Foodies, Bloggers & Brands Create Magical 2015 Food and Wine Conference

Family Foodie and me

Family Foodie and me

Prologue:  In July 2011, I was talking with a woman about social media at a networking event when I asked, “Are you @FamilyFoodie?” Her eyes flew open wide and she replied, “Yes! How did you know?” I answered, “I don’t know (because her Twitter image was a chef’s hat then), but I follow you.” Her eyes got even bigger and she asked, “You DO?” I replied, “Yes, you have like 7K Twitter followers!” (She was a local Tampa Twitter rock star imho.) She said, “I know.” “So what are you doing here?” I asked. She looked at me quizzically. Later I remarked, “Think you’ve found your next thing with Family Foodie.” No truer words were spoken. In 2011 she started familyfoodie.com. In 2012, she created an army of bloggers ready to work with food brands to bring families back around the #SundaySupper dinner table via SundaySupperMovement.com. In 2013, she launched her very first Food and Wine Conference. That is tremendous growth (and hard work!) in a very short time, especially while raising four kids. Missed the first #FWCon while moving back home. Missed last year because of other commitments, too, but really wanted to go after seeing all the food in my Facebook newsfeed! So July 17-19, I went, I saw, I Instagrammed/Facebooked/Tweeted, I ate, I learned and I grew!

What is the Food and Wine Conference? To quote the website: “The Food and Wine Conference brings together bloggers, small business owners, winemakers, chefs, PR professionals, traditional media, new media, authors and brands.” For what? To talk about (and eat!) food & wine, to discuss what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, to create road maps for success, and ultimately to work together in win-win scenarios. It’s a beautiful thing.

View from my room at the Rosen Shingle Creek resort

View from my room at the Rosen Shingle Creek resort

Speaking of beautiful, Rosen Shingle Creek Resort is that and much more. Have you ever heard if you’re doing the right thing everything will just serendipitously fall into place? One day Isabel and her best friend Lou Anne went there for lunch, they met Mr. Harris Rosen, and a beautiful business relationship was born. It is a stunningly gorgeous conference center and resort, with top-notch chefs, and it’s an absolutely perfect setting for #FWCon! Their customer service is excellent.

Here’s a fun Good Day Orlando video taken Friday morning before the conference, which shows just a few of the goodies we experienced over the weekend.

The food. The wine. Bring an eating buddy! You just can’t eat it all, and it is *ALL SO GOOD!* One thing I learned: Get your food first, talk later. I spent too much time talking Friday night and missed yummy things I wanted to try!

Saturday was jammed packed. The opening Keynote: “Everything is Subject to Change” was about how life and careers are a journey where one thing definitely leads to another, especially in retrospective. Think of your own and you’ll connect the dots between people and places and how one leads to the next.

If you think bloggers are just “little women who love food and want a part-time job” then the session with Liz Latham from Hoosier Homemade and Stephanie Parker from Plain Chicken might change your mind. Liz and her husband both quit their FT corporate jobs to work the blog, which fully supports their family. Liz and Stephanie discussed the need to create a LLC for your blog, work with lawyers to trademark your logo, use Quickbooks, and covered all financial aspects of running a successful blogging business.

Lunch was sponsored by Wisconsin Cheese and Idaho Potato: *POUTINE* in four different varieties!! Here’s when I discovered I needed an eating buddy. #FirstWorldFoodieProblem: I want to try everything, can’t eat three lunches, and hate wasting food!

Kale & Spinach Poutine in Mushroom Gravy with Three Cheese Sauce

Kale & Spinach Poutine in Mushroom Gravy with Three Cheese Sauce

My two favorite sessions after lunch were panels. The first was brands discussing working with bloggers. The brand reps really impressed me with their honesty: “Please don’t send me a pitch telling me how great your blog aligns with our Beef brand, but then I can’t find one blog post with beef in the recipe, but do find “I hate hamburger” in your ‘About’ section.” (News flash: Hamburger is beef!)  They were as down-to-earth as the bloggers, and very real about their connection to their product, their audience, and their bloggers. I learned not all brands are created equal when it comes to bloggers: Some use them as an extension of their marketing team, others use them sparingly. It’s all about finding ones that best fits you and your blog.

My other favorite panel was Eat.Travel.Blog.Business, which was a panel of travel bloggers. Sounds heavenly, right? To travel about, eat, stay at beautiful places, post and write about it? It’s a lot more work than you think and not really just lounging by the pool with a cool drink! Ann Tran, who was a part of the social media panel, recently tweeted “How to Make $150K as a Travel Blogger” which drives the point home that blogging can be “a real job.”

After a very fun live rendition of “The Price is Right” with Saucy Queen Michele Northrup, we had a bit of time before dinner.

Hess Collection wines served with Certified Angus Beef meal

Hess Collection wines served with Certified Angus Beef dinner

Saturday night dinner sponsored by Hess Collection wines & Certified Angus Beef

Saturday night dinner sponsored by Hess Collection wines & Certified Angus Beef

Ah, dinner. Nothing says you’re about to dine well like multiple wine glasses lined up at your place setting!  After food all day (most of it not shown here), we sat down to a family style dinner of Certified Angus Beef with roasted garlic, asparagus, collards, fingerling potatoes and the most heavenly whipped sweet potatoes. Here’s a photo of my first plate. (Yep, you read that right!) Later, I just spread the roasted garlic like butter on top of the beef. #PleaseSirCanIHaveMore While I enjoyed all three of the Hess Collection wines, the Hess Treo really stood out and was scrumptious with the beef. #YesPlease [Wait, is there a job where you get paid to be a professional eater? I may have that one covered hands down!] I didn’t have room for dessert, so enjoyed watching folks do the Idaho Potato Spuds singing game while being taped, which was hysterical fun. But when the blogger I roomed with told me Rosen had made the top two winning recipes from the Dixie Crystals blogging contest for dessert and I missed Tiramisu, one would think I hadn’t eaten all day! I was truly sad. #FirstWorldFoodieProblems

Cabot & Hess Pairing

Cabot & Hess Pairing

Sunday was at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management, right next to their resort. The sessions were like classes, where you picked from four for any given time period. The problem? Some sessions I wanted to go to three of the four!  I ended up in the Cheese & Wine Pairing sponsored by Cabot and Hess Collections. Thought I already knew a lot about cheese; I was wrong. Did you know cheese is graded in some of the same terms as wine is (acidity, fruitiness, etc.)? And that different cheeses with different wines can make one or the other taste really bad? I learned that and a lot more.

Beef ... It's What's For Dinner!

Beef … It’s What’s For Dinner!

My other favorite session on Sunday was sponsored by Certified Angus Beef, where we saw a live demo with Chef Michael Ollier and got some great advice on preparing beef. #1 tip: Do not cut meat while cooking to see if it’s done! Use a meat thermometer to reach the desired state of doneness (130 before resting for medium rare).  Another great tip is to sear both sides quickly to seal in juices, and then finish cooking slowly.

Live Cooking Demo

Live Cooking Demo

I loved my three days at the 2015 Food and Wine Conference! Why? Because I saw people sharing best business practices, learning a great deal about food and wine, and celebrating their entrepreneurship, regardless of where they are in the journey. Learned I really need to up my photography game if I ever want to make money from a blog!  What a lot of people don’t realize about blogging is you have to know and do everything: from web technology/platforms, to social media, to marketing, finances & accounting, and everything in between. If you want to learn how, and talk to people who are doing it, then plan to attend the 2016 Food and Wine Conference because you will meet them, and they will share their secret recipes! I met some truly wonderful people at #FWCon … Foodies are great people!!

Isabel asked, “What was your favorite quote from #FWCon?” Both of mine came from @SaucyQueen: After “Johnny” told every Price Is Right winner what they won, Michele added, “And a bottle of hot sauce!” (Did I mention I love me some hot sauce?)  She also said, “The best advice I can give you is if you have a good idea, ‘Don’t Hesitate!'” Sound advice for life! Bon Appetit 🙂

My Facebook Food And Wine Conference Photo Album.

The complete 2015 schedule.

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FlameStone Grill Chile Olive Oil Dinner

My friend Isabel, aka @familyfoodie, called recently to say the Chile Olive Oil Council contacted her about hosting a dinner party at a restaurant of her choice featuring their olive oils where she could invite some foodies.  I was quite honored to be invited to this awesome dinner party for twenty at the FlameStone Grill on August 30.  FlameStone Corporate Chef Eric Lackey designed a special menu to showcase the Chile Extra Virgin Olive Oils in each dish!  Here are Chef Eric and Isabel before the dinner, along with the #ChileFresh menu.

Eric kicked off the evening describing the differences in the Chile Extra Virgin Olive Oils (EVOO) and how the courses would be presented with different Chilean wines provided to accompany his meal.  There was a tasting table set up with little bottles (also at our place settings that we got to take home with us:), bread, and apples to cleanse the palate.  Many have been to a wine tasting, but few have been to an olive oil tasting!  They’re remarkably similar!  The lighter EVOO has a very fresh, vibrant taste with a hint of apple that I detected before reading the literature.  The Chile EVOOs are truly lovely!

The first starter was Black Pepper Tomato Pretzel Bread with White Anchovies Aioli.  Quite frankly, I would have eaten the aioli by itself with a spoon if it’d been served alone!  Or as Kerry, the Yum and Yummer food blogger sitting next to me said, “He needs to bottle this and sell it!”  Kerry has since tweeted me he’s made it his mission to crack the code on this very delicious aioli; I’m looking forward to it!

Next were the remaining Starters:  Olive Tapenade (made in a traditional molcajete) with Chilean EVOO rubbed Crostinis, a Fresh Tomato Tart and an Heirloom Yellow Tomato Caprese Salad.  My first introduction to tapenade was when I lived in Bellingham, WA, in a brewery/restaurant inside an old warehouse where they would serve their homemade tapenade along with homemade microbrews at the bar.  I wanted to go there just for the amazing tapenade!  I’d never found one as good until Eric’s; it was delightful!  The Fresh Tomato Tart was light, almost sweet and went perfectly with the Riesling presented.  The Yellow Tomato Caprese Salad was yummy too (I may have taken some of the fresh rosemary from the tart and put it on the tomato salad too … foodies, we love to improvise!).  The tomato salad was impressive because Eric made the cheese himself! All of the starters were luscious, but my favorites from this grouping were the aioli and the tapenade.  Kerry, who was in business before traveling to Europe to take cooking classes in Spain and Italy, said, “He seriously needs to bottle that aioli and tapenade.”  You know when a foodie says that it’s something amazing!

The first entrée served was Agave Soaked Chicken with Red Wine Bermuda Onions and Pan Seared Purple Potatoes with a Burnt Sugar Olive Oil Dust.  This tasty dish was a savory combination of sweet onion, moist chicken and olive oil potatoes.  It was paired with a smoky, dusky, Pinot Noir (or so I thought), which was perfect.  I later found out it was a basic Chilean Red Table wine, but it was really excellent with this dish!

Next up was what I’d been waiting all day for:  Polenta Crusted Chilean Sea Bass with Toasted Pepita and EVOO drizzle.  This dish was as heavenly as I’d imagined!  It was light, sweet, moist and served on a bed of arugula, which balanced the fish beautifully.  I absolutely loved the sea bass!

By the time the next dish came, I was getting full (tried not to eat everything; only half, but was only half successful at that;).  The last two entrees were served together: a Goat Cheese & Arugula Stuffed Piadina and Portabella and Goat Cheese with a Porcini & White Truffle Cappallacci.  What I fell in love with here was the Goat Cheese on top of the Cappallacci … it was to die for!  I ate all of that just because of the goat cheese, which I later found out from Chef Eric was whipped with spices including cayenne and garlic.  It was YUM-O!

When desserts came, I was full ~ but that didn’t deter me!  The desserts were:  EVOO Cake with Candied Tangerines & Pecans, EVOO & Sea Salt Brownies with Peanut Butter Dust and Caramelized Marshmallow, and an EVOO Almond Cookie with Whipped Cream & Raspberry.  The cake was very light; almost like Angel Food and the tangerine and pecans complemented it quite nicely.  After two bites I moved on to the brownie, which I’d also been waiting for all day.  It did not disappoint!  The ‘Peanut Butter dust’ was amazing, the brownie rich and moist and the marshmallow a surprisingly good addition.  I didn’t eat it all so I could try the cookie, which was way better than I’d thought it’d be!  After eating all of this outstanding food, an almond cookie is an almond cookie, right?  Not in this case; it was really delicious and the whipped cream with it was perfection.

Complementing all of this awesome food, were interesting foodies including Jeff Houck, CarlosEats, a lot of great food, wine bloggers (apologies for not listing everyone) and social media peeps.  @SaucyQueen, who makes spicy sauces brought us each a bottle of her Garlic Goodness!  Thanks Michelle:)  Here’s a great Storify post from @_KimRandall with tweets from the event!  Sincere thanks to the Chile Olive Oil Council for putting on this fabulous dinner and sending us home with samples of their liquid gold, Isabel for inviting me, and FlameStone for their outrageous creations!  FlameStone, please add the aioli, tapenade and whipped goat cheese to your menu … maybe as an appetizer that comes with bread and crudités?  Also, the polenta crusted sea bass, brownie and almond cookie could all become menu favorites!

This incredible dining experience reminded me that while I love to cook, a chef I’m not.  But a good food lover I’ll forever be! 😉