Food writers of the world unite at The Greenbrier Professional Food Writers' Symposium

Ten or so years ago, when I first spoke at The Greenbrier Professional Food Writers' Symposium, someone in the audience said, "I don't think anyone grows up wanting to be a food writer." I wasn't sure that was true a decade ago and I know for sure that it's not true now. These days, lots of people want to be food writers-and, if you're reading this blog, maybe you're one of those people who wants to make writing about food your life.

If that's the case, it's not too early to think about attending next year's symposium.

The four-day symposium, organized by Antonia Allegra and always featuring Don Fry as the in-house writing coach, is in its 19th year and the program just keeps getting better. It's jam-packed-there are panels, small-group talks, individual and group writing workshops and coaching sessions and lots of time for everyone to just get to know one another.

I know the picture below doesn't make it look like we're working, but given that we went from 8 am to midnight every day-we just couldn't get enough of everyone's ideas-we earned our breaks. Even Tolstoy took breaks.

What you're looking at is a cocktail hour on one of The Greenbrier's many terraces. (We were incredibly spoiled, since the Napa Valley Vintners provided the wines for our symposium, we drank really, really well.) Seated are Don Fry (you can see the back of his head) and the legendary cooking teacher (La Varenne) and author Anne Willan, who was an attendee. Standing way to the right is the remarkable Heidi Swanson, publisher of one of the world's most popular food blogs, 101 Cookbooks, and author of a book that was just nominated for a James Beard Award.

What you can't see are all the panels and discussions and the stellar line-up of speakers. I was truly honored to be a speaker along with Bon Appetit's food editor, Kristine Kidd (we led a break-out group on recipe development, testing, and writing-cookbook author Diane Morgan filled out our threesome); Vogue's food critic, Jeffrey Steingarten, who was on a panel along with literary agent Lisa Ekus-Saffer, culinary historian and author Andrew F. Smith, and moi, talking about broad influences affecting food writing today; Russ Parsons, food columnist at The Los Angeles Times; Tori Ritchie of Food Network; the prolific author and consultant, Andrew Schloss; Peggy Grodinsky, food editor of The Houston Chronicle; Patricia Dailey, editorial director of Restaurants & Institutions; publishing consultant Elissa Altman; and, as I mentioned, the internet wiz, Heidi Swanson.

There was just so much to learn-from the speakers and the attendees alike-that we all left exhausted and energized, smarter, wiser, inspired, and feeling a lot more connected to so many other people in every part of the biz.

The symposium just ended last Thursday-I bet I'm not the only one who's still self-debriefing-but plans are already underway for Greenbrier 2009. If you want to be a food writer or if you already are-many, many of the attendees are established writers and authors-this might be just what you need to, as athletes are always saying, take your game to the next level. It will certainly send you home with a head full of ideas-I know this from experience.

--Dorie Greenspan, special correspondent

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