Food Blog Camp 2011 in Mexico

by Matt on January 12, 2011

Well hello there! We just got back from a week at Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Mexico where we we attended and instructed at the 2nd Annual Food Blog Camp. To say it was a marvelous experience would be an understatement; it was heavenly! We enjoyed the company of our blogging family and met many new wonderful people, all immensely talented. In fact, I think the greatest thing about teaching is that I learn so much and I always come home energized, challenged and satisfied.

So what was this whole Food Blog Camp about? It’s a series of workshops, hands-on demonstrations and plenty of quality one-on-one time with some leaders and legends of the blogging world. And no, I don’t consider myself either, I’m just lucky enough to be invited so I can usually do something that will embarrass myself!

The camp was held at the luxurious Grand Velas in Riviera Maya. Astonishing architecture, lavish accommodations and stunning views of mangroves and ocean became the backdrop to our daily activities. I’m actually a bit hesitant to even call it a “camp”: there were no cots, no bunks and definitely no need to rough it over a campfire in the mountains. This was first class all the way.

During the day we all shuffled into Grand Velas’ beautiful conference hall for classroom style lectures and presentations. Plenty of information, questions, and insight with tons of valuable nuggets to take home and implement. I always enjoy these brain-flexing sessions.

Ah, the beautiful and gracious team known as White On Rice Couple. They are our dear friends, and any time spent with Todd and Diane are moments for learning what true dedication, professionalism and talent look like. They are the real deal and I knew attendees would have an amazing time learning from them. They spoke on the technical aspects of food photography from camera angles to aperture and shutter speeds, providing real world examples that really cement their ideas home. I love learning from these two, it’s exhilarating.

After the first part of their presentation we all headed into the grand hall to put many of these practices into motion. We also had an opportunity to work with various breakfast items and Kerrygold Butter, one of the Camp’s gracious sponsors.

Sally and Kent Cameron discuss camera settings. I adore those two.

Smooth, slick and thoroughly entertaining. That's Michael Procopio for you.

The second part of Todd & Diane’s workshop involved a hands-on, breakout session that literally had my jaw dragging on the floor. The entire camp took over one of the resort’s phenomenal restaurants for an afternoon of photography. But this wasn’t just about snapping photos of our food; we were there with the entire restaurant staff, closed to the public, with cooking demonstrations and tables set so that every student could experience the restaurant environment.

If you’ve ever had a photo assignment in a restaurant you know it’s a tough job. You never get to indulge your photographic desires because chefs are simply too busy, you don’t want to interrupt the diners’ experience and — this is the worst — there’s never great light! However, this opportunity simply blew me away and I kept running around telling people how lucky we were to be able to do this. I also told them that this type of thing will probably never happen again, it was such a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Restaurant staff, chefs and servers were our models while wine and appetizers were passed around to enjoy. Wait, was I supposed to photograph them too?

Michael snaps Lucy and Gaby while balancing a glass of wine. He must have taken my previous photo class.

Here’s the lovely Jaden of Steamy Kitchen leading a discussion on brands, blogging and her best practices. I’m loving the stacked chairs.

Another wonderful session included David Lebovitz. He spoke about finding your unique niche and voice as well as the history of hand puppets and shadows which I found completely fascinating! This one is called La Paloma.

Speaking of David, I think he really enjoyed this year’s camp. When you are a successful author and blogger you are always working and I’m glad he managed to find a productive spot at the resort from which to work.

This is a food blogging event so you better believe everyone is wired to the gills! Because my mama didn’t raise no fool I always manage to sit with the beautiful women. Always. Jealous?

Jaden, Diana, Carrie, Gaby and Brooke. I love them all so very much.

After all the workshops were completed (and my apologies to Elise as I cannot find my images of her as I write this, damnit!) it was time for sun and fun. And food. Plenty of food.

And beer. Icy glasses of beer. Enjoying one and staring at the beach or laughing with your friends makes life that much better.

Poolside con cerveza. Photo by Gaby Dalkin.

Not the most glamorous shot of food I know, but still. Tons of ceviche, pulpo, lobster, salsa, guacamole and jalapeños. Not in the photo are the piles of corn tortillas nearby. AMEN.

If there are two things that stand out for me this past week it’s definitely Cochinita Pibil as well as these Huitlacoche Quesadillas. This fungus is known as Corn Smut and while it’s name is less than glamorous it has a distinctive, earthy citrusy flavor that I absolutely love. And if you serve anything small and cute on a little plate I’m pretty much going to love it by default. There you have it.

Speaking of love, you all know one of my best friends Gaby of what’s gaby cooking, right? Not only is she my blogging buddy but my dear friend and I really think someone upstairs is watching out for me by allowing me to have such a special person in my life. She radiates love. And she’s the only person on the planet who can match my love of avocados and guacamole, spoonful by spoonful.

Gaby, Marla of Family Fresh Cooking and Carrie of Deliciously Organic. Powerhouses, all of ‘em. And Carrie just celebrated the release of her first book. Congrats, Carrie!

And there I am with my Adam, the man with those famous knuckles. We also taught a workshop on food styling and photography that was part presentation and part hands-on at Azul, one of the Grand Velas restaurants that overlooks the beach. For a wonderful summary of our session check out Jason and Shawnda’s post at Foodie Bride called The Greatest Job In The World.  Hey, I think I agree!

There were so many great moments from Food Blog Camp and it’s hard to cover them all. I think one of the best moments was captured on my iphone one afternoon as we swam and laughed by the pool. Thanks to everyone for indulging me with the Film Strip Hand Wave. Here’s a little movie I’ve put together.

A special thanks to Kate, Grand Velas and Kerrygold. We’re really looking forward to next year!

For more round-ups from Food Blogger Camp 2011 please sure to visit these peeps!