by Charmian Christie

A national hospitality symposium might seem like an odd professional development choice for a food blogger who isn’t a chef and doesn’t review restaurants, yet the Terroir Symposium is one of the more important events I attend. This annual one-day symposium brings industry leaders from around the world to Toronto, offering a unique opportunity to meet culinary movers and shakers I otherwise would only read about. Where else would I have met Fergus Henderson, Britain’s noted nose-to-tail chef, or California’s cutting edge-wine maker Randall Graham?

This year, James Chatto emceed the event at the sparkly new Arcadian Court.

View of The Arcadian Court from the gallery. Terroir was the first event held at this new Oliver & Bonacini venue

More than 30 speakers and panelists covered topics including sustainability, branding, social media, culinary tourism, customer service, foraging, and raw food. The list included:

  • Ken Friedman, The Spotted Pig, New York City
  • Doug McNish, vegan/raw food chef
  • Lilia Smelkova, Food Day USA
  • Michael Stadtlander, chef and organizer of Foodstock
  • Barton Seaver, sustainable fish advocate and author of For Cod & Country
  • John S.J. Lee, food writer and President of Chippy’s Fish & Chips Inc.
  • Jeff Crump, chef and founder of Slow Food Ontario
  • Alice Feiring, wine writer and author
  • Connie De Sousa, chef/owner of Charcut,Calgary and top-three contender in Canada’s Top Chef
  • Ben Shewry, chef at Attica, Melbourne, Australia

This year’s topic was The New Radicals. “The vanguard of modern cuisine,” these highly skilled young chefs value food above decor. They cook from scratch using sustainable, local fare. They collaborate with colleagues and engage their customers in innovative and genuine means. They give old-fashioned values a fresh face.

Sustainability or Slactivism?

The hot topic of the day was sustainability, with Barton Seaver and John S.J. Lee touching on the uncomfortable topics of slactivism, greenwashing and eco-pornogrpahy. Seaver said:

  • Salmon farming is here to stay. Should we argue against it or fight to make them better?
  • If we are to save fisheries we must not just eat the green fish on the wallet cards, we must save the yellow and red fish.
  • Fisheries are an economic system, not an ecological system.
  • Natural selection is picking up a fork. Chefs have the power to destroy a species. They have the power to restore with the same actions.

Discuss.

And discuss we did —  at the table between sessions, during break, and while standing in (the very long) line for lunch.

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What’s in it for Food Bloggers?

Plenty. Part of Terroir’s appeal is its intimacy. With a mandate to educate, network, share, collaborate and build community, Terroir has capped attendance at 400. Although Terroir’s attendance has almost doubled since it began six years ago, it’s still a third the size of culinary conferences like the IACP. Despite the restricted attendance, Terroir delivers quality speakers and content worthy of a larger organization. Arlene Stein, Symposium Chair, says they plan to maintain their intimacy and grass roots nature for the foreseeable future. “Fundamentally, nothing’s changed,” she says. “We’re still about community.”

For those who doubt the link between the hospitality industry and a personal food-from-my-kitchen blog, Stein explains the trickle down effect. “Hospitality workers are at the leading edge of the food culture. Their innovations filter to the chain restaurants, then to the grocery stores and finally to the home cooks.”

Is Terroir worth the $175 ticket price?

For the hobbyist who blogs for fun, not likely. But for those who earn their living writing about food — or aspire to — Terroir provides important context and a glimpse into the food culture that shapes the way we eat. Google can tell you how to optimize your blog, but only live conferences, networking opportunities and informed discussions will optimize your career.

What’s next?

Terroir 2013 will be an ideal fit for food bloggers with the theme of Taste Memory & Food Writing (the official title has yet to be determined). What are the chances of a blogger getting a media pass? Stein says although they are open to bloggers, Terroir has scaled down the number of seats reserved for media. Those who can articulate the outlets they’ll use and what coverage they plan to provide have the best chance of obtaining a media pass.

Charmian Christie is a freelance writer specializing in food and gardening. She shares her culinary triumphs and regrets on her blog Christie’s Corner and is about to see her hard-earned knowledge used for good, not evil, through her new iPhone/Android app Kitchen Disasters & FixesFollow Charmian on Twitter.

** Post image from PhotoExpress.com

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