If you were inviting food writers from across the U.S. to visit Utah for three days, what would you show them? Where would you take them? Most importantly, what “uniquely Utah” foods would you feed them?
Those were some of the questions facing Kathy Stephenson and me, co-chairs of the Association of Food Journalists’ annual conference. Every year the AFJ — a group of food editors, freelancers and cookbook authors — has an annual conference in a host city, where they explore some of that city’s regional cuisine and food culture. Some of my favorite past memories included meeting Emeril Lagasse in New Orleans, eating an authentic Thanksgiving feast near Boston, visiting the Better Crocker kitchens in
Minneapolis, and learning all about Kansas City barbecue. In 2012, the group got to visit the White House kitchen garden, so we had some pretty big shoes to fill.
I’ve got to admit, the co-chairman thing was lopsided. Kathy was the actual chairman, and I helped out on some of the events and seminars. Yes, there were so many more things we could have seen, done and eaten. But our schedule was pretty packed. You don’t like to get to the point where everyone is so tired that they don’t really enjoy their experience.
Anyway, our plans our plans came together on Park City’s Main Street on a beautiful week in September. The group stayed at the Treasure Mountain Inn at the top of the street. That climb up the hill burned a few of the calories that we ate throughout the conference.
Here are some of the AFJ seminars and events:
– Park City’s history and food scene – Moderated by my former co-worker Scott Iwasaki (now the arts & entertainment editor for the Park City Record) we learned how the restaurant scene evolved from mountainside burgers and chili for skiers, to some great fine dining. Deer Valley Resort, the Sundance Film Festival, forward-thinking restaurant owners and diners who support the restaurants all get some credit.
– “Yes, You Can Get a Drink in Utah.” Panelists from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and those involved in wine, beer and whiskey businesses people through the state’s liquor laws, moderated by Stuart Melling of Gastronomic SLC. Apparently they did a good job, because later I saw a tweet from one food editor: “Yes, you can get a hangover in Utah.”
– Utah’s supplement industry, with panelists from the United Natural Products Alliance, USANA, Xango, and business reporter Tom Harvey of the Salt Lake Tribune.
– Utah’s penchant for food storage. The panelists did a great job of bringing some life and humor intoa topic that has the potential for boredom. The LDS Church’s director of welfare services, Steven K. Petersen of South Weber, explained why the Mormons encourage food storage. The theme of self-reliance and caring for one another goes back the the Church’s early beginnings, when pioneers would plant crops along the way, so the next group coming would have food to harvest.
“Modern church leaders say the same thing. The best welfare program is our own welfare program,” Petersen said. Having a some money saved and a basic supply of food can help In the event of unemployment, financial setback or an emergency.
Mark Hyland, president and CEO of Daily Bread, represented the business side of food storage. Did you know the average person wastes $50,000 worth of food in a lifetime? Teresa Hunsaker of Weber County’s USU Extension talked about properly storing, rotating and cooking long-term foods. I wanted to have a cookbook author speak on food storage recipes, but after two different authors backed out, I decided it wasn’t meant to be. But Teresa covered all of those topics pretty well, complete with recipes for some tasty muffins made with food storage items.
– Taste of Park City, held at Riverhorse on Main, included signature dishes from eight of Park City’s restaurants, including Viet Pham, who beat Bobby Flay on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef.” (He’s got a restaurant Park City restaurant in the works.)
Other chefs included Seth Adams of Riverhorse, Ryan Burnham of Goldener Hirsch, Zane Holmquist of Stein Ericksen Lodge, Ernesto Rocha of Zoom, Bob Valaika of Shabu, and Asi Yokel of Reef’s Restaurant. A Local Table had samplings Utah’s award-winning artisan cheeses, sausages and spreads.
– Monica Bhide, the conference’s “writer-in-residence” did a seminar on the importance of using social media. Most long-time newspaper food editors are getting the hang of blogging, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and so on. (And since her seminar, I’ve tweeted and pinned, yay for me!)
– We did a tour of High West Distillery (Yes, you CAN get a drink in Utah), with owner David Perkins telling us all about how whiskey is made. Lunch at High West included whiskey-flavored chocolates made exclusively for High West by Ruth Kendrick of Uintah.
We had seminars on food styling and photography (since most food writers, including me, take their own food photos now), and a primer on taxes for freelancers (thanks, Heather King!)
We also talked about how to publish your cookbook, and how to find other food-related jobs.
– Our awards banquet was at Stein Erickson Lodge in Deer Valley. Many folks commented on the beautiful mountain setting and chef Zane Holmquist’s stunning cuisine. Some of the standouts included mushrooms that look like lobster meat, duck & waffles (a play on chicken & waffles) , tiny baby vegetables with creamed freekeh ( green wheat that’s been roasted), and Rocky Mountain elk.
Friday morning was devoted to Utah’s official cooking pot, the Dutch oven. The Utah-based International Dutch Oven Society had the writers don cowboy hats and bandanas to add to the Old West flavor. The rest of the Dutch oven day is posted here.
Members enjoyed the mountains, sunny skies, aromas of Dutch oven cooking, and the company of friendly food writers who bonded over the course of three days in Utah.