The Roger Smith Cookbook Conference


Sake Red Bean Bun with Green Tea Sorbet

I'm still reeling. I just spent two days at an amazing Cookbook Conference. It covered everything from apps and ebooks, cookbook propaganda and the immigrant experience. I saw legends like Judith Jones and Madhur Jaffrey, new media leaders like the founders of Cookstr and Eat Your Books, and some personal idols like Dorie Greenspan, Grace Young, and Molly O'Neill.

I came away with pages of notes, but as panelist Jennifer Reese wrote in her blog, The Tipsy Baker , it's hard to write about the conference without sounding like you're delivering boardroom minutes.

Is the cookbook dead? How do you monetize recipes? Are we moving towards the authentic and traditional or the modern and scientific? My head is still buzzing and perhaps I will write an assessment that will be useful and enlightening to you as writers and businesspeople. But until then, here are some other thoughts about the nature of the conference itself.

  • Cookbook ladies are stylish! Betty Fussell rocked an improbable yet timeless tangerine blazer with rectangular shoulder pads. Jane Lear wore her hair in a tight buzz cut of incredible elegance and moxie. Jane Butel was a New Mexico empress in embroidered and studded floor-skimming suede. And Judith Jones. Nevermind she edited Julia Child, John Updike, and picked up a little manuscript by a girl named Anne Frank (just one alone could make a person's career), the woman knows how to dress. From a trim black brocade suit on one night, to a salmon-colored pleated Hermes scarf on another, it was clear this woman has an infallible sense of taste.
  • In my excessively worrisome way, I was actually anxious for the caterer. How do you satisfy  famished and discerning cookbook conference guests? Well, they rose to the challenge with boxed lunches that included a wild crayfish, arugula, meyer lemon sandwich on Orwasher's 7-grain bread; a fennel, radish, grapefruit and hazelnut salad; a maple bacon cookie, and a single satsuma orange (which is also on the Chez Panisse dessert menu). For happy hour, they served delicious new pickles, homemade ricotta cheese with honey, lamb meatballs, and arancini. Yes, I ate a boxed lunch. And yes, I like meatballs on toothpicks. They were good!
  • A community formed almost immediately. The conference was small enough and people were friendly enough that you could be chatting comfortably with someone who "just teaches" or "owns a little bookstore" who would then end up speaking on the next panel! All the panelists were really approachable and actually spent time at the conference learning. The crowd was one of mentors and mentees, changing roles with every interaction. Also, the online food community is very supportive, and many people who knew each other online were finally meeting each other in person. The warmth of the conference made the difference between icky networking and making genuine friends.
  • I encountered all types of people: bloggers and butchers, career changers and industry authorities. I met historians with book deals with university presses, and bloggers with deals with major houses and lavish photography. I met people who bootstrapped their way to success through social media and inventive commerce channels. I met people who traveled far and have huge dreams.
  • But the most rewarding thing was just being around people like me. As Heather Marold Thomason says in the tagline of her blog, Operation: Gastronomia, for a certain type of person, it's all about the next great meal. You can't find those people just anywhere, and it's incredibly liberating to be in a foodie safe-zone, where no will ask you, "You're still thinking about food?" Here's a great meal Heather and I had with another new friend, Chloe, after the conference finished. It was a fitting end to a great two days about the unending joys of the table.

From Sakagura Tofu with Bonito; Codfish Roe; Poached Egg with Uni and Salmon Roe; Seaweed Salad; Eggplant with 3 Misos, Pork Shumai with Yuba Skin; Eel with Wakame; Fried Taro, Eggplant and Mushroom; Black Sesame Crème Brulee; Sake Panna Cotta