International Food Bloggers Conference in New Orleans

Last week, I left the Houston heat behind and embraced the 98 degree heat in the beautiful French Quarter. Although I made time to walk down Bourbon Street, gawk at all the "special" people who were letting it all hang out and giggle at all the drunken fools, I was in New Orleans on business. Sorta.

As a wannabe food blogger, I couldn't pass the chance to take advantage of the conference organized by Foodista and Zephyr Adventures. The Hotel Monteleone served as our headquarters for the weekend; if you have to be stuck indoors while in NoLa, this is a great option. The agenda promised a focus on food, writing and technology. The fact that there was a lot of booze offered throughout two and half days, sealed the deal.

The topics were as interesting as I had hoped. I particularly enjoyed the food styling and photography session presented by Andrew Scrivani -- you may have seen his work in the New York Times Dining section.

Although I had hoped for a hands-on session, it was still a joy listening to how he overcame photographic challenges. He shared great advice, but the two comments that have been seared into my memory are: "IRON YOUR LINENS, PEOPLE! Bad food blogger!" and "...I have seen many pictures out there; some are good to great and others are bad to abominable." Here's hoping he didn't mean my pictures. Day one ended with some food and wine pairings and a pub crawl. Fun!

On Saturday, I spent my morning hearing about SEO, brand marketing and how to trick Google into finding my blog. This session was one of the driving forces for me. There was a lot of information flying around that room. I walked away understanding why I need to work on these skills -- now I need to figure out how the hell to do it.

Geoff Allen, founder and CEO of Ziplist, an online grocery list and recipe search platform, was one of the panelists. He opened with "content is queen, but structure is king," then explained how to properly structure posts to ensure they are search engine friendly. This presentation was followed by a VP from a prestigious PR firm who started her presentation by stating she didn't really read food blogs...crickets.

Chef John Besh was the keynote speaker after Saturday's dinner; I had no idea he was a Marine, somehow he seems super-sexy now. His studliness aside, he shared stories about cooking giant pots of food, including red beans and rice, then taking it around the city to feed those who had lost nearly everything. He recalled offering a bowl to a young man who took one taste, looked Besh in the eyes and proclaimed "this ain't better than my mamma's." That's when he knew New Orleans would be fine and back. He has busied himself opening restaurant after restaurant, making use of buildings whose tenants did not return. He is also offering scholarships so local youths may attend the French Culinary Institute in NYC.

When asked which was the proper way to make gumbo, with or without tomatoes, he simply said, "whichever way yo mamma makes it." He seems like a swell guy, I'm sure his mamma is proud. As for me, I made new friends, ate some great food and even learned a thing or two.

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