s always worthwhile. Sounds like a particularly fun one also.

      I saw Millie at the conference a few times, though we didn’t get to talk much. We met at the Greenbrier 12 years ago, just as I met Amelia and Deborah.

  12. […] pleasure of having dinner on Friday evening with the ever-inspiring Dianne Jacob. Here’s her story. (and I’m in a […]

    • Loved meeting you, Nealey, and hearing about your gigs as a freelance food writer. Very impressive.

  13. Perfect post as always. You captured the mood flawlessly as well as the “should I or shouldn’t I?” questions about sessions. I chose fun! And friendships over overt networking. I thought it was a really good conference. Felt low-key and friendly. Kind of like Texas. As always, it’s great to see you outside of our native habitats.

    • Thanks Vanessa. Can’t go wrong with choosing “fun.” Some of the sessions were really fun. I already made chicken the way Jacques Pepin did in his demo. It’s so easy — just slice a chicken breast vertically and slide in olive tapanade. Now we have to work on seeing each other WITHIN our native habitat of Oakland.

  14. So sad I missed it, and you Dianne. Love this wonderful and humorous recap, a good reminder of why I will not miss next year. Of course it’s in NYC, couldn’t be happier about that. I’ll look forward to seeing you there, if not before. Greenbrier? 😉

    • You’re going to the Greenbrier this year? Good for you. I won’t be there, but chances are good that I’ll make IACP next year.

  15. I’m hoping to attend my first ever food blogging conference later this year, so I’ll let you know how I get on.
    But, bravo to you on being recommended by Dorie Greenspan – that is some great peer acknowledgement indeed, and not undeserved.

  16. It was so great to see you again at IACP (the first was at BlogHer Food ’10) and sit in on Dorie and Hank’s blog to book session with you. I agree with you that the best thing about these conferences are the people. There is so much to be said about social networks at conferences and after attending a handful of conferences I’ve developed this strategy: to learn, engage, and to have as many meaningful conversations as possible. Dorie is right, we should all read your book and not just once. Next time I’m in Austin, I’ll have to check out the bats…

    While I still have yet to unpack from Austin (clearly I can’t let go), I did write a post about it:—the-takeaway-from-iacp.html


    • Hey Nikki, what a fantastic post. I love your art-drenched perspective, and those portraits of the food trucks were so complex. I could have stared at them and the scene for hours. Thank you.

  17. Dianne, Congratulations on selling out at the IACP book fair. I, too, was placed next to Jacques Pepin at the IACP conference in Montreal, 2003. Lines snaked across the space in front of his stand, while I think I sold two books! (MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN). Although we didn’t talk, he was generous with his smile. That was the only conference I’ve attended–I loved the networking, I attended all the workshops. However, I have recently dropped my IACP membership because I think that, for an international member who cannot justify the expense of attending the annual conference, IACP doesn’t offer me enough.

    • Hi Janet, small world about IACP book fairs. I guess it depends what you want to get from IACP. I love seeing friends and meeting new ones, but I also worked. I had a meeting that already led to work from a publisher and another that will do so soon, I hope. And I met someone in a small session who just hired me to coach her on a book proposal she needs to finish. So I more than made back the money I spent to attend.

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