I can’t believe I’ve written this much and I haven’t even covered the second day of the conference. I’m thinking I may need a professional editor to reel me in! If you’re already lost, don’t fret. This is the third installment of my experience at the Edible Institute food conference in Santa Barbara. Click here to read Part 1 and Part 2.

New Booze and Other Stuff

After a quick shower and dolly playtime with my 3-year old, I was ready for Sunday, aka, Day 2. I arrived at the hotel in time for a colorful array of sliced fruit, a mug of Tazo Earl Grey tea, and conversation with Edible Ohio’s trio-sister publishing team. The first panel represented High-Quality, Artisanal Products and Their Role in the Local Food World featuring the very young (I’m guessing mid-thirties?) Master Distiller of St-Germain, Robert Cooper.  If you’ve been following my journey, you may remember me savoring a special cocktail at lunch. Cooper and his wife were handshaking St-Germain cocktails for all the attendees and even let me keep the awesome silver monogrammed, straw/stirrer/swizzle stick (okay, I might have taken 3 because they were so chic). Pretty sweet that the owner of this exceptionally unique liquor was not too cool to stand behind the bar and get dirty.  When Cooper began his story on how he started St-Germain, I was hooked. I’m a sucker for a good old-fashioned American success story. Here’s the short version: Cooper is a 3rd generation distiller and was working for his dad at a high volume, “value” spirit producer (company name was not mentioned…hmmm, I wonder which company it is). He wanted to make something unique and tasted his opportunity when he sipped a homemade liqueur made from elderflowers while in Europe. “What’s elderflower?” he asked the bartender. “It sounds like Grandma’s eau de toilet.” Fast forward 10 years and you have this amazing artisanal drink made from handpicked French elderflower blossoms. I’ll be buying  a bottle this week. Look out book club girls!

The agenda stated that Ojai Pixie Tangerines would be on the panel and I was a little bummed when they did not make an appearance. At least we got to snack on their delectable mini-spheres all day. By the way, if you’ve never had an Ojai Pixie, you are missing out. They are the BEST tangerines you’ll ever eat and do an excellent job at staving off scurvy. And no, I’m not biased because I grew up in Ojai.

The Fat Farm

What’s the first thing you think about when I say the word, “beans?” It had better not have had anything to do with farting! Steve Sando is changing the perception of beans with his incredible bean selections. Apparently, Sando’s company, Rancho Gordo, has such a cult following that they can barely keep up with demand (side note for Santa Barbara locals: Sando said Lazy Acres will soon be carrying their beans). Maybe this has something to do with the fact that commercial beans in the grocery store can be up to 10 YEARS OLD! As a fresh bean virgin, I’m so excited to sample the beans he gave away free!

When Sando talks, people listen. This hilariously great presenter describes himself as the “Fat Gringo” who goes down to Mexico and searches for special varieties of heirloom beans. Imagine a fat white guy walking around a Mexican market, trying to talk to the 90-year old women selling small piles of beans on her blanket. Then imagine the same guy setting up export contracts with these Mexican families and you have the Rancho Gordo business development strategy. As the company has grown, Rancho Gordo is expanding and now carries a variety of other products such as pure unprocessed sugar (I tried it. It is amazing.) oregano, and amaranth.

Sando believes that all food should tell a story and that modern food distribution (think Vons or Walmart) does not allow the story to be told.  During his humble beginnings, he talks of selling beans at a farmer’s market near Napa and having people come up and ask what kind of nuts he was selling. The minute “beans” came out of his mouth and he’d be back to his lonely existence. Then, something magical happened. Thomas Keller, chef of famed The French Laundry restaurant, stopped by Sando’s booth. While buying beans, Keller said, “You are doing something important here.” The curious eyes of market goers descended upon Sando the minute Keller walked away demanding to know what Keller purchased. Fast forward 8 years and Rancho Gordo is now UPS’s top shipper in the Napa Valley even beating out all those famous wineries! What an inspiration.

Humor, Guilt, and Confessions

After lunch, which ironically featured 2 different types of beans, and it was off to my two workshops, Fine Tuning Your Food Blog with Dianne Jacob and Lisa Ekus & Virginia Willis on Building Your Own Brand as a Food Writer. Check out their websites..their  bios are impressive (former Martha Stewart Kitchen Director in the house!). The first thing two things I learned? There are 120 MILLION blogs out there (that is one for every Canadian, laughs Jacob) and every great food blogger has 5 things in common. She uses: Humor, Self Depreciation, Confessions, Guilt, and scenarios which Elicit Emotions in her writing. Don’t you just love a celebrity’s guilty, self-depreciating confession? Three pages of notes later and I was overwhelmed with the amount of things I need to be doing in my own writing, not to mention Be Food Smart brand building. If you are interested in reading the highlights, post a note on the Be Food Smart Facebook page or contact us and I’d be happy to share.

With Thanks

If you actually read all three installments of my Edible Institute Experience, thank you. I admit they’re all too long and I’m impressed that anyone would read this much in the age of 144-character tweets (by the way, we’re newly on Twitter @BeFoodSmart). This conference had a profound influence on me as writer, a consumer, a mother, and an eater, and I felt it my obligation to share. If you have the opportunity to attend this conference next year, do it! If not, you can always look forward to my next 16 part recap!

Image: opusbloo via Flickr