Eat Drink Blog 2011: Meeting bloggers, blogging meat

It was when she got the meat saw out that things got really exciting.

Ninety odd necks craned forward to see a knife pushed between the ribs, making clean, straight cuts. The sound of the saw teeth grating against the spine echoed over the lapel mike. When the severed flesh was turned to the gaping crowd an audible sigh of appreciation was released, just heard over the many camera clicks.

It may sound like some macabre live version of a Dexter episode, but it’s not. No, this is how food bloggers have fun.

November 5 saw the second annual Eat Drink Blog conference descend on Sydney. From the opening breakfast of coffee, juice and pastries through to the last few stragglers downing drinks in the Cross, it was a day to create memories.

But the image that will stick in most heads is that of chef Nonie Dwyer, recently back from the temple of meat that is River Cottage in the UK, bent over a whole lamb carcass. Her master class on breaking down a beast introduced the room to the idea of deep fried lamb bacon, garnering her many tweeted marriage proposals in the process. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say one was from me.

This conference was really designed to do two things. Firstly, to help foster a real community, to bring people with the same interests together. From the significant upswing in activity on my twitter feed, I think it’s fair to say this succeeded.

A lot of has been written about how the internet creates virtual communities. Historically people have had to socialise with those who lived near them, but the wonders of the computer age have changed that. We now can choose friends (of a sort) not by who lives next to us, but rather by who loves what we love, even if they are a country or a world away.

But we still love to see people face to face, and we need a place to meet new friends to sustain this community. That’s what these conferences are for, and they work beautifully.

Eat Drink Blog was also, at its base level, about trying teaching us something new. Partially it was trying to teach us how good the sponsors were, but it wouldn’t have worked without giving real lessons to take away.

So what did I learn? I learnt that I have to be a little bit careful when I’m saying I don’t like a restaurant, because I can potentially be sued. I learnt how some people manage to make some cash from this game. And I learnt that a pinch and a slap is an impressively effective way to knead dough.

Though arguably more useful than the things I learnt were the questions I asked myself about my own blog. In particular, how can I make it better?

In the coming weeks I will be making some changes to this blog along with my answers to this. There will be effort to connect with other bloggers, and with my readers. I will also endeavour to actually read my blogs before I post them, hopefully improving my writing.

What I probably won’t be doing is adding photos to my blog. There is something appealing about being the only blog at the conference to have no photographs. It’s a point of difference.

Plus, and this is probably a more important point, when it comes to photos, so many people are a lot better at it than I am, as you will see if you look at any other run down of this conference. In particular I really like those at Everybody Loves Ramen and 84th&3rd. But for me, when my dish comes to the table, I want to eat it. I’ll stick to my words.

One last question that I had to ask myself was whether I would accept a free meal. The conference finished with a very involved discussion of blogging ethics, led by Tammi Tasting Terroir and Canberra’s own Progressive Dinner Party, and it pushed these questions. General opinion was that it was ok, provided there was full and open disclosure, but I am not sure, for my personal standards, that is enough.

This conference was paid for entirely by sponsors, for which I am extremely grateful. But it is because of this that I have not reviewed the dinner at Kingsley’s Steak and Crabhouse, the breads and pastries from Brasserie Bread, or the lunch provided by Meat and Livestock Australia.

I don’t feel comfortable publicly giving my opinion on food that I haven’t paid for. If I say it is good, I don’t want people to wonder if I’m compromised. If it is bad, I don’t want to feel guilty about saying so.

Though, really, it’s a bit of a moot point at the moment. I’d have to get more readers first.

There aren’t many times in my life where I have been in a room with so many people who are as passionate as I am about one subject. It was an intoxicating experience. So thank you to the organisers, Trina (The Gourmet Forager), Jen (Jenius), Reem (I Am Obsessed With Food) and Simon (The Heart of Food).

Which leaves only one thing to ask. Where is next year’s conference being held?

And who’s bringing the saw?

About freehugstommy

Food, films and politics are my triumvirate of passions.
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20 Responses to Eat Drink Blog 2011: Meeting bloggers, blogging meat

  1. It takes some balls to have a food blog that relies solely on it writing when the community is very leans heavily towards the visual mediums of photography, and to a lesser extent, video. I commend you for staying true to that stance.

    As for the saw, I wouldn’t mind if it was Nonie again. You know, because she’s great at demonstrating how to butcher meat and make deep fried lamb bacon and stuff.

    • Thanks Simon!
      I did once try to photograph a meal. I completely forgot for half the dishes because I was so excited about eating them, and the photos I did take looked awful. So I think I have to play to my strengths.

      And agreed about Nonie. I doubt any of us would mind watching that demonstration again.

  2. Love the first line of this post! Nonie was brilliant wasn’t she. I’ll look forward to seeing what changes you make on your blog… (Glad you like the photos!)

  3. Sefie says:

    I see someone paid attention to Valerie’s writing seminar! The idea of not having any pictures on a food blog is a fascinating one, at the very least, it’s one that won’t give you away for browsing the internet at the office ;)

  4. I like that you have chosen to not have photos on your blog :) With digital photography it can be easy to take a good photo and I find that there are a lot of blogs out there which have great photos but they don’t have anything interesting to say.

    I would love for the conference to be held in WA, we can offer you Vince Garreffa (aka the Prince of Flesh).

  5. Really enjoyed reading this. What a fantastic day it was.

  6. I have so much to say about what you’ve written here, please accept my apologies in advance for the length of this comment.

    First, THIS;
    ‘So what did I learn? I learnt that I have to be a little bit careful when I’m saying I don’t like a restaurant, because I can potentially be sued. I learnt how some people manage to make some cash from this game. And I learnt that a pinch and a slap is an impressively effective way to knead dough.’

    I loved that paragraph and would like to congratulate you on it. Actually, I want to congratulate you on the whole post, it is fantastic.

    Secondly, I applaud you for sticking to your guns and not putting photos on your blog. It’s intriguing. I’d be interested to know what that does to your readership. I suspect it turns some people off initially, but I also suspect that anyone on your blog is actually reading it. The only way I could see photos on your blog would be if you teamed up with a food-loving photographer went round Canberra eating and having them photograph the food.

    I think you’re right, it is a point of difference. What’s more, it’s authentic. You can’t wait to eat the food, so you don’t take pictures- what better example do you need of a love for food? I’m the same in that I only review coffee. Surreptitiously taking a few pics of a macchiatto is way less stress than photographing course by course while the chef looks on, bemused.

    Thirdly, the conference definitely got my thinking about my blog. What’s the point of it? Where is it going? Do I want ads? Is my writing any good? Where are all my free meals? No but seriously, community is so so important here, and meeting other people who are now all probably asking themselves thes same questions was a fantastic experience.

    I think I will write about the dinner, because it’s the first time I ever ate such a fancy meal. But I get where you’re coming from.

    Thank you for writing this!

  7. Great recap! Thanks for the link as well :D

  8. Reemski says:

    I loved this post so much. For me, although I couldn’t be there, the conference was about community and connecting people. Sponsorship was simply a means to an end. I’m so glad you all enjoyed yourselves so much.

  9. Julie says:

    Great blog post on the conference and sticking with the no photos rules. I’m really your other blog posts, very well written. I can pretty much visualise everything in my head, that’s what good writing is about :) well done.

  10. Hi Tommy,
    A very thought-provoking post. Your writing is your strength so once I got over my initial surprise I didn’t really notice the absence of photos on your blog at all.
    I’ve worked in the not for profit sector and fundraised for many years and take a slightly different view of sponsorship to you. My take on it is this: when a company becomes a sponsor he’s buying into a partnership with you, but he’s not buying you. If the sponsorship is a good fit – i.e. you both respect each other’s work, philosophies and integrity – then you don’t have to worry about feeling compromised by the cash involved. A good strategic and mutual partnership will allow you to both access resources/markets/opportunities that you wouldn’t be able to do by yourselves.
    So for me, I have no problem writing about great food/products etc that were freebies because I always disclose it upfront and I never make promises to write about just any old thing i.e. I don’t just write about something because it’s free. It has to be good for me to write about it. If I don’t like it then I don’t blog about it.
    I also make it pretty clear what my parameters and expectations are to any companies comping me so that there is no possible misunderstanding.
    Not trying to change your mind, just letting you know how I see it :)

    • Hi Christina.
      Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see anything wrong with sponsorship in appropriate situations, and in the not for profit sector it is vital. It is also important for something like this conference, to make sure it covers the broad range of bloggers in this country instead of just those who can afford it.
      Although, aside from the issues I pointed out in the post, for my blog I don’t feel it makes sense for me to take free meals (even if they are one day offered). The first point in Valerie’s talk on writing was to intimately know your audience. For me, this is quite easy, as my reader is basically me. I am someone who likes to eat out, and who has the resources to be able to, and I imagine my reader as being very similar.
      The reason that most people give for accepting these offers is to allow them to talk about something they wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. If I am aiming for an audience like me, why would I want to write about somewhere that I can’t afford?
      As i said, it’s not like it makes a lot of difference. I haven’t been offered any freebies, and Canberra only has about three restaurant openings a year (slight understatement, but you know what I mean), but it is still something to think about.

      Anyway, I would never judge another blog for making that choice, as long as they disclose. If I am regularly reading a blog it is because I enjoy how they write, or the images they take. When looking for information about a particular place, I will look at as many blogs as I can, as well as traditional media. I like to think I’m media savvy enough to tell the difference between real buzz and manufactured buzz (if such a thing really exists to the scale that some people say).
      I’m basically just ranting now, but it is early in the morning. Not sure how my brain is working.

      But I’m very glad you like my writing. Thanks!
      Tom

  11. Hi Tom,

    I agree with what you’ve said above.

    I think it’s great that you know yourself and your audience so clearly and are sticking to your guns to cover what you think will serve the blog best.

    And I’m sure I’m not the only one who enjoys your writing :)

    Cheers

    Christina

  12. Monica says:

    Great post :)) Lovely to meet you at the conference. You’re right in that it was a buzz to meet so many people who are into food as much as one self. I sure didn’t feel like a food obsessed freak!
    I look forward to reading some of your Melbourne reviews and try and decide where to eat. I think your description of the eggplant dish at Dainty Sichuan has me going to South Yarra on day one!

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