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Foodista, International Food Blogger Conference
Started in 2008, Foodista is a passionate community of food lovers who share and exchange its knowledge about everything culinary. There’s editorial content from food, news, to health and nutrition, but Foodista stands out with its always growing database of user submitted recipes.
Since 2009, Sheri and her team has been organizing the International Food Blogger Conference, which focuses on food, writing, and technology. This year, it’s being held in Seattle, Washington, from September 18 to 20.
I am so excited to have Sheri Wetherell, co-founder and CEO of Foodista, and the International Food Blogger Conference, here on the show today.
On Her Passion for Food and Cooking:
My father’s a retired airline pilot, so I spent a lot of my youth just hopping on planes, because it was free, traveling the world with him. I think just exploring a lot of international cuisines and cultures really honed by palette for food and travel. Also, my mother comes from a very large family and I was just always in the kitchen, cooking with my grandmother and my aunts.
Also, my father’s mother had a restaurant. I never professionally cooked, but I’ve just always been around food and I’m just passionate about it.
I started baking with my grandmother. I had my own little bread loaf pan and we would bake bread a lot. It’s funny, I’m a really bad baker to this day. So, clearly, nothing really stuck from a baking standpoint.
I would say my longest stint of living abroad was in Japan. I taught English there for three years, so I definitely like to incorporate a lot of Asian, specifically Japanese elements, into my cooking. Tofu for one, I’m trying to get my four-year-old to really embrace tofu – unsuccessfully, thus far. Then, I did a study abroad in Italy many, many years ago. Those foods, rich pasta dishes are still definitely part of my cooking core.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have amazing access to just beautiful fresh fish. We eat a ton of fish.
On Starting Foodista:
I would love to take credit for that, but that was completely my life partner and business partner, Barnaby Dorfman’s idea. He was an executive at Amazon.com and created, if you know the Internet Movie Database, he created IMDB Pro. So his idea, if you’re familiar with the Internet Movie Database, he wanted to create something similar, but around food.
Both of us have a passion for food and cooking, and so for many years we thought, “Oh, wouldn’t it be great to someday start a company that’s all recipes, that’s smart as far as search, like a Google search, so you don’t have apple pie, apple pie, apple pie.”
In 2005, we came up with the name Foodista and registered the domain and hired engineers to create software much like Google would pull in fair-to-use, free to use, recipe content algorithmically.
For a few years, we were just a lights on, nobody’s home recipe database, just a little search field. And then in 2007, we really wanted to start our own company, so we thought, “Let’s move back to the Foodista idea,” and we brought on another partner who is a brilliant engineer, Colin Saunders. He comes from a Napa Valley wine family, so he also shares the same delicious passions that we do.
We started to develop Foodista, and at the time, it was a completely different company than it is now. When we launched, we really were a Wikipedia of food, if you will. So it was structured data that our software would pull in algorithmically, as I said, but then we were developing a large community of predominantly food bloggers to add recipe content.
Amazon then invested in us, because the three of us founders are all former Amazon.com employees, and they were interested in the new IMDB of food, if you will. We were operating that way for a long time, building our network of our community of food bloggers.
About three years ago, we shifted away a little bit – long story short – from the cooking encyclopedia, is what we were calling it, but everybody could edit, to much more of an editorial website and food news. We still have that large community of recipe contributors and bloggers, but we’re now much more food and recipe news.
That’s the short story of how we started.
I think at the end of the day our goal is to feature everything and anything related to food that people are interested in. If they want to take a cooking class in Italy, they can find all the resources on Foodista. So that’s one of my personal goals, but who knows. The Internet changes so quickly. I think the key as any website owner, blogger, whatever, is to be nimble and to change with what your audience is looking for, so that’s what we will continue to do.
On the International Food Blogger Conference:
It is a fun party. The three things of the conference are food, writing, and technology. We gather speakers in all of those areas just to offer the best of the best to our attendees. It’s definitely a weekend of intense learning, but amazing networking with people in the industry, as well as fellow bloggers.
We share on social media and connect with our fellow bloggers, but this is really an opportunity to meet offline and engage and form friendships. It’s just an amazing event and there’s a ton of gourmet food and wine. We feature some of the best restaurants and shops and food producers in the area. It’s a lot of bang for your buck.
Back in the day, we were developing tools for bloggers to help them build traffic and SEO to their sites. Any industry that you’re in, you always want to go to the conference that represents your industry, and there wasn’t one. I kept talking to food bloggers and saying, “Is there any sort of conference for food bloggers?” Everyone was saying, “No, but we want one.” In less than four months, we hurried and put one together.
We thought if we could get 50 people in a room to talk about food, writing, and technology, the three things that are most important to food bloggers, we can really hash out what are their goals, what bloggers are really aiming to improve upon. And so we kicked it off. It immediately sold out in less than a week. So we thought, “Well, our venue has space for 50 more.” So we extended it and we capped it at 100, and it was amazing.
Our keynote was Ruth Reichl formerly of Gourmet. We had Molly Wizenberg and Elise Bauer, Jaden Hair, just a bunch of amazing, amazing speakers. Sur la Table was our key sponsor. They put together a 23 pound bag of goodies, which was amazing, for each attendee. It was just this weekend of amazing food and speakers, and then afterwards everybody said, “That’s great. When’s the next one?” And we went, “Oh, yikes! We’re now in the event business.” So I operate two businesses: Foodista and the International Food Blogger Conference.
So that’s how IFBC started, kind of by accident.
We thought we would just do one, so now it’s grown into an event of more than 300 attendees.
On How Food Blogging Has Changed Since 2009:
In 2009, when we hosted ours, Twitter was still was fairly new. And I was still kind of unsure, I was like, “What’s this Twitter thing? We’re going to write 140 characters? Who’s going to read this stuff?” So it is interesting to see how things have evolved.
I think the medium as a whole has become much more visual, especially with social media, as we’ve seen with Pinterest and Instagram. I think Instagram has barely even scratched the surface of what its potential is going to be. So bloggers, if you’re not yet on Instagram, sign up today and start doing it. And the same with Google Plus; I think we’ve just scratched the surface with the capabilities of Google Plus.
As far as a blog, I think it is going to become more visual. And I mean that in the sense that people are already taking amazing photographs, but I think perhaps it might be more interactive, maybe people will be doing more podcasts such as yourself, more video content, video tutorials, things that are quick and easy for their readers to digest, if you will, like, three minute how-to videos.
I think blogs will become more enriched with a variety of different content, maybe more self-publishing will be done as far as ebooks. I think ebooks, as far as cookbooks, are still relatively new. They have a long ways to go. They need to become a lot more visual, I think, than a lot of them are now.
It’s going to be really interesting to see how blogs take off. I think, not just food bloggers, but bloggers in general, need to be very creative as far as how they present their content. There are so many, as you said, food bloggers out there. It’s how do you separate yourself. So it’s hard work.
I’ve said at our conference before that bloggers are not just bloggers, they’re content producers. As you said, you’re doing recipe development, you’re styling your plate, you’re photographing it, then you’re editing those photos, you’re publishing it. But then once it’s live, you can’t just forget about your content. You have to keep marketing that content, and how do you repackage it into new and interesting ways. If you write that chicken recipe, don’t just forget about it. Include it in other chicken posts, like a round-up. It’s really thinking like an editor and a marketer, rather than just a food blogger.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
I love anything Jamie Oliver.
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
I’m going to promote my girl, Andie Mitchell, Can You Stay For Dinner, not that she needs any help because it’s a phenomenal blog, but beautiful photography. Oh, gosh, there are so many. We have such a big blogger community that I’d hate to call out one over the other. Also, La Tavola Marche in Italy. She and her husband do amazing things. They run an inn and a cooking school too, and unfortunately, they’re selling it. So if anyone’s on the market to buy it…
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook that make you happy?
Gosh, that’s a good question. I cannot think of anyone specifically. I’m going to have to pass on that one. I’m totally blanking on specific names.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
My mother brought me this amazing Vietnamese vegetable peeler from her cooking school in Vietnam, so that’s pretty cool.
I also find, as a parent especially, I’ve got a vegetable spiral cutter, not that it’s that unusual, but for all you parents, you want to get your kids to eat more vegetables. You can do mile long zucchini pasta noodles from this thing, or curly fries. It’ll peel the whole thing in these fun little spirals. Not necessarily unusual, but super fun and a great way to make your food fun.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
Avocado. Amazingly, I used to hate avocado until I literally was about 25. I liked guacamole, but I did not like anything else. I did not like just sliced avocado in salad, crazy I know. But I just happened to be in the kitchen talking to my step-mom one day and she was slicing them and putting this vinaigrette over them. And all of sudden, it’s like something snapped in my head where I had to have them. Now I absolutely cannot get enough avocado in my life. I love it.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
Anything from Ottolenghi. I could just sit for days and drool over his cookbooks.
Also, just anything from Dorie Greenspan, too, if you’re looking for great French recipes that are doable. And Marcella Hazan, her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. She has just amazing recipes, specifically just a very simple roast chicken where she seasons the bird with salt and pepper, and just stuffs the cavity with pierced lemons and roasts it. It’s the most brilliant roast chicken you’ll ever have.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
It depends on my mood and what I’m cooking. Sometimes I like classical, sometimes I like some jazz, and anything Cuban. I love Cuban music. I have no Cuban in my DNA, but I think maybe in my past life I was Caribbean.
On Keeping Posted with Sheri:
Check us out on Instagram; we’re working on building that up and I’m addicted to it. It’s super fun. So Instagram, Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest; we’re on it all.