Saturday, April 30, 2011

Food Blog Forum - Orlando & A Giveaway

Something told me I should go to the Food Blog Forum event in Orlando. It was the closest food blogging event that had occurred to me, and the speakers looked spectacular: Jaden of Steamy Kitchen, Julie of the little kitchen, Helene of Tartlette, Dawn of Wicked Good Dinner, and Lindsey of Love and Olive Oil. So many food blogging idols in one room - I had to sign up!

And I had to get sick! Not a little sick, a *lot* sick. So sick as in the girl-who-coughs-in-your-face-when-you-ask-her-a-question-and-eventually-loses-her-voice type of sick. I knew the day before I left in my little rental car that it was all going downhill, but you can't put life on hold sometimes, so off I went hoping to make the best of it. Thankfully, my mental focus on not coughing as much as possible, and a high fever, helped keep me deliriously even tempered in the face of so much greatness.

Brie "Cake"
On Friday evening, everyone was thrust into a mixer at Whole Foods, with much wine, to hopefully jump right over any stage fright on meeting complete strangers. Although a few of us have forged deep relationships online with fellow bloggers, many times it can be a different story in person. Some only recognize people by their icons or names, so matching faces to blogs was a bit of a game at first. I actually wore my brown fedora for this reason, and it paid off since many did recognize me.

Asian Vegetable Salad with Carrot Ginger Dressing

I said 'hello' to Julie first since she was guarding our badges, and then dove right into the food. I was excited our first food event was with organic foods, plus I was able to steal a conversation with the management to discuss bloggers and their contribution to the organic movement. It was very high society (i.e. I nodded my head and coughed out the most intelligence sounding answers as possible under the circumstances). This is how most of my first impressions went. Le sigh.

Madurai Chicken Salad with Kovalam Beach Slaw on Naan Bread

First, Nisrine of dinners + dreams introduced herself when I went hunting for the elusive Brie Cake everyone was talking about. It was three tiers of brie; delicious, but no flour involved. Nisrine and I have been talking on Twitter for some time now, so it was fabulous getting to meet her in person. She's such a sweetie!

Crème Brûlée Sugars

Then the lovely Aggie from Aggie's Kitchen introduced herself, as we've spoken on Twitter as well. She's very easy to talk to and we chatted it up with Julius from Droolius (yes, it rhymes). The three of us shared stories over the delicious crème brûlée made with fire right in front of us. I had the coffee and raspberry flavored sugars caramelized over the top - it was amazingly decadent.

My crème brûlée with raspberry and coffee sugars.

To my surprise Asha from Fork Spoon Knife parted her way through the crowd and introduced herself. I was freaking out, people! I had no idea she was coming all the way from New York City. I have drooled over her highly impressive photography skills for quite some time now, along with her fantastic recipes. I am a big fan of hers and we quickly formed a bond. She was so kind to me, even though I was sick, and we held many great conversations throughout the evening and weekend. Hopefully I can make it up to her neck of the woods one day soon.

Alas, the first evening came to a swift end over great food and kind company. I was thankful for the early evening though, so I could make my way back to the hotel and chug down a colossal amount of hot tea and doze off.

The next morning I ordered breakfast in bed since I was moving at a sloth's pace (note to self - enjoy breakfast in bed more often) and pulled myself together to check out and head on over to the official forum, held at the hospitality college of the University of Central Florida. It was a beautiful sunny day, not yet too warm either. Too bad we didn't have "class" outside since the meeting room was a bristling sixty degrees! I did proceed to hijack the complimentary hot tea before taking my seat. I think I left some hot water behind though, so it was fine.

Being back in a classroom really brought out my nostalgia for school, but I told myself to focus and began rifling through the goodie bag instead (more on that at the end). Jaden soon officially welcomed us to the forum and opened the floor to the event's first speakers: Jeff Houck, professional food writer of The Stew for The Tampa Tribune, and Heather McPherson, food blogger of The Dish, and food editor and restaurant reviewer for The Orlando Sentinel. They were two of my favorite speakers of the forum. Jeff was like John Goodman as a foodie - he commands the room with his humor and expertise. Heather was more soft spoken, but an expert in her field and unafraid to speak her mind.

They both provided insightful and helpful information during their on-the-spot hour, including taking questions from the crowd. Jeff and Heather spoke from a professional point of view to help those bloggers who are seeking a path to a career from their blog, instead of occasional upkeep as a hobby. In summation, the following are some of my favorite words of wisdom:
  • Have a niche with something new and relevant for food editors to write about;
  • Email a food editor to begin building a relationship, which may lead to collaboration events to help build your resume;
  • & "Respect the sad." - Heather
Jeff & Heather work on a higher ethical level than many food bloggers, so the complication with giveaways and free products were discussed. While they are unable to participate in such events, food bloggers are approached and have more freedom to offer items to their readers; however, a food blogger will have more credibility and a more dedicated following of readers if they choose wisely. You want people coming and reading your blog for its unique content, not due to the fact you have free junk every week that dozens of other bloggers have. I could have kept listening to those two for the rest of the day, but alas their schedules remain quite packed and they had to be off.

After a short break, and more cups of hot tea to no avail as my voice slowly disappeared, it was Jaden's husband, Scott, who spoke next. Scott is a professional poker player (I'll have to take him up on a game one day) and web guru of Jaden's sites. He's also a good motivational speaker, and he shared tips on how to be successful in your passion. A tip he provided that really stuck with me was to write down your goals and routinely reevaluate them to ensure you keep moving forward. I am a big believer in "Lists". I write a list for everything, no matter how trivial. This habit has always proven useful and rewarding, and is a habit of some successful people. Hearing his emphasis on this trait was positive confirmation that I have a skill set already in place to ensure I achieve my dreams, no matter if they are personal or professional.

Scott and Jaden's personalities play well off of each other, and their humor was fun to see in action. Jaden spoke next and shared her tips on successful blogging techniques. She shared some hard questions bloggers should ask themselves and work towards maintaining your own brand or motto, such as what emotions do you want people to feel when they visit your blog? Being consistent and having useful content will go a long way for your readers, and you.

Up next was the lovely Lindsey of Love & Olive Oil. As a graphic designer, she was a great speaker and chock full of great advice for organizing your blog's content. Thankfully, I'm on track with her recommendations, so that was a relief.

And right before lunch, we were able to hear from Peter Scott who works for a social media marketing company. His key piece of instruction was the realization that what everyone else says about your brand, IS your brand; therefore, working your craft is important to ensure your message and content is clear and translatable.

Asha, Me, Aggie, & Helene

Lunch was prepared by students at the hospitality college, so we walked across the warm courtyard together, snapping photos of each other along the way. I was getting anxious since my favorite part was approaching - Helene of Tartelette. She was the kicker for my attendance.

Helene brought her styling kit and we were able to see her in action after her presentation. Her advice was priceless, and she is so open and welcoming to questions. She emphasized that the shooting method doesn't matter as long as your photos encourage people to want to eat the food. The worst thing that can happen, she states, is to have to erase your memory card and eat your delicious food. Continue to practice and try again another day. Genius! Her styling kit had some nifty tools in it, such as a straw to blow away crumbs from a specific area instead of risking messing up a large area of the food you're working with. She styled a salad and dip for us, to show how to work with difficult food items (salads wilt quickly and dips are often not camera friendly). Her advice will be with me a lifetime to help with not only food shots, but make me think more creatively any time I use a camera.

We headed back to our classroom to hear Dawn from Wicked Good Dinner speak next. She is such a spitfire! Dawn is soon to graduate as a chef, too, so congrats! She shared her experiences building her brand from the ground up, and how to grow as a food writer if you aspire to write for large companies. Basically, hard work pays off.

Lastly, Jaden closed out the event with her story of building her empire. More hard work and dedication! She answered many people's questions, such as how to diversify your income as a blogger and the importance of using social media to build contacts and a community to support your blog. All excellent advice that I've taken to heart for the future.

Asha and I paired up again to go change for the after party at McCormick & Schmick's in the Mall at Millenia. They really rolled out the red carpet treatment for us, and we even got to use the valet parking - score! M&S had a succulent display of food for us to enjoy - drinks, a sushi bar, sautéed Gulf shrimp over coconut rice cakes, kobe sliders, and Florida grouper over plantains & black beans. It was a classy atmosphere to relax with my fellow food bloggers and get to know them better. Helene and Jaden even sat down for a bit to share stories with Asha and me. Helene has talent as a storyteller from her travels which dares to rival her photography. Lindsey and her husband, Taylor, are also sweethearts and shared hilarious tales of their cats. Denise from Creative Kitchen finally found me at the end and we were able to chat a moment, but it was not nearly long enough. It's a shame we're all so spread out across the country, otherwise it would be a riot meeting every so often.

Alas, the forum came to an end, well over its scheduled time actually. The poor folks at M&S had to gently guide us to the door since we all just stood in the middle of their floor chatting and oblivious to the time. I am quite grateful to have met so many talented food bloggers and hope to get the chance to see them again soon. If you ever have the chance to attend a Food Blog Forum event, I highly suggest you do so.

Last, but not least, those of you who have made it this far will have a chance to be rewarded! You see, all throughout the day, Jaden was giving away a load of prizes from sponsors - and good ones. Full size mixers from KitchenAid, bakeware from Le Creuset, and dozens more. I was the lucky recipient of a copy of Jaden's book, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook. While grateful and excited to win a prize, I already own it! With Jaden's permission, I asked her to sign the cookbook for the purpose of hosting a giveaway on my blog. Once lucky reader will win a brand new copy of her signed cookbook!

Jaden's debut cookbook features simple, fast, and delicious Asian recipes that anyone can make for dinner. The cooking instructions are clear and easy to follow, along with beautiful step-by-step instructional photos for each recipe. Her comforting writing leads you not only through each recipe flawlessly, but also covers essential cooking tools and an in depth explanation of foreign ingredients you'll encounter. You can be cooking like Jaden in no time!

How to Enter:

To be officially entered for the chance win one cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook, signed by Jaden Hair, leave a comment in this post sharing your favorite recipe from her food blog, Steamy Kitchen. Anyone is welcome to enter, but to contact the winner to receive their prize, an email account and a continental United States shipping address is required. Your email and address will not be shown or shared with any other party for any reason, and will only be collected for the intent and purpose of receiving the cookbook, if so chosen.


You can receive one extra entry by subscribing to Le Grand Fromage. Remember to leave a comment to receive credit for this action. If you already subscribe to Le Grand Fromage via email, leave a comment to still receive credit!

The giveaway will end May 20, 2011 at 11:59pm EST. Any comments received after this time will not be included in the giveaway. The winner will be selected using The winner will be selected on May 21, 2011 and will be contacted via email. The winner will have 48 hours to respond, otherwise another winner will be selected.

Good luck!

Disclaimer: Le Grand Fromage and Steamy Kitchen are in no way affiliated. The cookbook was a free prize with no obligations or attachments to Le Grand Fromage. The signature by Jaden Hair is authentic and received with Mrs. Hair's full permission, including the intent to host this free giveaway.


  1. Ooh, what a fun experience for you!!! So jealous of this fantastic opportunity...thanks so much for sharing with us. I already follow you...

  2. I love Jaden's blueberry scones :)

  3. SO glad you had a good time, even though you were under the weather. I went to FBF in ATL last year and had such a great time. Those blogging conferences are a whole lot of fun!

  4. I have made a version of her Tiramisu Pancakes, which are to die for.

  5. glad I got to meet you even though it was the end of such a GREAT weekend! Sorry to hear you were sick!! You hid it well, and I truly hope you managed to have a wonderful time...from this recap it appears you did.

    I would love to win Jaden's cookbook as I've only had a chance to read it in the store here and there. The recipes look easy and tasty!

    I think I'll be making her baked crab rangoon soon. My family has been loving the wonton wrapper treats I've been making.

    Denise @ Creative Kitchen

  6. I have subsribed by email!! I've also provided you my email with these comments. If I win, I'll be happy to email you my home address.

    Fingers crossed!!

    Denise @ Creative Kitchen

  7. I just caught myself drooling over her red velvet cheesecake pops recipe ... and I'll probably end up making them this weekend.

    Not sure how to share my e-mail address without making it public! You can catch me at districtofkoala (at) blogspot (dot) com.

  8. The Indian Fish Coconut Curry sounds great.

  9. I am so happy to see you posting again! Despite being sick, you look lovely in your photo .. so that's what counts ; )
    really interesting post - as a professional food writer, I too am always mindful of the ethics giveaways and taking free stuff. I have only done 2 giveaways, of things I already owned. (Hey, you won one of them!) Ok - my fave recipe from Steamy Kitchen is the only one I have made: Chinese tea eggs. And I already subscribe/follow you! xoxo

  10. What an amazing experience you had! You take awesome photos!! I am in awe!

  11. just found your blog, glad i did :) xx

  12. I am loving her German Oven Pancakes!

  13. I subscribed via RSS and added you to my Google reader!

  14. I am sooo sad I didn't hear about this food blogging convention! Only 4 hours away from me! Who would have thought that all of these crazy successful bloggers would be in Orlando?! I really loved the tips you included in this post. I have had my blog running for a year (although not consistently). Lately I have been posting quite regularly. I hope to use some of your tips!

    As for the giveaway, I really love Korean beef but have never made it myself. I am a new reader of Steamy Kitchen, but I have heard of her blog before! I would love to make her Korean Beef Rice Bowl. I am already subscribed to you. :)

    I'm not sure how my address will be private but here is my email address: or you can swing by my blog- - for access to my address.

    Thanks for this awesome giveaway & for the great recap :)