(The group photograph used in this post is courtesy of Aloft Bengaluru, CBP)
Facebook and twitter were abuzz the whole of last month with #ifbm2014. It is still ruling most of our posts. On the 1st and 2nd of August, India had its first ever food bloggers meet.
When I started blogging in 2006 (or 2007), bloggers were not taken seriously. Our writings were construed to be freely available content. Bloggers were treated as a class of people who did not have much else to do with their lives and were as appreciated as homemakers – we all know how much value is placed on that.
While the information (recipes/photographs/notes) is shared free of any fee, or acceptance of payment, food bloggers put it in as much effort in cooking and standardising recipes as any chef. Content you see on our blogs/sites are as much subject to copyright as content shared by any other media. A chef plans a meal and cooks. Bloggers wind up as meal planners, recipe developers, cooks, writers, photographers and editors all rolled into one. It isn’t easy but we do it because it gives us joy to share our passion and when it translates into comments, subscriptions, followers on facebook, twitter and instagram it is a surge of positive energy for us.
Over the years I have made many good friends through this platform. Blogging helped me refine my cooking skills, introduced me to new cooking techniques, taught me to distinguish fine foods from regular cuisine, helped me re-connect with my roots, made me realise that every meal is not just about eating, but has a history and story to tell. Blogging introduced me to photography and helped me set goals for myself. It has helped me evolve into the person I like being. It was after I started blogging that I took up a vegan diet. In a way, it is the blog that taught me to look beyond what I was doing and how I was living. Like many of my ilk I was pretty clueless as to how the goals I had set could be achieved, and how to go beyond the secure confines of the site. Having spent some of my savings and a lot of my time on the site I like to think that this venture will yield fruits sometime. I do not intend to monetise my work at this point, but I would like to be prepared now, to do that eventually.
IFBM 2014 was conceptualised to tackle these very issues. It aims at giving strength and recognition to the food blogging community and helping them take forward their passion to the next level. IFBM 2014 happened thanks to the determination of four Indian bloggers – Aparna of ‘My Diverse Kitchen‘, Arundati of ‘Culinary Escapades‘, Revati of ‘Hungry and Excited‘, and Nandita of ‘Saffron Trail‘. The sessions helped in understanding the various elements that go into blogging and those that are required to look beyond blogging.
The event was compered by Arundati. She saw to it that speakers were on schedule and that the entire program took place as scheduled. We called her ‘the time out’ lady. When only ten minutes would be left for a session to end she would give them a signal. Needless to say, she is also a corporate trainer. These days she is more involved in baking and conducts classes in Hyderabad.
Day one started with Deeba’s (Passionate about baking) session on food styling followed by Aparna’s session on food photography. Both were introductory in nature with interesting tips thrown in that made the session useful to bloggers in general. I am a huge fan of the way Deeba presents food and found the session insightful. Apart from writing on her blog Deeba writes columns for various newspapers and magazines.
Deeba also did a great job interviewing Husna Rahaman, author of the book ‘Spice Sorcery’. I cannot speak much about the book much as the cuisine dealt with was non-vegetarian. What we did come to know was that the story is food-centric and the narrative is interspersed with recipes from Bohri Memon cuisine.
Aparna’s session dealt with basic food photography to help bloggers take good photographs in ‘homely’ environs. Most of us function from homes and this was useful to bloggers who shoot in natural light. My studio is a 3ft. long window sill that also houses my boards. Just saying. Aparna also offer photography services, specialising in food and lifestyle.
Nandita’s session on ‘harnessing the power of social media’ made me realise how inactive my social media pages are! I mean. I hardly ever tweet. I am as alive on the web as an extinct dinosaur! I am hoping to set that right and let you know more about my site and my recipes this year. Yeah! That is something I need to work on. Do you know I have a presence and I am considered a fairly social person? I am sure my page doesn’t say that about me. I am set for a change this year. The first step is to connect. Please, will you scroll upward and click on the brown chicklets on the navigation bar? Those lead to my various accounts and I hope to be – for a start – fairly social. I’d love to know you better if it is your first time here. Point taken, Nandita. Nandita started off as a blogger but doubles as a columnist and culinary trainer.
Archana Doshi (Archana’s kitchen) spoke from her experiences and gave some tips regarding usage of correct keywords and on using facebook as an effective marketing tool. Archana is a tech-y turned blogger and owns one of the most successfully monetised sites.
I am acquainted with Aneesh Bhasin (hipcask.com) but this is the first time I have heard him speak about wines. His workshop on ‘wine appreciation’ was a short but well put-together session. I love my wines, regardless of their origin, and simply rely on my taste buds to appreciate them. Check out hipcask for their free app. It is available for download on itunes.
Chef Jolly Singh spoke of his achievements in the food industry, delving into roots for creation of recipes and demonstrated a couple of recipes using ‘KitchenAid’ equipments. The recipes dealt with diets not advocated on this site. There were contests and giveaways and KitchenAid has been very, very generous to say the least. Their magnet adorns my refrigerator and the USB is a cute little collectible that goes on the shelf right next to my other comic book and film collectibles. Yeah. I do it. I follow movies, television and books and collect official releases such as magnets, mugs and tees. Gives me great joy. Try it. Or don’t! It maddens others around you.
The sessions on Day 2 interested me far more as it involved topics that I do not know much about. The day started with digital startegist for Ogilvy, Bangalore, Ashish Verma giving an insight into SEOs for blogs, the best tools available to optimise sites, and making the most of plugins, changing algorithms, bots and crawlers. Yeah. It was tech-y stuff and brought out a lot of ‘nerds’ out of their bubbles. It was very informative, enjoyable and enlightening. I am still left with a lot of anxiety but this session has made me familiar with the subject to some extent.
You have often heard me speak of Rushina in this space before. The mid-morning schedule belonged to her. She gave us a brainstorming session on how to use words to our advantage and hone our writing skills. An area that is often neglected by food bloggers. Understandable. At the end of a day spent on planning, cooking, styling and photographing, one is not left with much energy. However, a well presented package involves good writing too. Check your apostrophes, commas, spaces. Cross those ‘t’s, dot the ‘i’s. You do not need to do much on computers. Just pay attention to what you write. Develop a style of wriiting that is ‘you’. Go back to your grammar books. Your blog may be a diary to you but to those who visit and read your articles it is nothing less than a magazine. Present it well. In today’s scenario, however, blogs go beyond everyday cooking and sharing. They are relied upon sources and need to be worded well. Rushina started as a blogger but also owns a studio that offers classes for various cuisines. She offers to depict food through doodles (foodles) and is also a columnist.
Another session I thoroughly enjoyed was put forth by Aparna Jain, author of ‘The Sood Family Cookbook‘. Like many, I have secretly nurtured the dream of turning author too. The publishing industry is discerning and driven very commercially. It is more to do with luck rather than discernment however if your draft is chosen to be published. Good recipes alone are not enough material for any publishing house. They look for trending topics and books that fit into the mould cast by them. If you can place a price on your work and want to see your work in print, self-publishing is a good alternative. Aparna’s talk was all about this. She works for Partridge Publishing and her session was truly insightful. If you know your worth – set your price, put in efforts, share your work and reap rewards. In a nutshell.
The afternoon session started with a panel discussion on opportunities open to food bloggers – beyond blogging. I have been approached several times by magazines, books and sites to write and photograph. Due to the nature of my day-job I have not been able to take up any professional assignments. However, I keep track of the opportunities available to bloggers. So, I was honoured to be part of this discussion along with Sanjeeta (Litebite), Rushina (A Perfect Bite), The Tadka girls (Ranjini and Ruchira), and Kalyan (Finely chopped). The others have carved their niche in the industry already, each on a different path. We discussed how blogging can act as a stepping stone to achieving other goals and how one needs to adapt oneself going from a hobby to a profession. I hope it was interesting and useful. Sanjeeta specialises in food styling. The Tadka Girls paved way into writing book and Kalyan does generic and customised food walks where he takes you along fairly untrodden and unexplored food havens across Mumbai.
The two day long event ended with acquisitions of goodie bags given by various sponsors. Thank you Tupperware India, KitchenAid India, India Food Network, Harper Collins, Cremica Foods, Bite me cupcakes, My Pref, Soulfull, Urbandazzle, Freedom Tree, Food Tribe, FoodHall, Blue Tokai Coffee, Cookie Man, and Himalayan Sparkling water for the same. Your generosity was unexpected and much appreciated.
Thank you – Aparna, Nandita, Revati and Arundati – for making this happen.
I believe my post would be incomplete if I did not put in a few words of praise for the hospitality showered on us by the Hotel staff. The entire team at Aloft Bengaluru, Cessna Business Park, made us feel completely at home. The venue had been chosen well by our thoughtful organisers. It was well lit and thus a haven for natural light photographers. The seating was bright and colourful and instantly cheered us. Yes, after being in Bengaluru traffic you do need cheering. It is a nightmare.
The General Manager, Mr. Faiz Alam Ansari however ensured that his team made Aloft a comfortable home during the two days. Devika and I were the only vegans in the event and we were glad to receive customised menu for each meal designed by Chef Sameer Luthra.
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