Having attended last year’s Big Summer Potluck for the first time and having gained so much inspiration, motivation, and insight, I knew that this was a food blogger event that I wanted to put on my calendar for this year. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in a position to commit to going to it back in February when the tickets were on sale as I was still in culinary school. I put my name on the waitlist, and a ticket came up a few weeks ago. I went on line and secured my place lickety-split.
The overall theme of the weekend, is Food, Inspiration, and Community. Like last year, there were plenty of all of those things to go around with a group of energetic, eager food bloggers all assembled to share their experiences. This year’s specific theme was Invest in Yourself. As the program description put it: “When you invest in yourself, you not only move forward but you also put yourself in a position to invest in others, invest in the community.” Having spent the past year, investing in my culinary education and getting ready to spend more time and energy moving my career from simply writing about food to making more of it, and hopefully even teaching about it, this topic had particular relevance for me.
All of the weekend’s speakers shared their experiences with us. They brought up their initial inspiration, their starting steps to realize their dreams, their professional setbacks, their course corrections, and their successes. From Jessamyn Rodriguez of Hot Bread Kitchen, we heard how this amazing, incredible business incubator for immigrant women came into being. Their program has launched several new enterprises and allowed many women (and men) to support their families. I’ve long been a fan of their delicious breads and have used them in several of my recipes.
“In 2006, I decided to invest in myself,” Jessamyn started off her story. She was working fulltime when she decided she wanted to know about making bread. She pursued a baking certificate at The New School and then took on an apprenticeship at Daniel, where she was taken under the wing of the head baker to learn the craft. This lead her to think about using bread to create an organization that could help women to create their own businesses. In order to get it off of the ground, she said it was about prioritizing, “about putting resources in the right places.”
Her three key pieces of advice were:
Trust your intuition – that crazy idea that you might have or that slip of the tongue
Take a risk and go BIG – this isn’t necessarily logical; the best entrepreneurs are scrappiest and sneakiest
Let your successes propel you – “successes have to be more powerful than failures”; “take successes at 10 times the value of failures”; you have to glom onto your successes and to believe in your idea
Jessamyn counseled us, “You’re not in it with both feet, until you are in it with both feet.”
Another entrepreneur who re-enforced what Jessamyn told us about being inspired, not losing sight of a vision, and about working through what might be perceived as failures to achieve success, was Jeni Britton-Bauer of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. She talked about her passion for making ice cream and how, initially, that drove her to produce the flavors that she wanted to, not necessarily what the customer might want to buy from her: “I had to fail miserably to find out about [that].” In the end, though, acknowledging this fact has made her a better ice cream-maker and has made her business stronger.
Jeni “thinks of every project as a train I’m on,” she told us. Some of them have already reached their destinations, some have crashed and burned (the failures), and some have yet to arrive at their destinations. There’s 1,000 failures for everything that works, she added. Why did she continue? she was asked. “Because I didn’t want to do anything else,” she replied. I’m not sure about the times that things didn’t work, but the J-Bars that we had for our afternoon break were delicious. That’s enough to be very inspired!
Our last key speaker of the day was Joe Yonan of The Washington Post, my hometown paper, talking about “Reassessing the Dream.” I always love when Joe is speaking at a conference, as he has such wonderful insights into food and the state of food writing (I mean, really, who can forget his comment about someone doing a book called “the 50 shades of grey Maldon Sea Salt” from The Cookbook Conference.). He talked about being “in need of a major change of scenery” a few years ago, after going through layoffs at The Post, the sale by the owners of the land on which he’d had his community garden plot, and the death of his beloved dog. He negotiated with his bosses and ended up spending a year in Maine, staying with his sister and brother-in-law on their farm, where they try to raise as much food as possible and to be as sustainable as possible.
“This kind of thing isn’t just a fantasy, there are real consequences to the things that you do,” he cautioned us. It might sound appealing just to run away for a while and to have some other life (even I feel like doing that now and again), but he had to organize his leave of absence from his job, sublet his apartment, and sort out how to make money in the meantime. He was there to contribute to the running of the farm and to be engaged in that life, about which he had hoped to write a book. The one he did write (shown in the photo above) covers just a small part of what happened to him while living on the farm; he also took away some valuable insights.
Kimchi Deviled Egg – my new favorite food – and Poblano Tapenade from Joe Yonan’s new book with Hot Bread Kitchen Lavash Crackers
He told us, “I learned more than I ever could have imagined about growing food.” More importantly, he said, he learned about “uni-tasking,” something that is more and more foreign to us in the fast-paced, overly-stimulated environment in which we usually function. He shared with us that even now that he’s back working in Washington, DC at the paper, he’s still “reassessing the dream that we talked about” and learning the lessons from that year. He doesn’t know how the experience will affect him in the long run; he’s also not sure that he really needs to know that – yet.
As others will mention in their own write-ups, a weekend at The Big Summer Potluck is not an easy thing to summarize in a quick post. There’s the new friendships that are made, the people whom you connect with whom you’ve only “met” previously on social media or via their blogs, the advice and insights shared by the featured presenters, the delicious food and new recipes to discover from all the dishes that everyone has contributed (yes, it really is a potluck), and the swag bag contents to explore using. This year, in particular, with all the changes and investments that have been going on in my life, my finally pursuing a long-held dream of attending culinary school, and in changing my career to one working in food, the tidbits and life lessons from the speakers are ones that I hope to take away and incorporate as I continue to pursue my own dreams.
*According to Mexican legend – if you can get your tortillas to puff when you cook them, you are ready for marriage. I’m so going to practice doing that before BSP5 next year!