Walking into the second day of BlogHer Food without being allowed access to the opening day was like coming into summer camp late, with new firm friendships already swirling in the air and new songs being sung, with all the lyrics unfamiliar to you. As much as we like meeting new people, we were actually drawn to the InterContinental Hotel for the promise of practical knowledge gained at the discussion panels. So while we didn’t come away with new blogroll buddies, we did leave with some sharp insight from some clearly consummate experts.
BlogHer would have needed a third day in order to space out these panels so that they didn’t run concurrently, but the schedule as it was required some tough choices and some furtive diving in and out of different rooms. We sat in on “Recipe Writing” with Elana Amsterdam, Jennie Perillo, and Gaby Dalkin, missing sessions on “Urban Farming” and “Food Styling” altogether, which was a shame because our backstairs container garden and our plating skills could both use some professional tips. But the ladies had good takeaway tips, including to never be afraid of making mistakes in the kitchen; it’s where some of the best, most creative ideas can come out. Amsterdam also suggests a “Zen” approach to the craft of recipe writing and development: Eliminate having your mise en place before you start (practical cooks don’t work this way), consider eliminating extraneous articles and verbs, and write so her 10-year-old son could remember the directions on his way to the refrigerator.
A two-hour afternoon excursion to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market was a wonderful idea for both locals and visitors alike. We had fun putting ourselves in a tourist’s shoes to try to experience what they’d feel seeing this temple to gastronomic consumption for the first time. But two hours on a Saturday in that madhouse of hungry humanity was merely a tease, and a lot of long lines. Surely some of the out-of-towners did the right thing and played hooky and lingered there for a while longer.
After lunch, there was a great panel of veteran and up-and-coming authorities assembled for “Do You Have a Cookbook in You?”: Shauna James Ahern, Nancy Baggett, Dorie Greenspan, Susan Russo, and Justin Schwartz. It was clear that the era of cushy book contracts and even significant marketing help once you do get published is bygone, but there is still plenty of room in the publishing industry for those who are truly passionate about cooking. “The real work begins now,” is the refrain Greenspan hears in her ears every time she releases a cookbook (she’s currently on her 10th), for the writing is the easy part.
We didn’t want to miss “Food Photography: Think Outside the Plate,” so we tiptoed out of the cookbook session and into a dark room, where Penny De Los Santos was showing stunning slides from her travels as a photographer for Saveur. Whatever your level of photographing experience or equipment, De Los Santos had solid advice for anyone using a lens. Light is key, about 50-100% of a great photo, she said; so is color, composition, energy, and connecting with your subject, even if it is a still life.
We then realized that De Los Santos was the truly personal smile that met us in the hallway about an hour earlier. We smiled back, connecting with a stranger, and later realized how key that warmth is in her photos. So we did learn a little something about connecting with people at BlogHer after all.