Hope everyone is having a fabulous summer! I have spent the first month or so traversing back and forth across the big pond. First to visit a close friend and attend his daughter’s graduation from Cambridge University and to attend the Food Blogger Connect conference in London. Then, I found myself back in NY working day and night on two projects I had undertaken that required more concentrated efforts than “working on the road”. Once those were under control, I headed back to England to continue my vacation, which included the Cambridge Folk Festival and a side trip to Paris. Here’s a bit about the first trip…
It was such an honor to be invited to the graduation! Not only to witness a fascinating ceremony but to share in such a special day in their lives! I was so grateful and humbled to be a part of it.
Each college that makes up the university has its own graduation ceremony in their time honored tradition, with elements dating back to the university’s origin, some 800 years ago. Needless to say, it is very different than graduations here in the U.S.. There are no celebrity speakers, no throwing of caps, and no mega venues like the Carrier Dome at SU, where I went.
Held in the neo-classical Senate-House, which was built in 1730 and is primarily used for graduations at this time, the ceremony itself is conducted exclusively in Latin. The graduands become graduates after kneeling before the Vice-Chancellor and receiving their blessing of admittance to their degrees. It is so quiet and somber in the room as each new graduate rises, bows to the Vice-Chancellor, and exits through the Doctor’s door of the Senate-House to receive their degree certificate- and to finally be able to verbally express their excitement with cheers from the other side of the door. In adherence to the strict decorum during the ceremony, photography is also not allowed inside the building! All I kept thinking was, these poor parents deserve to be able to video tape, photograph, and cheer on their children as they receive their degrees! But alas, the parental cheers had to wait until the entire ceremony was over. All in all, it was a great event with the culmination of many proud parents and some very happy young adults.
Later in the week, I traveled from Cambridge down to London to attend Food Blogger Connect, a conference celebrating its 5th year with a three day event at the Battersea Arts Centre.
I’ve been to many food blogging conferences here in the U.S. but it was exciting to experience one that featured bloggers and brands from our European counterparts. And it was a rare opportunity to network with some great bloggers that I may have never gotten to know otherwise. I am so happy to have met all the people I did. Everyone was really warm and friendly! The list of speakers was quite impressive too, with two of my favorites, David Lebovitz and Penny De Los Santos headlining.
I signed up to take a Behind the Lens Workshop given by Penny and (of course!) it was great. She is so incredibly inspiring and so giving of her knowledge. I could truly listen to her stories all day. The most poignant piece of advice she gave was “Don’t be afraid to be messy. Flaws and tension make us human and makes writing (and photos) interesting.”. How very true. Of course she said many other brilliant things too, but that one thing is what I find often holds us back. We always try to be perfect- no typos in our posts, no spills on the edges of the plates, napkins folded perfectly etc. When things are a bit askew, or a bit messy, that’s real. That’s what life looks like. (And, often my kitchen too.)
David, Niamh Shields (@eatlikeagirl) and Emma Gardner(@poireschocolat) gave a panel on what successful blogging looks like, which is very different in the U.S. than abroad as they don’t have the same opportunities to monetize and to make the branding connections on the scale that we do here. Although, Nick Carter, the Co-Founder of Sous Chef (@souscheftweet) gave a brilliant presentation of monetization and how it is possible to use display ads, affiliate marketing and sponsored content to make money, I think the way Europeans in general measure success, with an importance on work-life balance is really something we often miss here. Work to live, not live to work. (Also, even though they do have fast food restaurants, and the eco-socionomic crisis is widespread, they don’t have nearly the obesity, diabetes or other stress related illnesses Americans suffer so greatly from. Makes you wonder!)
One of my favorite sessions was given by the gregarious and outrageous Kerstin Rodgers, (@msmarmitelover) the pioneer of the underground restaurant movement in the UK. She is the chef/patronne of The Underground Restaurant, a supper club, held in her NW London home. She even has a book called ‘Supper Club, recipes and notes from the underground restaurant’ which came out in 2011. I love meeting new people and the idea of a group of random people gathering at your home and paying you to serve up a fabulous home cooked meal is a really awesome. What a fun experience that would be! May have to try it sometime!
A stand out session was presented by Regula Ysewjin of Miss Foodwise (@missfoodwise) on breathing life into your brand. She is hard to miss as she actually is her brand. Her rockabilly, 50’s inspired theme permeates her persona as well as her blog. It’s refreshing and everything she mentioned was right on target about building your brand. Of course, the most important aspect to a successful brand is to find your real voice and stick to it- not to mention writing good content- often. Much easier said than done- but that’s what I think we all aspire to do. Regula is also a graphic designer and her husband is an art director/ illustrator and they have company specializing in branding and graphic design called The Tiny Red factory.
You know how I love cookbooks, so I especially enjoyed the session about those who had written their own. One of my favorites was a Germany-based blogger and Mexican food specialist, Veronica Gonzalez-Smith (@muybuenocooking) who discussed the multi generational inspiration behind her Muy Bueno Cookbook. Another book for my list, A Family Farm in Tuscany was written by Sarah Fioroni, who is the manager of her family’s organic farm near historic San Gimignano. She shared several stories of her family’s traditions and daily life on the farm. Becky Thorn discussed recipes for typical meals served up in the lunch line at British schools from her youth including pies, mash and puddings drowning in custard. Her little book School Dinners: Recipes and Reminiscences of the Good, the Bad and the Spotted Dick is one that seems quite interesting especially since I am loving ‘puddings’ these days!
The founder of FBC, Bethany Kehdy also debuted her book, The Jewelled Kitchen, A stunning collection of Lebanese, Moroccan and Persian recipes. Soon to be released here under the title Pomegranates & Pine Nuts, this gorgeous book features a contemporary twist on the Middle Eastern and North African recipes of her youth growing up in Lebanon.
Of course it wouldn’t be a food blogging conference without food- so check out these eats we tried at the StrEAT Party we had each day:
Tomorrow I’ll share my whirlwind London tour and talk about the awesome gastro pub I found…