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So, it may come as a surprise to you that I attended my second food blogger conference in one year a couple of weekends ago.
I tried to keep quiet about it, I really did. I didn’t mention it much at all.
OK, you’re right, I couldn’t shut up about it. But, believe me when I say that even non-food bloggers would have had the time of their lives at this conference. Between the delectable variety of food, the wines and cocktails, the lessons learned, and the most wonderful company on the planet, The Food and Wine Conference of 2015 ranks right up there as one of the greatest weekends of my life.
Wanna read all about it? I gotta warn you, there are lots of collages and Instagram photos…and then some words to go along with them.
OK, maybe there are a lot of words. Prepare yourself.
My day started out pretty hectic. After staying up way too late the night before (a bad habit I have when I have somewhere exciting to go and have too much to cram in to a day after working a 12-hour shift), I woke up late and still hadn’t packed! As you ladies know (especially the blogging ones), perfect outfits on a trip are non-negotiable. Luckily, I had planned what to take, for the most part, so it was just a matter of throwing it in a bag.
Fortunately, my traveling companion and hotel roommate, Lara of The Healthy Fit Foodie, was running even later than I was, so I didn’t feel so bad moving a little slower than I probably should have. We had put ourselves on a tight schedule, with manicures at 9:15am. We made it just in time, and of course, I had to represent my own brand, and well as my assigned conference sponsor – The Florida Strawberry Growers Association (FSGA.)
After stopping by our favorite Publix on our way out of town, Lara and I grabbed a few quick breakfast items: protein bars and mimosa ingredients (and we managed to rep both of our sponsors, hers being Sweet Georgia Peaches!)
Our original intent after getting to Orlando was to swing by the Florida Mall to grab a few wardrobe items we were lacking and then head to the incredible Rosen Shingle Creek (the conference host hotel) to chill in the private #FWCon 2015 cabana by the pool, but after an hour in Sephora, we decided to hang out since the sky broke and it poured for a good hour (and continued on and off for the rest of the day.)
We arrived just as registration began, and ended up in a room with a fantastic view of the pool area and golf course! The Rosen is a seriously gorgeous venue – Mr. Crumby and I actually considered having our wedding there in 2012.
We were also greeted by a sweet Cinderella-esque chocolate heel full of French macarons and filled chocolates – a sweet welcome from Mrs. Isabel Laessig, the founder of Family Foodie, The Sunday Supper Movement, and the conference.
Our swag bags (a sweet perk of blog conferences) contained everything from beef jerky to hot sauce to a bag of sugar! Plus, Jammer, the FSGA mascot, who came with me everywhere I went all weekend!
Our first stop after registering and getting settled in was the Dixie Crystals Sweet Retreat, where we got to create our own sugar scrubs!
We were, of course, running late, which became kind of our habit for the weekend, as you’ll soon see.
Next up was the Florida Strawberry’s Welcome to Florida Reception, where we were treated to a Strawberry Shortcake Martini featuring St. Augustine Distillery spirits, lots of flavored popcorn, and, holy cow, so much chocolate, prepared by Chef Ramirez of the Rosen.
So. Much. Chocolate.
And then, we were whisked off to dinner, the Taste of the Rosen.
Where we had more chocolate.
We ate actual food, as well, don’t give me that look.
The star for me was the Fried Oyster Bloody Mary Shooter.
And Lara’s favorite? Well, Lara loved everything. Especially the sushi.
After indulging in a bit of everything, and meeting some amazing people (the majority of my night was spent talking about the foie gras cotton candy and Social Fabric campaigns with Heather, Nichole, DB, and Krystal,) we retired to the bar!
As a group, yes. Dinner was over, but we weren’t ready to shut up just yet, so we took the party with us!
Jammer really enjoyed my expensive glass of Cabernet with me.
The next morning, we had the privilege of having breakfast in The Osceola, the Rosen’s buffet. What a spread!! Of course, we were running late, but managed to scarf enough food to practically keep us full for the whole day.
This was a bad plan, since Isabel & Co. had sooooo many treats planned for the rest of the day.
Lara, Nichole, Jammer, and I took seats in the back as Andrew Wilder of BlogTutor.com and Eating Rules welcomed us all to the full-day conference with his half of the keynote, telling his story. His inspiring words were followed by the blunt, funny, and dynamic award-winning food writer Monica Bhide, whom I immediately fell in love with.
Anyone that curses like her, but is still able to paint a picture about a meal with much prettier words, is at the top of my favorites list.
Already? My giant breakfast hadn’t even digested.
Cabot Cheese (my fave!) and Pacari Chocolate (pure decadent organic Ecuadorian chocolate, if you were wondering) somehow made the dark chocolate and sharp cheddar cheese combo work, and I found myself going back for seconds of both.
No shame, remember?
Cabot even provided an udderly (hee hee) perfect photo prop…perfect for photobombing!
Two hours and two more sessions later (all about balancing life and blogging, and SEO), it was time for…
At this point, I was really kicking myself for under-eating at Friday’s dinner, and over-eating at breakfast, because my whole digestion was out of whack. I wasn’t the least bit hungry, but there was no way in hell I was going to pass on the epic Idaho Potato + Wisconsin Cheese Poutine Bar lunch!
If you’ve never tried poutine…my friends, you haven’t lived. Don’t let the sound of squeaky cheese curds fool you, this stuff is one of the tastiest, saltiest, meatiest meal in existence.
And we got to choose from four different varieties!
I think I sat at one of the most eclectic tables! Tammi (and her hubby) from Mamma’s Meals, Lara, Sondra of Girl Abroad, Katie of Recipe for Perfection, Lisa of Taste.Cook.Sip, and Kimberly of Get Green Be Well, as well as reps from the Florida Dairy Farmers. So many different personalities…and all of us tried every. single. flavor. of poutine.
Each one was sumptuous, but my favorite by far was the short rib and gravy plate – I drool every time I look at that photo.
And just when you thought it was time to get back to learnin’ – nope.
Desserts! So many luscious desserts! And a super fun photo booth (in a car) with some crazy blogger folks, provided by the Fields Auto Group.
We headed back to the conference room (finally) for the session I was most anticipating – all about working with brands! Four of the food groups were represented, with Cabot, Dixie Crystals, Idaho Potatoes, and Certified Angus Beef and The Beef Checkoff giving us inside info on how to shine when trying to collaborate with your favorite brands. I devoured every word.
And then! More food! I may have cried a real tear at that point. I was not expecting to get spoiled in such a way…next time, I’ll stretch my stomach. Our late afternoon treat was a Georgia Peach Cobbler smoothie, and famous Parkesdale Market strawberry cookies!
I love brand collaborations.
A few more informative sessions followed, highlighting how to rock social media, and how to score blogger perks (like hotel rooms and meals) while traveling. The day rolled to a hilarious stop with a Price Is Right game, hosted by the “Saucy Queen” herself, Michele of Intensity Academy Gourmet Sauces.
Dinner was, in a word, showstopping.
Three paired wines to go with a lovely salad, roll assortment (look at that butter coin! Oh, Rosen.), and the most tender, flavorful New York Strip I’ve ever had in my life.
I honestly wished I’d had two stomachs.
During dinner, the winners of the varied recipe contests that were held in the months leading up to the conference were announced, which provided even more entertainment that went above what we were creating ourselves.
Standing on chairs, taking photos of the spread. Stealing Each others’ glasses of wine. Laughing too loudly along with my fellow millennial table mates Lara, restaurant photographer Julius of Droolius, yogi Lora of LoraHogan.com, the Datz/Roux boys (whom we somehow ended up near and/or around all weekend), and Hilary and Yuni of Chicory.
Our table was pretty amazing.
Oh! And remember this beauty from this past April?
My Chocolate Cannoli Cheesecake Mousse Torte won Third Place in the Dixie Crystals Chocolate Recipe Contest!
After lip-synching to potato-centric song remakes in front of a green screen with some supremely fun-loving bloggers, Lara, Julius, Sarah of Average Betty, and I shut it down, chatting and enjoying some lovely Hess Select dessert wine that went with the first and second place Dixie Crystals contest winning desserts.
There may have been some Periscoped karaoke that got swiftly deleted, as well. I’ll never tell.
Needless to say, going to bed after 2 a.m. made waking up early on Sunday for brunch with Duda Farms a struggle.
Once again, Lara and I rolled in at the last second, snapping up a plate and scarfing as much as we could before grabbing some Starbucks and heading over to the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management for day two of learnin’.
I had a plan for my day at school, with three rounds of four small 45-minute group sessions going on all at once, I had to narrow down the things I really wanted to learn. Monica taught us how to be better, more descriptive food writers (which was above all, my favorite session of the weekend.) Julius and Faith of An Edible Mosaic gave us two different perspectives on food photography – standard and while eating out. Joan of Chocolate, Chocolate and More showed us how she garnered two million followers on Facebook, and how we can get there too – a feat which seems near impossible.
Chef Michael from Certified Angus Beef, along with Karli and Erin from the Beef Checkoff taught us all about the healthy side of beef, and made us drool while they cooked up some gorgeous steak medallions right in front of us.
And right before lunch.
Sarah (nicely recovered from our previous night’s fun) and Jeff from Tampa’s Locale Market made us laugh with potatoes and hands on recipe demos, and treated us to sweet homemade potato candy.
Jammer was all about the beef, too.
Our lunch was a lovely pasta salad, topped with chicken marinated in Robin’s Out of the Weeds’ delightful carrot ginger dressing! (I can’t wait to use the bottle I scored in my swag bag.)
And, as a sweet ending to an amazing weekend, the Florida Dairy Farmers fed us ice cream!!
They had cow sprinkles!!! I was udderly (hee hee) in love.
The weekend was simply incredible, and went well beyond anything I expected; it was full of the most amazing sensory experiences that went so far above simple taste and smell. I feel honored to have gotten to know so many wonderful people, and to spend time networking and building my brand at the same time. The Crumby Cupcake has become my heart, and being among people who feel the same way about their little pieces of the internet is beyond description.
They get me. They are my people.
You can bet I will be back in 2016, with my Brand Ambassador bells on yet again.
I mean, you can’t very well skip a family reunion, can you?!
(And I won’t be missing Taverna Opa next year, either!)