Wednesday, April 28, 2010

IACP in Portland

Last week I was at my first IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) conference, here in Portland. Attending a conference in your hometown is a mixed bag.  You know where to eat, and you don’t have to pay for a hotel, but you miss out on the complete immersion experience.   I was quickly overwhelmed—so many people to talk to, so many sessions to attend. 

Here’s a rundown of some of the things I heard, followed by my epiphany (or what passes for one around here).
Ruth Reichl and Kim Severson
Ruth Reichl discussed Gourmet’s demise, bemoaning the tragic waste of cumulative years of experience (much of the Gourmet staff remains unemployed), and likening the sick magazine model (paid for by advertisers, not the readers who cared about the magazine) to our sick food model. 

Next, Kim Severson interviewed Reichl.  I’d heard Severson was funny, but, oh my—she is really funny.  I’d put a hold at the library on her new book, Spoon Fed; After hearing her, I couldn’t wait.  I went out and bought a copy instead.

Severson is also an excellent interviewer.  After discussing the ethics of eating meats (Reichl saying we couldn’t in good conscience eat feedlot meats, once we knew how the animals are treated), Severson asked Reichl what she does about eating at food carts.  Reichl answered, to paraphrase, that she felt bad about it—but she wasn’t going to stop eating in Chinatown.

I was glad Severson asked, it’s something I wrestle with.  I was also glad that Reichl answered so honestly, admitting her own uncertainty and discomfort.  Because it reminded me that we all—even Ruth Reichl—have to make difficult choices.  So much better to keep these questions part of the conversation. 
Portland’s James Beard
I spent one day immersed in James Beard stories.  Ron Paul and Robert Reynolds led a walking tour in the morning—we wound our way down Yamhill Street, with Paul pointing out the sites of the old market, and Reynolds reading excerpts from Beard’s Delights and Prejudices.  At the end, we ate biscuit, prosciutto, and butter sandwiches, with a mini-chocolate roulade with coffee buttercream for dessert.

That afternoon, Madhur Jaffrey and Judith Jones talked about Beard: friendships, pleasures, food, and memories.  Towards the end of his life, when Beard was in the hospital, Jaffrey asked what she could bring him.  “I think some strawberries would be nice,” he answered.

Listening to Reynolds read from Beard’s memoir, and Jaffrey and Jones tell their stories was delicious—I felt a bit like someone was telling me bedtime stories.
But Tell Us How You Really Feel, Michael Ruhlman
But I did miss the ‘Death of a Recipe’ session, when Michael Ruhlman said exactly what he thinks about people not having time to cook.  For more on that, check his Huffington Post piece, Message to Food Editors.

Or watch the video.  Here are the first 10 minutes—Ruhlman speaks up at about the 5 minute mark.

And here come the real fireworks. Go Ruhlman!


So, the IACP recap: I met new friends, and visited with friends I’ve met through the blog.  I even reconnected with someone I hadn’t seen in nearly 30 years, which ought to be mathematically impossible, seeing as neither of us seems a day over 20.  Or so.  I finally got to eat at Nong’s Khao Man Gai (it was worth the wait), and managed to introduce at least one person to my favorite local sweet, Ken’s cannelés.

Finally, I felt scattered at the conference.  I was going home in between sessions, and dealing with a sick cat and a daughter’s bank snafu in Italy.  Some sessions left me worried about ‘growing’ my career; guilty at not working more at self-promotion.  I wondered if I should just pack it in, stop writing, and get a job selling shoes at Nordstrom’s (they have a great discount).

But halfway through the session I got it.  Food—cooking it and eating it—is inseparable from life.  And that’s great.  I’ve always worked to keep balance in my life, putting family and friends at the top (because I like them there).  I’m not ready to stop that.  So I’ll keep going, writing my way—sometimes more, sometimes less.  Family and friends up at the top.  Dinner on the table (even if some nights it’s just an omelet, toast, and a salad).


Thérèse said...

Wonderful post as always. How come we can't separate life from everything else? Oh wait - maybe we don't want to.

Rural Eating said...

Wow. You really said it all! Meanwhile, I'm still processing the details from the week. All I know is that how and what we eat is intimately connected to all of the other essential aspects of our lives.

lshere said...

Life happens every day and careers take years-good to keep it all in perspective. I say this while crazily getting ready to travel and not enjoying it very much!

molly watson said...

So proud that you went to the conference, Giovanna - and don't you dare give up writing! I would consider a personal failure :)

Sorry I couldn't make it this year - perhaps we'll both be in Austin 2011?

Giovanna said...

Thanks, all.

The more I think about it, the more I think trying to separate food (eating it, cooking it, having it provide daily nutrients, etc.) from day-to-day life was a disastrous development in modern history.

And, no worries Molly. I wasn't really considering giving up writing. Rather, I was feeling a bit hopeless about trying to hustle (with the blog, with story pitches...).

Those who know me best know that hustling never stood a chance.

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