The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

September 16, 2010

Food writers converge on The Greenbrier for symposium

— WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — A collection of authors, chefs, publishers, editors and literary agents from all over the United States and as far away as Vancouver, British Columbia, and Budapest, Hungary, flocked to The Greenbrier this week for the Symposium for Professional Food Writers.

“This symposium has launched a lot of careers, mine included,” said Fred Thompson, author of nine cookbooks, with two more on the verge of publication.

Marking his 11th year of attending the conference, Thompson is a frequent radio and television guest, and is publisher and executive editor of the magazine Edible Piedmont, which celebrates local food in North Carolina.

The symposium’s founder, Antonia Allegra, noted, “We’re really at a time of transition in food writing.

The profession is influenced by blog writing, television, the Internet. There are multiple ways of communicating, and this symposium is a way to share that information.”

A culinary coach with a distinguished career as a writer, editor and teacher, Allegra said she began the symposium in Napa Valley, Calif., in 1989 after leaving a newsroom position where she was surrounded by colleagues. She found she missed the camaraderie and exchange of viewpoints.

“I was lonely,” she explained. “I just wanted to build a community — to give food writers a place to go, a well to draw from.”

The program during the four-day event, which concludes today, featured guest speakers and panelists discussing such topics as writing and pitching a book proposal, photography, new media (e-books) and the financial side of the food writing business.

Speaker Joe Yonan, food editor at The Washington Post and a cookbook author, said, “It’s so energizing just to be around all the writers here. This is the future of food writing. All of the speakers are really accomplished, and it’s a tremendous networking opportunity for the writers.”

Kurt Michael Friese, editor and publisher of the magazine Edible Iowa River Valley, blogged live from the symposium for the Huffington Post’s food page.

A cook for 30 years and professional chef for 16, Friese soaked up the networking possibilities, saying, “I hope with the exposure I’m getting here, I can worm my way into one of the bigger magazines.”

Thompson reinforced that notion, pointing out, “I now write for Fine Cooking and Bon Appetit.”

He added, “This is a very well regarded conference. Until Julia Child became unable to travel, she came here to attend this symposium, to learn.”

Another longtime symposium attendee, Lee Rankin, described herself as “a writer, a farmer and a mom.” This marked her 10th year taking in the symposium.

“This is the only conference I never want to graduate from,” she said. “The exchange of ideas here is just wonderful.”

The resort’s director of public relations, Lynn Swann, who coordinates the event, said this year’s attendance was around 55 people, including the speakers.

“We keep the number of attendees low intentionally to allow each person to get the one-on-one attention that’s just so valuable,” she said.

Symposium scholarships totaling $13,000 were awarded to nine of the event’s participants this year.

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com

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