Sunday, May 5, 2013

The first ever Food Bloggers of Canada Conference - my thoughts


I've been debating writing this post since getting back from the Food Bloggers of Canada Conference back on the weekend of April 12th. There were a couple of reasons for this.

The cop out reason, the one I used to trick myself into not writing this, was that one of the things they told us was to not just follow the herd. If everyone is talking about what to give for Mother's Day you should be talking about something totally different so you don't get lost in the crowd. Well after getting back from the conference, heck even while at the conference attendees were flooding the conference  Facebook page with links to their blog posts about the event.

The one thing every single one of the attendees posts had in common, every single one, from people who attended to guests to the organizers, was that they were overwhelmingly positive. This leads to my second reason for not writing this post until now: I didn't find the weekend overwhelmingly positive. My head was filled with a mix of my mom saying: "If you don't have anything nice to say" and thinking that I don't want to be "that guy" The one asshole trying to ruin everyone's good time.

I asked friends, family and the people who are cool enough to follow Big Dude Likes Food on Facebook if they thought I should write a summary and they all told me I should do it. That people are going to be interested to hear another side of the story. People who didn't attend will want to hear the good and the bad and make an informed decision on whether or not to go next year. They also pointed out that I've never been one to shy away from posting a negative opinion before. So here I am.

Okay first off: it wasn't a bad experience. Don't get me wrong. I hope the above didn't make you think I had this horrible weekend and that it was a total waste of time. It was great getting away from the kids for the weekend. The room was nice. I had some great food and met some great people. I guess it just wasn't what I expected, though I don't actually know what that was either.

Spring at Hockly Resort
The beautiful spring weather.
I'm new to food blogging. I only started this gig in January this year. My wife though is some kind of pro-blogger: Maple Leaf Mommy. She's been to quite a few of these conferences and is often there as an organizer, guest speaker or panel expert. She's the one that encouraged me to know that Canada Beef was doing a twitter party, the one where  my wife ended up winning a ticket to the conference. At the time she was the one that suggested we both go. Holy crap were tickets ever expensive, $700, before tax. We debated it for a couple days, hotly at times. I don't know about the other attendees but for us that's a huge chunk of change. Note also, I cannot business expense this as I haven't monetized my blog at all and am not running a business. Obviously we eventually went for it. The combination of the hotel stay, all our meals being paid for and a kid free weekend won over the budget.

The drive sucked. It was rain then sleet then snow. The temperature dropped 10 degrees as we headed up north. Our GPS Phone thing (something my Wife was reviewing for her blog) ran out of batteries right at the end of the trip, right when we needed it. Then we got to the resort and the power was out. What a mess.

My wife and I.
The first night was awkward and backwards, at least to me. This was the big 'party night' where we were supposed to meet the brands. It seemed odd that we would do this first. I also missed the memo that this was supposed to be a dress up deal. Sure I had some khaki's and a golf shirt but I might have tried a bit harder if I had known. Things were just poorly set up. A thin hall, a check in center where you got more stuff than you can carry right there (causing most people to have to get their stuff and then immediately leave to go drop it in their room), and really no direction. One of the things that I think could have improved this particular event is if the Brands, special guests and attendees all had different badges. That way you would instantly know if you were talking to a brand ambassador or another food blogger. I also would have much preferred this event at the end of the weekend. After we had learned all there was to learn, loosened up, met some people and talked. Being in a hot hall with something like one hundred other people who had just arrived just wasn't the best time to walk up and say "Hey I'm a big guy that likes to eat and I really dig your hummus. What's this new thing you have here? Maybe we can work together?"

Dinner the first night.
Dinner that first night was also sub-par. I later found out it was due to the fact the power was out, but man that was some of the worst poutine I've ever had. The rest of the meal was okay but not great. Not at all what you would expect for a dinner for about one hundred people who talk a lot about food.

After dinner there was a movie, sponsored by KitchenAid. This was a cool idea and the milk shakes they were making were awesome. The movie was Back to the Future which I though was odd, it just didn't fit. After about 45 minutes in my wife and I left, and I think there were only 3 other people still in there watching. Yeah that didn't seem to go over well.

Back in our rooms we got to check out the loot! Wow! Now here was the first thing I'd seen at the conference that made it seem worth it. Holy Swag Batman! Topping the long list of stuff we each got was a free Delta Touch Faucet. That added to the kick ass Nordic Wear cookware we got was making this weekend seem more worth while.

The first nights Poutine
Okay I know no one wants a day by day, event by event commentary here so I'm going to sum up most of the rest of the conference in less detail. This is mainly because most of the rest of the conference was sitting listening to people talk. There were panels on brands working with blogs, the critic vs. the chef, tech for your blogs, monetization, photography, cook books, chats with Dianne Jacob, a Q&A with David Liete and more. What was odd here, at least based on what I know about other similar cons is that it was a one track show. Everything was scheduled for you. There were no options and except for a small half hour window on Saturday there was no free time. Where were the options? What if I don't care about writing a cook book (the topic of at least three panels)? When the heck am I supposed to hook up with Canada Beef and pitch them getting me grilling this summer?

Regarding the actual panels and the speakers, I have mixed feelings. I will say every speaker was excellent. They knew their stuff, they were funny and engaging and were great at answering questions. It just wasn't all stuff that I needed or wanted to hear. There was some truly great advice. Things like having your own voice. Producing your own content. How to be morally responsible and transparent about everything. Wait, except for when you are taking pictures, then you are clear to lie, I guess, as that's what I was told, twice.

David Liete a highligh of the event.
There seemed to be this opinion, held by every person presenting that blogging is not something you do professionally. It's something you do to get published. It's what you do so that people have heard of you when you sell your cookbook. Obviously no one just wants to blog and be happy with that. Obviously. Also everyone wants to be published and write a book. A physical book. Sure 'vanity press' is loosing it's stigma... wait a minute. I can't go on. What year is it? Have none of the speakers seen Kickstarter? I saw a bunch of bloggers with tablets, you can't tell me they don't have recipes in PDF, recipe apps, read food reviews online. It just seemed, I dunno, out of touch. Maybe it's me. Maybe in this case the Gaming Industry is way ahead of the food industry when it comes to digital media. I can't see it though.

While everyone assuming I want a book out there with my name on it was somewhat insulting and annoying it didn't bother me nearly as much as the fact that almost every panel was directed at Recipe writers, which meant that there was very little that targeted me specifically. I honestly think it should have been called the Recipe Bloggers of Canada Conference. Even the photography class, which was cool, was all about how to get good pictures of your recipes, or rather stuff that looks like your recipes. There was really only one panel about food reviewing and restaurants, the topics I actually care about. Here is where multiple tracks would have been great. A track for food commentary and review and a track for people cooking food. A lost opportunity that I hope they fix by next year.

Overall yes I learned some things during the panels. I also had a great time listening to the guests. There were some hilarious moments and every panel was enjoyable to be part of. They just weren't topics I really needed to hear about and I think my time could have been better spent.

The other thing worth talking about in regards to Saturday and Sunday is the food. As I mentioned, the meal the first night was a bit of a let down. Thankfully the rest of the weekend was the opposite. Everything was amazing. From breakfast buffets to amazing lunch spreads, each meal was different and excellent. Dinner Saturday night was fantastic and one of the best meals I've had.

Each main meal was teamed up with wine. This was pretty cool. They had the wineries there talking about each drink as it was being poured and the wines were paired up with each course. It's odd that I enjoyed this as I'm not much of a wine drinker. Actually I usually tell people I don't like wine. What was I going to do in this case, say no? So I drank up, and surprisingly enjoyed almost every one I had. My favourite was The Grange Chardonnay.

I still would have really preferred some beer. At least one night. I think it would be great if the Food Bloggers of Canada hooked up with the Ontario Craft Brewers for next years event and offered beer pairings for at least one meal.

So there you have it. My, long winded, summary of my weekend up in Hockley Valley for the first ever Food Bloggers of Canada Conference. I will admit: I had a good time. It was great to get away and I met some awesome people and had some great food. Based on the feedback I've seen I seem to have enjoyed this less than many of the other attendees. Yeah, it wasn't awesome. It wasn't our best trip out of town and there were times where I was thinking there were many other things I would rather be doing. I did learn some things, and I did make some contacts I never would have met otherwise. I think most importantly though, I was inspired. Despite listening to people tell me I was only in this for a book deal I was inspired to come home and blog. Not only that, I was inspired to come home and improve my blog. Sure there was stuff I would change, but that inspiration made this trip worth it to me. I look forward to going to the Second Annual Canadian Food Bloggers Conference in 2014 and I hope to see you there, and share a beer.


17 comments:

  1. Big dude, I am glad you wrote this review. Voice a different opinion is important. I totally understand your point since you are more of a review type of blog, so hearing about recipe development is obviously not down your ails.

    May I say though that they did point out that you don't have to write a book. They pointed to apps and e-books as well. I guess they could have expended that more.
    Admitting, I would like to write a book myself, but I am not blogging because I want to write a cook book.

    You are right about the dinner during the first night. I believe Saturday night would have been a better choice for the "fancy dinner". Again, I'd like to point out that there was an e-mail saying it's a fancy one. You were not the only one who missed that part. Don't feel bad, whatever.
    Also, poutine as an appetizer was odd, though I liked it myself and I am not much of a poutine lover.

    You pointed out that you didn't like that we had no option. Honestly, I was glad. I have seen other conference lines ups with option and often I think "But I want to do both." Maybe that's me hating to miss out on stuff. I don't know. I guess it's all a matter of perspective.

    There are point that need some improvement and I would encourage you to write to Melissa, Mardi or Ethan and let them know about it. This was the first of it's kind and there is always room for improvement. Let them know, give them maybe a list, directly, via email. (Though I am sure one of them will read this.)

    Glad you took the time to write this. Do you remember that it was said several time that criticism is important but it need to have the right tone? Yeah, I think you have that right tone right here.

    Thanks man.

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    1. Thanks for the thorough comment, I truly appreciate it.

      I agree, they did note that you didn't have to write a book though in some of the panels it seemed like they were saying, if you don't want to then why are you here. I was glad there was a little talk about eBooks and ePub but very little and it seemed a bit like the people talking thought it was some funky thing that odd fringe people do, like ePub is Voodoo. My other main hoppy is gaming and ePub has totally changed the landscape of the industry. I myself have a game published in PDF that I wrote and published in under 24 hours. It's such a big deal to that hobby of mine that is seems odd that it's kinds of talked about in hushed tones in this hobby.

      I did totally miss the 'fancy dress' email. Thankfully others did and it was a good mix of styles. I mean I didn't see anyone in ripped jeans and a T-shirt anywhere so I think we were all good.

      I like our suggestion of writing Melessa, Mardi or Ethan directly. I was just thinking I would post this and they would read it and then do what they wish with it. I realize that's me thinking a bit highly of myself, assuming they would come here and take notes. Writing them directly does make sense. Thanks for suggesting that.

      "I think you have that right tone right here." - awesome. This one took more work that usual and I'm glad it seems I go it right.

      Thanks again for the comment.

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  2. Hi Moe and thanks for you post. I'll be back to respond to some of your comments soon, however, I did just want to let you know that we have each read all the posts about FBC2013 and are taking notes :) We know there was room for improvement and are happy to hear constructive criticism!

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    1. Awesome to hear from you Mardi. I hope my criticisms don't diminish any feeling of success you and the other organizers felt after this event. It truly was a great event and you guys did an amazing job, especially due to it being the first ever Food Bloggers of Canada Conference.

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  3. Moe I think that you did well in writing this post because I used to organize conferences and we needed honest feedback from the attendees in order to improve for the next conference. You can't tailor a conference to everyone's need but you can diversify the context. I am not interested in writing a cookbook but I have a passion for blogging. I do it because I like it and for me it's what it counts at the end of the day. The day it becomes a burden I will stop doing it. Life is too short. Since I am not interested in writing a cookbook either I would have liked to be able to chose between two topics but since it was a very intimate conference (not many attendees) it would have been a challenge to do so.

    On Saturday I would have liked to have couple hours to talk a bit more to the sponsors and attendees. The day was packed and it went too fast. Maybe next year they will have longer lunch and breakfast in order for the bloggers to have time to meet each others.

    I like the suggestion for beers. Myself I like to try different craft beers. That is why I went at the Babbo bar at the resort. They had some good beer on tap.

    For the poutine I have to say that I agree with you, I am from Qu├ębec and we have the best poutines you can ever eat anywhere. :)

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    1. Thanks for the comment Helene.

      Right now I'm the same way with this blog. I have fun doing it and I've gotten lots of positive feedback about my writing style. It's currently just a hobby blog. Since the conference I've really been debating what exactly I want to do with this. Should I put more work into it. Should I try to mometize it. I can't currently answer the question "Where do you see Big Dude Likes Food in five years." Like you I'm pretty sure I would stop writing if it became work.

      I finally hit up the bar for a beer on Saturday night before and after dinner. I don't know why it didn't occur to me to do that before hand. I was pretty happy drinking Sleeman that night. We also brought a couple bottles of Flying Monkey BNL (Bare Naked Ladies) that we cracked open once up in our room.

      Do you have a current favourite craft beer?

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    2. Moe, at the end of the day stay thru of who you are. I have seen to many bloggers that are pretending to be someone else and I stop following them. I like down to earth people :)

      We have been living in 7 provinces in Canada and discovered many local beer along the way. Right I have been enjoying Barking Squirrel from Hop City and the Special Pale Ale from Wellington Brewery.

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    3. We heard that a lot over the con weekend eh? Stay true. It's a good message.

      Barking Squirrel is one I tried for the first time two years ago and is a big patio favourite of mine. There's a place downtown call Bubi's that has the most amazing sandwiches (it's the one with the knife through it on my Twitter profile background) and there's little better in the nice weather than sitting out on their patio and enjoying a huge sandwich and a pint or two of Barking Squirrel.

      You know I haven't written about them here, and that's a shame. It think you've inspired a future blog post. Thanks.

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  4. It is always valuable to hear another point of view, and impossible for an event of this size to not have various views about how the event met each person's needs - which, in itself, it not possible, anyway. Being new to blogging may be where your views differed vastly from the masses - as, it is clear, most of us had a very positive experience. I have no idea what my experience may have been, had I been new to blogging. Even at this phase of my blogging "career" (5 years in, almost), it was a steep price to pay and I wavered for a few weeks about whether I was "in", or not. However, for me, it was worth every single penny at this point of my blogging life. I am sure your wife had a vastly different experience than, you - due to her experience blogging.
    Your perspective has definitely opened my eyes, as when I heard there were new bloggers there, I was wishing I had a conference to go to like this as a new blogger. It probably would have been overwhelming for me, too... and some of the sessions may not have resonated with me then as they did now.
    In any case, you were motivated, you wrote, your voice is clear and you have a great partner in you blogging future.
    I would love to see you stop by and respond to what I wrote about the conference. I am curious to how you will respond to that.
    Wish I had met you and your wife!
    :)
    Valerie

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    1. Thanks for your comment Valerie,

      I'm certain that being a new blogger really coloured my experience of the weekend. That was one of the main reasons I included that in the post, I wanted tome make sure any readers knew where I was coming from.

      From here I will be jumping over to your post. I remember reading it when you posted it but I may have only replied on the facebook group. I'll rectify that now.

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  5. Thank you for writing this. This was only my third conference and the $800 total bill made it a significant investment for our household as well. Had DH not gone ahead and bought it on my behalf as a birthday present, I probably wouldn't have gone. I have been struggling with how to put my good/bad experience into words without sounding like an entirely Negative Nelly. You have encouraged me to try (again) to sit down and write a balanced review.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Melanie. I look forward to hearing what you have to say and I'm actually quite relieved to hear that I wasn't the only one that thought the conference was the be all end all and I do remember sitting with you at quite a few of the events and sharing some disappointment. I do hope you did find something worth while in the event though as I did.

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  6. Hi again Moe,
    We appreciate all feedback - the good and the constructive criticism :)

    I've just had a chance to look over all the surveys and we note that your wife completed the survey, pointing out many of these concerns so that's great - we will definitely take all the feedback into account "next time" :)

    We're so glad you came away inspired to write and make some improvements to your blog - that makes us very happy!

    If you have any other questions, concerns or comments, you know where to find us!


    Mardi (and Melissa and Ethan)

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    1. Thanks for the further comment. I actually missed it as Mardi had already commented once. Just noticed it now while replying to The Messy Baker.

      To be honest I don't know what my wife put in her survey, but I do know that many of my expectations, especially regarding time spent with brands came from her experience at various Mommy blogging conferences. It makes sense that she would point out similar things.

      Overall though I think it was pretty amazing for a first time conference. As I said in the other reply to Mardi, please don't let any criticisms diminish your sense of accomplishment here.

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  7. Thanks for sharing your views. Kudos for you attending so early in your food blogging journey. I didn't start attending conferences until I had been blogging for a good 3 years. I wish I'd started earlier. Hindsight. Sigh...

    I think some of your dissatisfaction stems because you run (as you put it in your reply to Helene) a "hobby blog." Food writing is my profession and this conference was beyond valuable to me -- not just for the content but for the networking opportunities. Most of the information shared at conferences is available via Google. What they provide -- beyond tweetable quotes from speakers -- is the opportunity to get face-to-face with the presenters. This is the main reason I attend.

    As for sponsors/brands. I agree with you. More time with them would have been great. And yet, this conference provided more access to brand representatives than any other I've been to. The reps handed us the swag, which provided an extraordinary opportunity to get your business card into their hands. I've been to conferences where I never met any of the brand reps. Follow-up in the key during these jam-packed networking moments, and FBC arranged to have our Moo cards ready at the door.No other conference organizers have worked harder to get me linked with sponsors.

    As for the price, I agree, yet disagree. Yes, $700 is a lot of money (especially if it's your hobby and not your profession). Most conferences charge for sessions and provide either breakfast or lunch. Not both. FBC included all meals, wine pairings, accommodation and entertainment. These add up. For context, I spend at least $2500 for an IACP conference by the time all expenses are in. RogerSmith costs me about $1200 and it's a 1-day conference.

    You have some solid points for improvement in the future. I'm glad you were more inspired than disappointed. I hope you met other non-recipe writing bloggers you can network with.

    I chose not to do a round-up so am rather long-winded in my response. Thanks for listening and all the best with your blog.

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    1. Thanks Charmian Christie for the well thought out comments.

      I do think you are right, it was the fact that I view my blog as a fun hobby that I love that is colouring my view of the conference. It's also probably true that a conference that did focus on hobby blogging probably wouldn't have been very interesting for the 'pros' also I doubt many hobby bloggers would even pay to attend a conference.

      My wife, who was with me is a Mommy blogger. She's the one that filled me with the expectations about the brands. Every conference she's attended both as a guest and as a panelist has had lots of interaction with brands. In every case it was brand reps handing out swag and in every case, for her, there was 'open time' to meet with the brands besides the before and after parties. That is where my expectation of that came from. My wife herself found this the most disappointing part of the weekend and commented that she wish she had known that the first night, was our only shot to talk to some of the reps.

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    2. Interesting to hear how brand access is so different. I know some large conferences have a trade show component, which provides attendees lots of time to spend with brands. Most of the ones I attend are just panel discussions and workshops. I have never seen brand time worked into the agenda, but it would have been most welcomed. Thanks for the explanation. I appreciate you taking the time to share your wife's experiences!

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