Food Blogger Connect - Back to the Victorian school

Ellen Silverman at the photography workshop

When I started this blog not a bone in my body imagined that I would also gain so many friends.
It all began with Food Blogger Connect last year, I arrived at the conference without a twitter account, instagram or even Facebook page. To be honest I only knew of a few people's food blogs and I was almost convinced I was the only food blogger in Belgium...

This conference has changed my life, it has shown me that there are still people who are selfless and kind. People who are driven by passion and creativity. I was embraced by a community and went home with friends from all over the world.
I speak to them nearly every day trough various social media platforms and we see each other as often as we can. We travel to each others homes and have a taste of each others cultures, leaving to go home again full of inspiration.

As a first time attendee of the conference last year, a world of SEO, social media and photography opened for me. I discovered that (food) photography is my real passion in this world -other than this blog of course but they are entwined anyway-

The Ragged School room, our venue. picture
You get a taster of different kind of things, you enrich yourself with knowledge. What a lot of people don't realize is that as a (food) blogger you have be a storyteller, photographer, SEO-geek, social media expert and occasional web developer.
Luckily Food Blogger Connect offers talks and workshops on all these subjects.
Last year Jaden Hair from Steamy Kitchen explained to us how to create solid foundations for our blog and branding, Fiona Beckett from The Guardian told us to write something every day even if we don't publish it, Food and Travel editor Alex Mead gave us some pointers about pitching to magazines and Béatrice Peltre shared her knowledge on food photography.

Last year the venue was a posh hotel, this year it was the Old Ragged School of Beaconsfield. A Victorian school building and railway arch that made my heart skip a beat. How romantic, having a weekend of lessons in a Victorian school... For three days I was trying to imagine how the school would have looked in bygone times.

This year we were spoiled with the opportunity to choose extra workshops. This made the ticket more expensive and I had to save up for it for quite some time but still, for me personally the conference is worth it. 
Photography workshop with Ellen Silverman
Ellen Silverman is a professional photographer who has photographed many cookbooks and works with magazines like Sweet Paul Magazine. Last summer she also photographed some of the images for my dear friend Giulia's new cookbook!
She flew in for the conference especially and gave a full day workshop.

Ellen was so very inspiring, she has a way of teaching that left us glued to her lips with her every word.
She shares her knowledge so generously and took the time to sit down with some of us who wanted it, to review our portfolio. I actually had sweaty hands when it was my turn and I learned so much from her remarks.
This is some of the advise she gave us: Don't overdo it with the props, and don't show too many pictures in your blog posts. Keep it simple. Less is more.

I really hope to have the pleasure of meeting Ellen again, she's a kind and generous person and I feel very lucky to have met her.

Food Writing with Dianne Jacob
An other very inspiring workshop was the food writing workshop with Dianne Jacob. You might know her from her book 'Will write for food'. Dianne asked us to write two pieces which we analysed with her to learn some writing techniques. Giulia and I pushed each other to stand up before the group and read our essay out loud. Both of us, with our foreign accent, we felt really proud of ourselves for doing it. Although the whole class thought I was talking about a day when I was drunk and I was in reality telling them about a comforting bowl of soup after being car sick all day! They just wanted to hear that I was drunk, I'm sure! Funny moments, but I really learned a lot. 
The most important thing Dianne said was that we are all storytellers, either through the pictures or through words, we all tell a story. Keep it simple, read your words over and over again and delete where you can.

Artificial light photography workshop with David Griffen
The last of the workshops I attended was with David Griffen, you might know him from his photography for Great British Chefs but he has a list other clients like Fifteen Cornwall and many food magazines. David gave us a taste of the world of artificial light photography. He showed us what gear to get, how to use it and gave us some tips for working for magazines.

He gave a piece of advise I have since taken in account when shooting my own work: "give the art director or designer you're working for, room to crop the picture." Basically don't crop every shot on your camera, take a shot from a wider angle too. I should have already taken this in account being a graphic designer myself but I guess when shooting you just enjoy cropping the picture the way you like it.
This was another person I enjoyed meeting and I'm sure he'll always remember me as the red haired girl who made him a food pack to take on the train home!

Our friend Sarka gave a lecture about natural light in photography, Giulia and I were sitting in the front seats of the beautiful classroom of the old Ragged school to support her. Sarka has a natural way of teaching, a lot of people felt like they could really ask her questions and I've seen them contacting her after the conference with their questions on twitter. Watch this girl!

And then there was food... glorious food brought to us by the crème de la crème of London's street food vendors. This year we were able to enjoy all of their beautiful food from all over the world instead of having a formal lunch or dinner. Here are some of the traders: Seychelles curry by Vinn Goute; salt beef by Bel & Brisket;  beautiful porter beer by Florence Brewery; homemade pasta by Pasta e Basta, Mexican food by Toma Mexicano; Portuguese artisan food by Silmartaste;  chocolate salame by Silmar Taste; ; offal by Tongue ‘N Cheek; Venezuelan food by Guasacaca; mini-burgers (and Whisky ssst) by Mother Flipper; tasty Russian food by (loved the potato & herring salad!) Russia on a plate and Italian sandwiches by the moustache guys of Gurmetti (please remind me if I'm forgetting any of these wonderful peeps)
Breakfast was brought to us by Urvashi Roe of Botanical Baker as part of Better Breakfast Week.
To drink we had the best designed packaged apple juices by Cawston Press loved them, coffee by Nespresso, tea by Joe’s Tea Company, yoghurt by Good Heavens and wine by Wines of Lebanon.

Last but not least were we spoiled rotten all weekend by the Vitamix team with deliciously healthy soups, smoothies, ice creams and cocktails... I. am. in. love. I want one of their fnatastic blenders in my life. At first my thought was 'it's just another blender' But it is really not. Did I say I NEED one?
Oh my.

Cooleeney cheese, an FBC sponsor

Thanks for the great curry, mate! VinnGoute

Lovely people and food by Tomexicano
Shooting with artificial light and one of the many piles of props for the workshops

Are you thinking of attending the conference but are you a little scared of the price tag? I understand, it's a lot of money and I will have to look for a sponsor for next year, or start saving up for it months in advance.
I've been to conferences in the design business that are more expensive and where I gained less. Here we had three days of learning, delicious food and plenty of drinks hot, cold and with spirit. Spending time with the community is such a big part of the conference, I know a lot of bloggers who became volunteers to help Food Blogger Connect to be a happy place.This is not just a conference but, to me, this is 'our conference.' After all, it isn't organized by a large commercially driven organisation but, rather, by a small team of bloggers. Of course, aside from Bethany, the organizor, none of this would be possible without the help of a lot of friends, bloggers and a lovely sister and patient husband - something entirely reflected in the weekend's atmosphere.

Want to know more?
My friend Giulia has written a post about the conference too, find it here 
and here is one by Jenny