A couple of weeks ago, as the sun dipped toward the ocean in Venice Beach, CA, a select group of professionals in the food industry shared their experience and skills with a gathering of food writers, editors, recipe developers, and bloggers. Molly O’Neill, the acclaimed award-winning cookbook author, former columnist for the New York Times, and founder of Cook n’ Scribble and Longhouse Food Revival created an atmosphere of kindness, sharing, laughter, and learning ~ an event that none of us who were lucky to be there will ever forget!
In the van that took us from our hotel in Hollywood to Venice, we took advantage of the travel time to meet other attendees and sponsors. We didn’t know exactly what was in store for us, but we were all excited to see what fun would transpire. As conversations traversed the rows of seats, you could see friendships forming and a feeling of camaraderie come to life. We could already tell that this was going to be a memorable evening.
As we entered the stunning private home kindly provided for the gathering, the excitement rose. We had heard of many of the folks who would be presenting that night, attended classes by some of them, but this was a unique opportunity to spend time in an extremely intimate setting learning from people we greatly admire (and not so secretly envy). Take a look at this incredible line-up:
Libbie Summers – Founder of A Food-Inspired Life where she shares her passion for food, color, and style via film production, product design, food styling and photography. She is the author of three cookbooks and videographer extraordinaire. Her television series, Party Within Reach, aimed at the young and somewhat broke, will premier in 2017!
Irvin Lin – San Francisco-based publisher of Eat the Love, a food blog where he shares his passions for cooking and baking, food inspirations, art and design, food styling, and award-winning photography. Extremely talented in so many areas, he is always a delight to watch and learn from. His first cookbook, Marbled, Swirled and Layered, will be published this Fall by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Amy Halloran – Her love for pancakes led her to write a book about regional grain production called The New Bread Project where she introduces us to dozens of people who are reconnecting us to the concept (and reality) of local grains. She teaches about food justice, manages a soup kitchen with a focus on increasing the amount of fresh food on the menu, and writes for regional and national publications about the changing food landscape as well as sharing poetry and humorous family stories about raising chickens and her gardening adventures.
Shannon Kinsella – A private chef to celebrities and recipe developer for television programs, other chef’s cookbooks, and some of the country’s largest food companies, Shannon is the Culinary Development Manager of Gourmet Garden. She also happens to be my co-author for our cookbook, The Gluten-Free Bread Machine Cookbook, coming this October from Harvard Common Press / Quarto Publishing (shameless plug). She worked with Chef Kian, assisting him in the preparations for the event and creating the desserts that were the perfect ending to a remarkable meal.
Leah Komaiko – After an illustrious career as the author of childhood favorites such as Aunt Elaine Does the Dance from Spain, Am I Old Yet?, and the Annie Bananie series, Leah took the lessons she had learned in creating her own brand and now helps others discover their hidden talents. Sometimes when trying to create a phrase that encapsulates the concept of a business, it takes another person to point out the full value. Leah has been that person for clients ranging from entrepreneurs, bestselling authors, and celebrities to huge brands like Disney, McDonald’s, and Liz Claiborne.
Kian Lam Kho – Our chef for the evening and self-proclaimed nerd turned private chef, Kian is the author of the 2016 IACP Julia Child Award-winning cookbook, Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees, an ode to his Chinese heritage and the recipes passed down through his family. He is a master of Chinese cooking techniques and founder of Red Cook, a website dedicated to Chinese home-style cooking, helping us learn how to adapt traditional recipes for ingredients available in America.
Molly kicked off the event, explaining that each of these folks would share their unique talents with us, helping us improve our writing, interviewing, videography, branding, food styling, and cooking skills. In her inimitable style, she made each of us feel welcomed, she understood our challenges, and we were part of a family – we had found our tribe!
Amy began by interviewing Chef Kian, showing us how to draw out unique information by asking the right kind of questions, finding and creating a story that would keep our readers mesmerized. With incredible ease and grace, we watched as she nimbly maneuvered the conversation from one direction to the next, finding the nuggets of gold in Kian’s history and experiences to bring the story to life.
While speaking to Amy, Chef Kian began preparing a dish from his cookbook. His skills were immediately apparent as he began working on the ginger for the evening’s meal. At each step he explained exactly what he was doing, sharing stories about his heritage, and the fascinating Chinese method of naming dishes. He definitely had a captivated audience!
As the cooking demonstration continued, Libbie stepped forward, taking videos of the chef as he worked, explaining to us what she looks for while doing a shoot, and how to do advanced planning so we capture exactly what we want. Just like Amy, she made it look effortless and easy. She explained that using our cell phones and one or two of her recommended applications anyone can make their own videos, sharing moments of their days, the preparation of recipes, a beautiful ingredient discovered, or fun experiences as they happen. Suddenly the thought of having to add video to our toolkit wasn’t so intimidating.
With enticing aromas filling the air, Irvin explained how he works with clients to capture the perfect hero shot and how to tell stories with photos. Then we utilized some of the pre-chopped salads provided by Elevate Super Foods and the lightly dried herbs from Gourmet Garden to try our hand at food styling. With assistance from Irvin and Shannon, plates were designed to show off the ingredients in the most alluring ways.
The sun hovered on the horizon giving the sky a golden hue and the light was gorgeous. We took advantage of old wooden furniture and mosaic tables in the yard to try our own hero shots. I documented some of my friend’s work to give you these examples of how easy it is to put a healthy and beautiful salad on the table with the Elevate kits.
Chef Kian stir-fried the last of his dishes, made cauliflower fried rice and Shannon put the final touches on the desserts as we served ourselves from the buffet and joined the others at the candle-lit tables. While we devoured the delicious dishes, Leah shared strategies on how to approach the concept of branding our businesses. For some this was old hat, but for many it is an intimidating aspect of developing a new company. How do we sell ourselves and our companies? How do we succinctly funnel all of the things we do every day into something that sounds intriguing and desirable? Leah’s advice will linger in our minds as we move forward in our careers.
After dinner we circulated around the room, greeting people we hadn’t met yet and sharing stories of our day. We had the opportunity to meet our generous sponsors and learn about their products and companies. It was delightful to be able to meet and mingle in a relaxed and casual setting without the usual scramble to grab someone’s attention. When it was time to head back to the hotel, no one wanted to leave … the sign of a great party!
Molly and her friends created a truly magical event. The room was filled with warmth, support, and generosity that is rarely seen in the competitive world of food writing, especially as more people enter the field and the opportunities in traditional avenues are diminishing. We need all our creativity to carve out a unique niche. Spending time with others in the same situation and discussing different strategies was refreshing and empowering. Networking and friendships are the secret to success in any field. Today, more than ever, it is the relationships you’ve made face-to-face that will garner you new business.
We walked away with batteries charged, ready to embrace new ways of communicating with our readers. If you ever have the opportunity to attend a similar event, I encourage you to snap up a ticket immediately.
Keep your eyes open – I will be sharing Shannon’s recipe for her no-bake gluten-free cheesecake made with Kerrygold’s new soft and creamy Dubliner cheese wedges. My heavens, it is indulgence at its best!
A special thank you to our generous sponsors who made the evening possible: Gourmet Garden, Kerrygold, Green Giant Fresh, and Elevate Super Foods. Their products made the meal not only healthy but absolutely delicious. Thank you to Molly for coming up with the concept of business “speed dating” and assembling the team of talent. After meeting him at this dinner, it was thrilling to watch Chef Kian walk up onto the stage a few days later to accept the 2016 IACP Julia Child Award for the best first cookbook of the year, one of the most prestigious in the publishing world. Congratulations to all the winners!
Create a New Tradition Today!
Disclosure: I was not asked to write this post nor compensated for it. As always, the opinions expressed are my own.
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