The International Foodservice Editorial Council is a fairly small organization, and that is a testament to the fact that most publicists are not very good at their jobs.
Really, IFEC shouldn’t work, but here’s how it does: The organization centers around an annual conference, at the heart of which is a series of speed dates between foodservice trade publication editors and publicists who want our attention. We editors — from competing publications, mind you — sit at tables in a single room, one editor per table. Every ten minutes a different PR team comes to our table and talks to us about their clients and how they might fit in our publications. Notes are jotted, a bell rings, and they move to their next scheduled speed date. This goes on for a total of seven-and-a-half hours over two or three days. Then everybody goes out and eats and drinks and tours the city and shops or does whatever else they want to do, having, in the course of a couple of days, done what probably couldn't have been accomplished in a year of phone calls and e-mails.
As in every organization, IFEC has a few jerks in it, but the extraordinary thing is that they don’t behave like jerks at the conference. It is the least political organization I’ve ever seen. It’s all run by our executive director and her assistant, with various other tasks being carried out by member-volunteers. We have a silent auction at the conference at which tens of thousands of dollars are raised for scholarships which we give to students who want to be in foodservice communications.
Why every food and restaurant publicist on earth does not join IFEC is beyond me. I’ve asked quite a few publicists to join. Some do. Some send in their membership check to please me (as if I care; I don’t) but don't go to the conference. A few go to the conference and thank me afterwards. Most ignore me, maybe because they think I'm telling them a fairytale about a magical Brigadoon-like paradise that materializes once a year for a few days where everyone gets along and dances amid butterflies as ponies prance by.
And to be fair, the conference isn’t paradise. This year it was in Austin, Texas, at the Omni Hotel, where one of the elevators was broken and the staff seemed unclear on how to set up a buffet properly. And the tours through the hill country outside of Austin were a tad long. But we still got a lot done, and in the evenings we went out and danced and drank and enjoyed Austin’s nightlife. And I met with a whole bunch of publicists for ten minutes each and got a lot of work done.
I'm not going to tell you everything I did in Austin, or even everything I ate, partly because I don’t have time and partly because I don’t want anyone to get sued or sent to jail.
I will report that one highlight of my stay was the Ms. Gay Austin competition, during which one entertainer sat on the floor of the stage and ate a hero sandwich.
I will also report that Todd Downs, chef extraordinaire for commodity boards, is going to open his own restaurant, Bourbon Street Hideaway, in Fort Wayne, Ind. (Todd bought me a Jäger Bomb; it was my first and last.)
And I will mention one dinner, for the kids.
I and a number of other editors, and some publicists, ate at Ventana, the Texas Culinary Academy’s restaurant, at which we ate food prepared and served by students Greg Anderson, John Crowley, Brian Dillon, Michael Fuller, Paul Heffley, Jason Hunter, Jacqueline Jones, David Medina, Adam Reson, Thomas Riland, Charles Stampley, Joyce Stanek and Anne Taylor, under the direction of chef Robert Brady.
As we sipped Paul Cheneau Cava, we ate:
An amuse-bouche of creamy butternut squash mousse with a Texas pecan crumble and sweet potato gaufrette
With a Napa Valley Hall Sauvignon Blanc we had:
Baby arugula dalad with poached Bartlet pears, toasted walnuts, olive oil and American grana cheese
A pan-seared dayboat scallop over mascarpone polenta with green asparagus, white truffle foam and fried spinach.
Then we started drinking a gravity Hills Killer Climb Syrah from Paso Robles, and ate:
Roasted centercut beef tenderloin with portobello mushroom ragoût, port veal stock reduction, creamy gorgonzola and a walnut persillade
Assorted BelGioioso cheeses
Cream ppuffls filled with vanilla bean ice cream, hot chocolate sauce and chopped, roasted walnuts (right, profiteroles)