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8 Dec 2009

Food Bloggers Connect 09: Huggs and kisses in red, blue and piggy slippers

After few days spent digesting and reminiscing the events of last week, now it is time for me to finalize and consolidate memories that will be cherished forever.

It was more or less 2 weeks ago when I started my trip to London for the first ever European based Food Bloggers Connect conference.
When I stepped out of my bed, the day was clear, dark as a chocolate ganache but getting brighter as time went by prepping my suitcase and gathering the last pieces of equipment; making myself ready for the first train. As it is typical for these latitudes (and my luck) on the way to the station it started drizzling. What do you know, in 5 minutes the light drizzle became a huge storm! I have never experienced such a strong wind; I am not a lightweight but it felt definitely hard to walk straight (I even slipped on the sidewalk and had my light beige trousers bare the marks of the accident for the whole weekend). But I was determined; all the weather difficulties of this world couldn’t stop me from reaching my friends in London I had to swim through the Channel!

I wasn’t alone in the trip, my friend Rita joined me. She really wanted to enjoy slaughtering her credit card in Oxford Street and Covent Garden or wherever there was good food to catch or shoes to buy.
After having found our way through the sea of people collected at St. Pancras tube station; we decided to leave our bags in the hotel. We spent the rest of the Friday afternoon together; while the tension was rising for my first foodies-date that evening.
Walking by Covent Garden, I had the chance to breath a bit of the londonese atmosphere and people mood. It felt quite good I must say. We even had a snack at Carluccio’s (she had some penne alla luganega and I had some garlic focaccia).

Carluccio's in Covent Garden

The first foodies rendezvous was at the “funny man with an arch” as Pam from The Cooking Ninja wrote me; that was the Eros fountain in Piccadilly.

Piccadilly lights

As each of this easy recognizable meeting point and touristic attraction, the space around it was jam-packed with people; a limbo dancer on the right side of the fountain was the focus of a ring of curious tourists while others were wrestling to have a good position to shoot their pictures. When I arrived at the fountain, I started circling it like a dog wanting to catch his own tail. I couldn’t recognize any of my friends. A quick sms and a call told me that all of them were still to arrive.
While I was trying to leave the mark on the square going round and round, and round the fountain; I spotted a beautiful creature that I seem to recognize.
Towering high in her boots (or where they high heels shoes?), with a playful purple wool hat containing her blond hairs, I later got introduced to her as the flamboyant Bethany of Dirty Kitchen Secrets.
The first one to shout out my name was Jamie of Life’s a feast; warmly covered in a hat and a raincoat, deign of the best spy-movie. We run into each other open arms and like when you find a known point in a city map, I started automatically to place faces and names to a whole bunch of people. Mowie from Mowielicious was there (we have actually been in phone contact since when I arrived in the city), Beth stepped in while we were wondering where Pam and Deeba from Passionate about Baking were. They finally arrived; evidently they have been shopping. Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry was the last to join us.

From left: Hilda, Jamie, Deeba, Pam, Beth and Mowie

Worthless to say that we were all giggling, hugging, memorizing faces, sighing the tension of the first meeting away. We were really happy to finally meet up. It felt like one of those school reunions, where you end up meeting your old high-school pals. We knew each other, even if we didn’t know each other.
Mowie was the city guide and we followed him, dodging a set of noisy bikers, to Busaba restaurant in Soho. We joined the queue and while slightly roasting under the heating lamps, we had time to relax and share some more thought (while Beth was warming up her popsicle-toes). Every now and then, a waiter was passing by asking us if we were still seven; since I would rule out human parthenogenesis reproduction as well as foodie cannibalism (we were not so hungry afterall), yes we were STILL seven!
We sat at a nice big square wooden table that we shared with another group of four people (probably tourists). Mowie started reading the menu and, since he has been at Busaba so often that they almost made him a statue to side the Buddha one, he was the right one to ask for suggestions. I just took whatever he was taking. What do you know, the girls took quite “some” more time to make up their mind by then the gifts exchange had already started. While packages, books and chocolates were flying left and right; the couples we were sharing the table with started getting quieter. When the food arrived and we ALL took our cameras out and started taking picture of the dishes, they were just staring at us like we were aliens (Jamie lately suggested that for next FBC we should all wear a t-shirt/tag stating our food-blogger nature).

Left: Tom Kha Chicken and Spring Rolls; Right: Pad Thai

The dinner was a blast! As the evening went by, each of us realized at his own time how wonderful was what we were sharing. Seven people that till then have only shared tweets, emails, and blog posts came together like a whole entity. Like puzzle pieces each with funky zigzagged edges, we always found in each other a socket were to attach ourselves and feel like a family.

The dinner went by and it was time to go back to our hotels and get a good rest before the big day.

The next day, Saturday, it was when the FBC main event was taking place at Levant restaurant. After breakfast, me and Rita went down at Oxford Circus tube station where I rushed my way up Marylebone Street and down the stairs of Levant, fearing to be late. The light became soft while entering the dark brown and red interior of the restaurant, lit mainly by candles and Moresque lanterns. The air was already fizzy; groups of people here and there, drinks, coats, gifts, cameras, the whole stuff.
While I was queuing, waiting to pay and get a sticker to glue on my breast, Claire from Colloquial Cooking shout at me from my back; the ice was broken. From then on it was a whole hugging and laughing, introducing to each other and start bonding. The haunt was opened!
Beth, Jamie, Mowie, Deeba and Pam were already there. Try to spot your twitter-friends in that crowd was quite fun. Oz from Kitchen Butterfly introduced herself to me, then was the time for Carla from Can be Bribed with Food, Davina from Sugarbar (who was hiding between Deeba and Pam), Sarah from Maison Cupcakes and Sunita from Sunita’s World who was also unsuccessfully trying to hide herself.

From left: Davina, Pam, Deeba, Me, Jamie, Sarah Nic and Sunita (Photo courtesy of Davina)

Hilda came in late with the sweet Papoose and Meeta from What’s for lunch, Honey?. On the way to the bar to refresh my throat, I met Sarah of Simply Cooked and we started sharing few chitchat sipping our cranberry juices.

Sarah and me (Photo courtesy of Mowie)

Beth opened the session with the welcome speech, while her husband Chris was very kindly filming the whole event.

Left: Beth (Photo courtesy of Meeta); Right: Beth and Chris (Photo courtesy of Mowie)

It was finally time to eat. The buffet was opened and, like at a catwalk, all the flashes were on it. Flocks of foodies gathered all around the tables with their cameras trying to get the best shot, while others were simply queuing trying to fill their hungry belly with what seemed to be an excellent panoply of Lebanese delicacies.

From Lebanese breads to brioches, from chicken skewers on salad to barbequed chicken wings, from domed crispy falafel (and sauce) to muhammara and baba ganoush, fried zucchini and potatoes were there with a delicious lemony sauce featuring parsley and coriander leaves; a real feast!
I was queuing with Jamie and when we got our dish full to our satisfaction, we headed toward one of the cosy big low round table where some of our friends where seating. Worthless to say that the seats with their soft pillows were quite comfortable; perfect for a full belly trying to digest. We could have stayed sit forever nibbling on lokum, baklava and truffles flushed down with a traditional mint tea but Beth summoned us to the dedicated area: it was time for the talks to begin.

Clockwise from top left: Kang, Meeta, Beth, Jeanne and Jamie, 
Jamie and Jeanne(Photo courtesy of Deeba)

The first to open the dances was Jeanne from Cook Sister! introducing us the Bloggeraid cookbook: a project featuring original recipes and full colour pictures developed by food-bloggers collected in a book which will help raising funds for the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP). Then it was the turn of the explosive Meeta to give us tips on how to make mouth-watering pictures for our blog in the comfort of our home and with artificial lighting. Complementary, she was followed by Kang of London Eater who thought us how to shoot pictures in reduced light conditions, as restaurants could be. Out of the visuals, Jeanne and Jamie had a nice duo talk on how to find our writing voice, keeping track of grammar rules and typos, following our instinct when a change in register is necessary. At the end, Jeanne gave us a little but instructive intro on copyright law. It was then again Kang’s turn to talk; concluding the session with as short speech on social media and fish tanks.
We were quite exhausted by now and notably thirsty. The waiters kindly told us that they had to set up the room for their first dinner reservation and we started stepping out into the rain but not before having fetched our goodie bag.
As it happens in these situations, I had forgotten my umbrella at the hotel so I stepped back into the restaurant to join Beth, Mowie, Jamie, and Catty from The Catty Life. We decided to chill out in the lobby of the restaurant, exchanging comments on this first FBC and giving our interview to Chris’ camera.

A sneak-peak to our official video (Thanks Hilda for editing it so brilliantly)

At around 7pm it was time to go to dinner at Vivat Bacchus near the London Bridge; Beth exhausted went back home with Chris while Jamie, Mowie and me tried to reach the restaurant (we did not have its address). We managed to arrive more or less on time; Davina, Deeba, Jeanne, Pam, Sarah and Sunita were already there. Hilda and Meeta joined us shortly afterwards.

The dinner was lovely, the restaurant offers platters of different mood and nationalities full of goodies; mostly to enjoy with bread and a glass of wine.

 Left: South African Platter; Right: Greek Platter

To Mowie’s question “What’s your story?”, we all opened up like flowers sharing our life stories and origins making even more evident how varied, and multicoloured our group was.

It was hard to depart from each other at the end when the time arrived (and they almost threw us out of the restaurant) that we have to give our sorrow body a rest, but always with the promise to meet up again the next day!

On Sunday we were planning on having a walk at the Marylebone Farmers market. It goes without saying that for our only outdoor-day, we had the best of British weather at our disposal: poring rain for the whole day.
From Bakers Street tube station, Mowie guided us toward the market in a parking lot somewhere. Strangely enough, most of us stopped in front of the stand selling tartes and started chatting under the rain. Others wondered around, Beth had her oysters breakfast while Deeba and others were admiring the baked goods at the bread stands. I forgot to mention that Hilda brought again the puffy Papoose with her. This 8 month old, sweet bundle of joy was the centre of attention for most of the day.

From left: Sarah, Pam, Deeba, Jamie, Chris, Hilda, Papoose, Hilda, Meeta, Me, 
Oz, Mowie and Sarka (Photo courtesy of Sunita)

We continued our walk through the Marylebone village looking for a good place where to have lunch (and that could accommodate the whole 13 of us). We passed by La Fromagerie, where a sealed room filled up with all the possible cheesy goodness is flanked by stands selling seasonal and gourmet products and by a small café dedicated area. It was too small to fit all of us so we moved further, but not before Jamie had a nice talk with the French cheesemonger about aged Comte.
Walk here, walk there, splash one pond and the next one; we reached the Natural Kitchen. At first glance, it seemed like a small covered market but inside it hide a section where you can eat what you buy at the food stalls and an upstairs bistro too. Mowie and I went in to investigate. We tried to find a place for the whole group upstairs but we were discouraged by the expression a waitress made when we told her how many we were. Fortunately there were a couple of table downstairs that could be joined together to fit us, and so we did!

Once sat down, the usual waltz of menu reading started. The choice was pretty varied and interesting so we took our time to decide, only one thing was secured for some of us: coffee! The cute Papoose got her own little chair and was inspecting each and every of us (she was especially interested on Sunita’s shirt). In this covered space, we had all the time needed to relax and continue our chatting.
The coffees came first followed, after some time, by the food. After the photo-shooting and food-styling session, we enjoyed our organic food in the soft sound of chattering.

Around 2:30pm both Deeba and Sunita had to leave us since they had to catch their connection back home but Hilda’s husband joined us for a few more chitchat. At almost the closing time, we paid our bill and separated: Hilda, Meeta and Pam went back to their room while Mowie, Beth, Sarka from Cooking your Dream, Jamie and me left for the traditional German style Christmas market in Hyde Park.
The walk was quite long and the rain did not stop for a second; we were growing webbed feet. The market was nice and quite deserted; we had a nice walk through the various stalls and were especially captured by two of them: the pretzel and the bratwurst ones (foodies never really stop eating).
We were getting quite cold and when both Meeta and Hilda joined us back; we decided then to move to Mowie’s place to spend what was prospecting to be a great night. On the way, we stopped to fetch few pizzas for dinner.
At Mowie’s place we warmed up with some fizzy cider kindly offered us by Bruce, while eating our pizzas and brainstorming for FBC10.

It was a pleasure to be finally in a quiet place to relax and enjoy each other without much background noise, and getting to know Bruce was an extra pleasure for all of us: the family grows.
It was a great night, full of ideas, tales and laughs.

On the way back the rain thankfully had stopped. A train, tube and night-bus ride and, tired, I was finally falling onto my bed.

The next day Rita and I had to put all our things back together and head for our trains. An accident on the way out from Bruxelles caused us almost 5h of delay but we reached home safe and sound nevertheless.

Longing for next year FBC.....


  1. Wow I think this must be the most comprehensive post on FBC I've seen! Wish I'd been there for more of the extra-curricular stuff, you guys really had a good opportunity to get to know each other better and I really missed out. *sniffs into hanky*

    Lovely to meet you and we can share tweets between now and next FBC. xx

  2. A cherished weekend indeed. It was lovely to meet you, though it was just briefly at the end of the event in Levant (during the video interviews, which I can't wait to see!) - will hopefully meet for longer at FBC10.

  3. ahhh! once again the memories of the FBC are warmed up! lovely Alessio. I have to say it was a true pleasure meeting you and spending the weekend with you!

  4. This is a fantastic - well, I was going to write "review" but it is more a reliving the fabulous experience that was our weekend in London. Beautifully captured both in words and in pictures and I'm smiling and tearing up all over again. I am so thrilled to have met you and hugged you in person and how special to have gotten to know you so well. What a family we all make, huh, Alessio? Thanks for letting us relive these wonderful emotions again!

  5. Wow! That's an amazing round up Alessio - brilliant. So nice reliving those lovely memories again, and it was fantastic to finally meet you even though we never did get to talk about the universe. Next time definitely! =)

  6. It was so great to meet you at the FBC09!
    This is a wonderful write up and I'll forgive you for getting my name wrong, lol! Wish I could have made it on Sunday, you had such a fun time. Hope to see you at FBC10! xx

  7. Hugs & kisses Alessio...reading your beautiful rendition has flooded me with nostalgia & a longing for the days to come back. We had such a GREAT time, and it was wonderful meeting you! I haven't had the heart to stir the cuppa dark chocolate, but I sneak a peek at it every day! xo

  8. What a fun, fun meet I'm sure. So wish I could make it...

  9. That's a group trip/vacation, a lot of fun and enjoyment.

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