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An Evening with Ron Eade and the Chicken Farmers – updated

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On January 25, 2010 Ryan Anderson (@ryananderson), web strategist, public relations professional, and founder of Fat Canary Communications, contacted me with a url to an event at Ottawa’s Urban Element. Sponsored by the Chicken Farmers of Canada, its guest speaker would be the Ottawa Citizen’s (a local newspaper) Food Editor, Ron Eade.

Billed as an “Ottawa Food Blogger Meet-up”, I was intrigued, so I signed up. According to its event details, Eade would deliver a keynote about sodium and food writing and there would be a chicken pate cooking demo. All good points.

In the proceeding week, I tweeted the event to local food bloggers on twitter, encouraging everyone to attend. As the date of the event approached, bloggers registered in greater numbers, some I have not come across before. Many I became very excited to finally get the opportunity to meet in person. Others, I had already met and wanted to catch up with. Two of my favourite Ottawa food bloggers confirmed: Rachelle of Rachelle Eats Food and Shari of Whisk Food Blog. Two local chefs who blog confirmed: Chef Tracey Black of Best Tools for Schools: Lunchtime Solutions and Chef Jason Laurin of Sticky Fingers.

To my astonishment, professional writer (sometimes food writer) and legendary parenting blogger, Andrea Tomkins signed up. Hers is the blog many Ottawa bloggers (food or otherwise) measure themselves against, myself included.

Why was this such a big deal? Ottawa’s food blogging community, as Anderson and I discussed during the latter part of the event, is large for such a small city. I have enumerated 52 blogs alone. Many of us know of one another. We read each others’ work. We comment on each others’ blogs. We debate points of contention on the Ottawa Foodies forum. But, we have few get togethers. By contrast, Toronto’s foodie community, with its much larger complement of food bloggers, is more organized and has almost weekly get togethers.

As for the event itself, with Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall‘s Chicken Run on the Canadian Food Network and Food Inc. having had its run in theaters, I expected the Chicken Farmers of Canada event to outline the checks and balances employed by the 2800 farmers the organization represents to produce “quality” chicken, humanely and safely. If you visit either the Chicken Farmers of Canada website or blog, you will find the organization has dual mandates, being responsible to farmers and being responsible to consumers. On the one hand, Chicken Farmers of Canada produces policies its industry follows. On the other, the organization lobbies government to ensure the interests of farmers are represented in agricultural policy and trade decisions. The Chicken Farmers of Canada blog’s tag-line is to explain how Canadian chicken goes from farm to plate. The event’s tag-line was to get “more Canadians back into the kitchen and pass(ing) on healthy cooking skills to the next generation.” Attach to that, Eade’s intention to talk about salt in food and food writing and we should have had a pair of very passionate talks and some lively discussion.

Instead, we glimpsed at a chicken farmer, whom I wanted to hear much more from. Eade gave an informative talk about food blogging, raising some thoughtful points about the state of food. We watched Urban Element’s resident chef, Candace Butler, make a chicken liver pate and fellow bloggers got to meet each other. It made for a somewhat confusing, but very enjoyable experience.

Resident Chef, Candice Butler

Resident Chef, Candice Butler

Sous Chef, Line Leblanc

Sous Chef, Line Leblanc

Regarding the chicken liver pate, Chefs Butler and Leblanc prepared several batches beforehand for sampling after Eade’s keynote.

Three Flavours of Pate

Three Flavours of Pate

Sherry Chicken Liver Pate with Pic Bois Maple Vinegar, Bourbon and Rosemary Chicken Liver Pate with “a bit of duck”, and Brandy Chicken Liver Pate with Hall’s apple and Thyme.

When we arrived, trays of appetizers, made by Sous Chef Line Leblanc were served, only two of which included chicken.

Sundried tomato strata with C'est Bon Goat Cheese

Sundried tomato strata with C’est Bon Goat Cheese

Caramelized onion and pear tarts with Bleu Benedictine

Caramelized onion and pear tarts with Bleu Benedictine

Mini chicken pot pies

Mini chicken pot pies

An individual mini chicken pot pie

An individual mini chicken pot pie

In-house pork rillete with Rochon farm zucchini relish

In-house pork rillete with Rochon farm zucchini relish

Chicken dumpling with peanut sauce

Chicken dumpling with peanut sauce

Cod cake

Cod cake

Pulled pork with smoked tomato jam

Pulled pork with smoked tomato jam

Afterward, Anderson called the event to order, explaining the Chicken Farmers of Canada organized the event to essentially build familiarity with people. In our case, people who are passionate and openly write about food in Ottawa. Apparently, their entire web strategy is being revisited from rebuilding the website from scratch to using social media for richer outreach. Then Eade was introduced.

Food Editor Ron Eade

Food Editor Ron Eade

Here are takeaways from Eade’s talk on food blogging:

  • Time is the most valuable resource in our hectic lives.
  • With distractions like the World Wide Web (referred to as the “Internet”), Specialty Channels like the Food Network, Newspapers, and Magazines, blog readership is precious and must be nurtured.
  • Those who read our blogs are choosing our content over others.
  • While newspapers try to be everything to everyone, blogs are more focused, a medium unlike traditional media.

Here are Eade’s suggestions for cultivating a lasting audience:

  • Keep your blog fresh by updating it regularly, preferably every second day
  • Do not let your blog go silent
  • Add a personal spin so your reader can identify with you, the blogger
  • Keep your content entertaining
  • Don’t bury content, making it difficult to access (Eade dislikes “more” or “read more” links)
  • Add value such as photos, videos, and links

Here are takeaways from Eade’s talk on food, besides the fact that processed foods harbour an unnecessary amount of salt.

  • Traditional print media is guilty of “dumbing down” recipes, simplifying them to a very granular state, effectively suppressing any ability to develop culinary skills (something we have taken issue with at foodiePrints)
  • With people dependent on granular recipes, they have lost the ability to be flexible in the kitchen.
  • We have become a “nation of non-cooks”, making it a strange dichotomy that cook books and fancy kitchen equipment sell surprisingly well in a poor economy.
  • It maybe a deliberate effort by food producers to disconnect people from food sources, encouraging waste and objectifying animals as cuts of meat

Eade concluded his talk by encouraging food bloggers to espouse how simple it is to make ready-made foods be they frozen or canned from scratch. One suggestion from another blogger is to start dinner parties earlier with guests in the kitchen, participating in finishing dishes.

So, good company from local food bloggers, good hors-d’oeuvres (complementary of the Chicken Farmers of Canada), and food for thought. I think it an evening well spent.

Links to blog entries on the event from fellow food bloggers:

Update: This entry has been cross posted on Ottawa Tonite.

foodiePrints and the Chicken Farmers on Ottawa Tonite

foodiePrints and the Chicken Farmers on Ottawa Tonite

Particulars:
Urban Element
424 Parkdale Avenue
(613)722-0885

Mild-mannered IT professional by day and food blogger by night, I founded foodiePrints with a single intention, to share my love of all things food. My first post shared a recipe. Many followed. Eventually, I learned Ottawa prepares and serves great food. Thereafter, I started meeting restaurateurs, chefs, cooks, farmers, and other local producers, all good people. Ideas for food-related content swirled in my head. foodiePrints grew into a place to put them. From exploring foreign and domestic cuisines to shopping for exotic ingredients and cobbling together my takes on dishes in my meager kitchen, there are stories to tell. Welcome to foodiePrints. Here, you will find stories about food and drink, cooking, and eating in Canada’s capital. Be it food-related or just food-for-thought, I hope you find something tasty here.