Last weekend (and after months of anticipation) I joined 60 odd fellow foodies and bloggers from all over Australia for what was an incredible 3 days of master classes, inspiring speakers and workshops at the 2014 Eat Drink Blog Conference.
I was thrilled when I received my EDB 2014 confirmation email back in July advising my application had been successful, and as the date grew nearer my expectations grew with it…
They clearly didn’t grow enough because my expectations were blown out of the water, which was in no small part thanks to the amazing efforts of our incredible Brisbane hosts and EDB14 committee. Eat Drink Blog, for those of you who aren’t aware, is a free-to-attend annual food blogging conference where food bloggers of all types (restaurant review blogs, recipe blogs, or even food in literature blogs) come together to take part in a non-stop weekend of activities and seminars. It’s organised by a dedicated group of volunteers from the host city (usually also food bloggers) and this year was both the first time EDB was to be held in Brisbane as well as the first conference that recognised instagram and micro-blogging as an eligible platform!
With inspiring guest speakers, foodie activities, epic goodie bags and supplying deliciously OTT catering that appeased what would be safe to say was an audience of tough critics, it was clear that our organising committee (Aga Kozmic from a matter of taste, Anthony Clark from FoodMeUpScotty, Heather Scott from For the Love of Food, Corrie Zemski of Brisbane Devoured, Kelly Wong from Eating My Way Through Life, Fiona Ryan of TIFFIN bite sized food adventures and Jessalyn Chan from Feed Me Now Brisbane) had worked tirelessly for the better part of this year to put on a fabulous weekend schedule of events…
Pre-registration: Merlo Cupping Session
As a self-confessed coffee snob I jumped at the opportunity to take part in the ‘optional’ pre-registration activity at Merlo’s roastery in Bowen Hills. A cupping session held by owner Dean and the Merlo roasters and marketing team, we learnt how to properly ‘taste’ 3 different types of coffee – from the single origin Ethiopian bean, a Columbian bean and an Espresso blend we were encouraged to take in the dry aroma, followed by the wet aroma and compare and contrast the sensory impressions of each. It was amazing how starkly different they were – from intense and bitter to fruity and aromatic – and then again how they each took on a completely different sensory structure when water was added compared to without.
Funnily enough as a Columbian cappuccino fan it was the bean I disliked the most upon tasting (which I don’t think I quite mastered – it was a rapid slurp, swill and spit motion and very audible…) but of course because of its strong, pungent flavour it works best with milk.
After we finished sampling and tasting the various coffee beans and blends everyone was handed a freshly brewed Espresso Martini to sip as we toured the back roasting house floor where the magic happens…
It was there that we were introduced to Rosa the Roaster (as officially christened by an Italian Priest) a giant $650,000 piece of Brambati Italian machinery that churns out kilos and kilos of freshly roasted coffee every day. Taking the coffee that gets shipped in hessian bags (coffee always comes in hessian bags) it filters for any imperfections (no one wants a bullet casing in their morning brew!) and uses probes throughout the machine to monitor air flow, temperature and speed, all of which effects the roasting process. The coffee is then slow roasted for anywhere between 19 minutes and 15 seconds and 19 minutes and 45 seconds, which is quite long to ensure the full flavour of the coffee is brought out and demonstrates Merlo’s pride in producing a great product. They are also one of the few commercial roasters to date stamp each bag of coffee they make!
As a regular visitor of Merlo on Thompson Street I was thrilled to learn what happens behind the scenes and understand the complex process of selecting the right coffee beans and how to best serve them. And to top it off I parted with a beautiful gift of aromatic freshly ground plunger coffee to take home!
Welcome Drinks: The Kitty Bar, Treasury Casino
Heading straight from the cupping session in Bowen Hills to the Treasury Casino in the CBD, it was time for pre-registration and welcome drinks at The Kitty Bar.
Receiving my lanyard and moving into the crowd it was here I able to strike up conversation with some wonderful fellow foodie and lifestyle bloggers from all over the country such as Eat Pray Workout (a fellow Brisbanite), Little Miss Melbourne (self-explanatory) and The Smiling Foodie (another Adelaide expat). It was fantastic to share blogger problems and frustrations as well as all the joys with others who have had similar experiences and has to be the number one reason I love being part of the blogging community.
After an evening of meeting and networking, interspersed with some delicious catering from The Fat Noodle (fresh and flavoursome rice paper rolls, gelatinous tofu with a crispy coasting and mouth-wateringly tasty Wagyu sliders) it was time to call it a night in preparation for a full Day One schedule.
Day 1: Educate and Inspire
Arriving just before 9am I was blown away by the Wandering Cooks venue – from the bright blue Merlo coffee stand set up in the corner serving barista made goodness to order, to the table laden with Flour & Chocolate pastries, Chester Street Bakery breakfast toasties and Emma & Toms juices left over from the morning breakfast, to the wall of green with hanging pot plants that stretched around the interior wall.
Making a beeline for a coffee I ran into fellow Instagram foodies Global Glutton, Hole In The Wall Brisbane, Ahmazing Food and BNE Cafes and was thrilled to finally put faces to the names of all the amazing accounts I follow. After catching up on all things blog and food we took our seats to start the day.
Keynote: Food Blogging in the Lion City
Once the official welcome concluded, we knew we were in for an epic day, which began with a keynote speech from Nathaniel Ho of Rubbish Eat, Rubbish Grow – one of Singapore’s most popular food blogs. During his session on “How to be a popular food blogger in Singapore” we discovered the similarities and differences between Australian and Asian food bloggers – such as the relationship between bloggers and traditional media, the revelation that the “big bloggers” can earn up to $3,500 per post and interestingly that none of Sinagpore’s top 10 blogs are cooking or recipe blogs – they are all food reviews.
A key takeaway from Nat’s presentation was on the way bloggers are categorised and the where you want to sit in the Venn diagram of classifications – a Blogger’s blogger, the People’s blogger or a PR darling…interestingly although probably not surprisingly, 9/10 of Singapore’s top food bloggers sat in the PR darling category.
Nat’s philosophy though is to be honest – providing real content and what he hopes is helpful dining advice presented in an interesting way. He is determined not to be deterred by the media’s double standards (despite many of his pieces of writing being copied in the news without credit) and most notably also considers Top 10 lists to be irresponsible…because that means you’ve literally tried everything to make the comparison.
Morning Tea: Cake, Pastries and more Merlo
Session 1: ACCC Guidelines
Claire Davie both blogger behind Melbourne Gastronome and lawyer was the next speaker and provided an incredibly insightful session on the importance of transparency.
I’m fairly sure everyone in the room was guilty of it but we soon learnt that the phrase “was invited to try” probably isn’t enough to inform your reader that you’re essentially eating for free and have been invited by the venue for a complimentary meal. So how do you navigate “invited to try” vs. “sponsored post” vs. “hosted’? Claire’s advice was to blog with the upmost transparency and to provide a disclaimer at the beginning of each post where you have been a guest/received a complimentary meal. According to the ACCC disclaimers must be prominent and a line at the bottom of your post mightn’t cut it if you’re pulled up.
Session 2: The evolving media landscape
For the third session, Damien Condon of Lucid Media – a PR and digital solutions agency who were among the first to pioneer food blogger/hospitality liaison and engagement in Brisbane – revealed that there are plenty more exciting developments in the media-blogging and collaboration space.
His advice for to staying abreast of the rapidly changing landscape and navigating new technologies (because there will always be a new channel) was to use the powerful tool SumAll – all all encompassing social analytics tool. Find what people are talking about/using and be an early adopter to establish yourself in the conversation.
Lunch: aka Food Porn Extravaganza
With more incredible catering from sponsors such as Stella May Fine Foods (hello boozy duck pate and oat biscuits), Power of Mushrooms (still licking my lips over their Japanese Prawn and Mushroom Pancakes) and a seriously epic assortment of fresh and healthy salads from Wholesomeness Catering (think carrot and cous cous, squash and quinoa and seed and homemade nut crackers with dried figs and labnah) lunch was certainly a decadent affair…
Session 3: Inspire/Expire Panel
This session on “keeping motivated as a blogger” had to be my favourite for the day…especially considering my recent ProBlogger post around struggling to fit it all in and finding time for the things you love. The key, underlying message coming from the panel – Nathaniel Ho of Rubbish Eat, Rubbish Grow, Tracey Grey of Eat See Meet and Angela Hirst of Wandering Cooks – was that:
“Everyone has strengths and weaknesses – the key is to amplify your strengths.”
I managed to bucket their thoughts into 3 top tips to continue to be motivated and inspired and avoid that dreaded blogger fatigue.
1. Do it for you
Do what you want to do and create around your passion – write as if you were writing for you, your family or your friends…and the readers will come because they’re joining you on your journey. You are more important person in your life and you need to live it.
2. Slow down
If you’re feeling fatigued, then stop. It’s that simple. Recharge, go and do your own thing, be inspired and then once you’re ready and have switched off for a while, get back to routine. Nat revealed he can often get sick of the food scene – when the invitations, menu launches and tastings get too much he shuts off for a while. He detaches from the world of PR and media and goes out to restaurants on his own, discovers new places or returns to old favourites to reset before he gets back into the swing of it.
3. Be Inspired
All three speakers agreed that constant musing and keeping a jotter or a notebook are essential to keeping the creativity flowing. The more you let the little ideas tick over the more they will flow with the potential to turn into something BIG (I knew that 3am wake up notebook I keep by my bed for late night notes was worthwhile!). Also by all means look at what others are doing either similar or differently and be inspired by it but don’t let what other people are doing affect your content – believe in what you do.
Session 4: Chef vs. Blogger – Panel Discussion
This was a fantastic session where Josh Okorn of Prive249, Tony Percuoco of Tartufo, Brent Farrell of 85 Miskin Street and Philip Johnson of e’cco bistro shared, discussed and debated the relationship between bloggers and chefs. It was incredibly humorous in execution and a great opportunity to get to know the inspiring restaurateurs behind some of Brisbane’s top restaurants. So what do our top chefs think about us bloggers and instagrammers? Aside from enjoying the new method of connecting and communicating with patrons as well as our ability to spread word of mouth, they did have a few gripes. Essentially, think twice before you critique or criticise, because these guys have at least a decade of food and hospitality knowledge on you. For example before you decide to moan about not being able to see the squid in your risotto, stop and think for a second. You’ve ordered Squid Risotto…the chef hasn’t forgotten the squid. It is the risotto.
Afternoon Tea: Vanilla or Chocolate?
L!ck ice-cream was kind enough to provide the afternoon pick-me-up – not that you’d think we needed it. But we sure devoured it! Ice cream sandwiches always conjure childhood memories of school tuck shop lines, pinstriped uniforms and 40 degree summers…although the L!ck take on the humble icy vanilla slab sandwiched by two wafers was far superior with Vanilla, jam and shortbread biscuit or Triple chocolate with chocolate ice-cream between two thick chocolate dipped chocolate biscuits. FYI I chose chocolate.
Session 5: Ethical Food
I loved Mondo Organics when I visited after the Mater International Women’s Day Fun Run – not only because of the beautiful, flavoursome food or the interior décor that makes you feel like you’re among the treetops in the Daintree rainforest – but the fact that head chef and owner Brenda Fawdon is truly passionate about organic, sustainable, healthy ‘real food’ that’s completely free of chemical pesticides, preservatives and genetically-modified additives.
For this session Brenda decided to cook two versions of a Fish Sandwich. The “Sustainable Fish Sandwich” using sustainably, ecologically caught fish, organic red cabbage slaw and artisan multigrain loaf from Pips Bread and the “Generic Store-Bought Fish Sandwich” using white loaf slices, frozen fish fillets and a pre-made coleslaw. Needless the say the differences were significant…
Brenda’s key message was to be mindful about what you put in your mouth. The world will be wiped out of food if we don’t do something about it now. We have a voice and we should use it to educate and inspire. After hearing all of this I am determined to make a conscious effort to buy more locally produced goods that are free of nasties. Thank goodness for the abundance of farmers markets in Brisbane! I also can’t wait to get stuck into Brenda’s book, Wholehearted Food, which I won after taking the below photo!
Session 6: Blogger Economy
Christina Soong of The Hungry Australian took the final session for the day and offered some incredible insights into the ever evolving blogging economy and how to be successful.
1. Define your success
Christina firstly pointed out that it’s important to define your success metrics. Why do you blog? Is it for fun? For friendships, networking, events or a creative outlet to share your passion? Or is it for profit? Do you want to achieve credibility? Do you want more likes and shares or would you like your blog to earn money? Once this is firm you can set out to achieve your goals.
2. Solve the ‘gap’
Find a gap and fill it. Solve the gap and grow your audience by providing readers with information that they don’t yet have. Post amazing, useful content for an audience that is probably searching for solutions. Network with like-minded bloggers and people and build and establish yourself in that niche.
Not only should you invest in the best possible equipment for your blog, you also need to invest in yourself. For example, take part in courses and workshops – continue your educational development and expand your breadth of knowledge in both your topic area or world of blogging. And finally, treat your blog like a proper business and take it seriously. Have a business plan, register an ABN and be strategic about everything you do. But most importantly be confident in what you are doing.
Day Two – Food Styling
Stay tuned for a separate post on the top tips I picked up from the EDB 14 Food Styling workshop…it will be up very soon.
If you attended EDB 14 and I didn’t get a chance to meet you or say hello please drop me a line! I’d love to hear more about what you thought of the weekend.
PS – A MASSIVE thanks to all the sponsors who made the event possible and for contributing to one of the best goodie bags I’ve come across…I am already obsessed with my Dreamfarm Supoon – no more feeling robbed of peanut butter dregs in the jar with this baby!