Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The 3 Best Gourmet Bites in Disney World, Plus What I Learned atFoodBlog Forum 2015

Those of you who follow along on social media saw all the fun happenings from my time at Food Blog Forum held at Walt Disney World last week. I like to call Food Blog Forum the "creme de la creme" of Food Blogging conferences. If selling out in 2 seconds flat is any indication as to how popular this conference is, it's no surprise that Disney World and the other sponsors were about to go above and beyond to make our experience stellar! 

There are plenty of ways I could recap this experience and I promise you that there will be mini-recaps in my upcoming recipe posts too but for this post, I'm going to just give you a quick play-by-play followed by an "appe-teaser" of a few of my favorite dishes from the fabulous lunch the team at Walt Disney World served us. 

Early Friday morning, The Mr. and I hopped a flight from LAX to MCO. After a little over 4 hours in the sky, we had touched down in Orlando and were ready to go... maybe me a little more so than The Mr.

Thanks to Disney’s Magical Express we didn't have to worry about waiting for our luggage at baggage claim, the team at Disney picked up our bags and delivered them to the hotel within a few hours. I picture little birds and woodland creatures marching around picking up the luggage off the turnstile. Once we were on the Magical Express bus, it was about a 30-40 minute ride over to the Grand Floridian.

If you've read my past FBF recaps, you’ll know that I've dubbed this hotel “The Ritz Carlton of Disney” and it’s no secret why. The property is gorgeous, the service is great, and the convenience of being on the Monorail track is unparalleled. Upon pulling up, I quickly darted to check-in. You see, I had to make my way over to The Four Season Orlando to meet up with the rest of the FBF group for an opening cocktail reception. 
Since I had already missed that bus, literally, I shared an Uber with Jenny of Picky Palate and my girl Heather from Heather Likes Food. In no time at all we were reunited with our fellow Bloggers to nosh and chat! 

I have to say, there are a LOT of conferences out there for bloggers and some of them are very similar. You’ll have a session on food photography, one on monetization, and may even get to chat with a few brand reps. But, to me, the most valuable thing that I get out of a conference is the one on one time with fellow bloggers. They are the ones who have the same questions you do, deal with the same frustrations, and trying to make this passion into a full time gig. I am very grateful for the women (and men) that I have met through blogging conferences and am so glad that I have them in my virtual community to rely on.

My wonderful Blogger Buddies! My Baking Heart, Heather Likes Food, and The Kitchen Prep.
After the reception, it was back over to the hotel to meet up with the Mr. for dinner. My blogging-bestie, Jessica from My Baking Heart brought her hubby too so we had a double date over at Ohana in the Polynesian Resort. We dined on Hawaiian fare, tropical cocktails, and even had a chance to watch the fireworks at Magic Kingdom through their giant picture windows. It was great! We wrapped up the night a little early knowing that we had a BIG day of learning ahead of us!

With my trusty Kasey’s Kitchen notebook and a hot green tea in my hand, I was ready for a full day of learning, innovation, and inspiration. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version since I really could go on for hours…

The day was kicked off by a talk with Victoria Finn of Disney Creative. Her job is to create cool things for Disney. I repeat, her JOB is to create cool things for Disney. Obviously this woman had my undivided attention right away. She was captivating, talking about how to stay creative and how to brainstorm in all of her Tina-Fey-like-adorableness. I wish I could have just 15 minutes with her to pick her brain. Talk about my dream job!

Next up was a talk from Todd and Diane of White on Rice Couple. If you’re familiar with these two, you know that their food photography is out of this world. They spoke for about an hour on different techniques and tips to elevate your photography and food styling. My favorite quote from Diane was, “Take a bite, cut it up, make it real” in regards to the food that you shoot… however I think that philosophy applies to life as well.

The following session was from Bjork and Lindsay Ostrom of Pinch of Yum along with Jaden from Steamy Kitchen. They spoke to use about new monetization strategies and the concept of being “Expert Enough”, meaning that you don’t have to be the top authority on something to confidently talk about it. This all played into Jaden’s tips for knowing your worth as a blogger and negotiating.

In my opinion, we were spoiled by the next session. Enid, the Community Manager from Pinterest came in and spoke to us on how we can maximize our exposure on the site. As a blogger, you are pretty much self-taught in all aspects of “job”. You have to learn how to be your own agent, marketing consultant, branding specialist, social media manager, photographer and for me, chef! The fact that we had someone on hand from one of the top traffic drivers for blogs was so valuable! If there’s one tip I can share from Enid it’s stop posting horizontal pictures on Pinterest. It’s a waste of space!

The session after lunch (don’t worry, I’ll get to lunch in a minute) were the Expert Roundtable Discussions. They broke us up into small rooms with about 10-12 bloggers in each room. Each speaker from the conference as well as brand reps, would come into the rooms for 15 minutes each and we could just ask them whatever we wanted. It was awesome! Real, raw conversation with top bloggers, brand reps, and photographers. To me, this was the most valuable time from the conference. I’m so glad they did this, it’s what many of the other conferences I've gone to in the past were lacking. 

Okay, Okay. Now the important part, THE FOOD! We were absolutely spoiled by the Food and Beverage team at Walt Disney World, which I'm not going to lie, I was relieved after the last FBF in WDW lunch experience (serving kids meals to food bloggers...no thanks). Set in the beautiful California Grill in the Contemporary Resort, a dozen or so chefs from the top Disney restaurants from all over the resort to share their top dishes with us. It was phenomenal.

There were dozens of fabulous dishes to try but here are my favorites... in no particular order. Pardon the iPhone pictures...there was no way I was delaying my dining to fumble with the DSLR.

1. Braised Pork Belly with Goat Cheese Polenta and Country Applesauce from California Grill - Ok, maybe there's an order because this dish was by far my favorite. The candy-like crystallization on the pork belly was what foodie dreams are made of. Oh, and the creamy polenta was the prefect compliment. I could have eaten at least five of these bad boys, but two had to suffice.

2. Sauteed Shrimp and Scallops with Seasonal Vegetables and Mushrooms served in Puff Pastry with a Creamy Lobster Sauce from Be Our Guest - I'm now seeing what all the rage over BOG is about. The food is incredible, especially for a Magic Kingdom restaurant which in my experience has always been, meh. This dish was rich in flavor, showcasing the beauty of the seafood and pairing it with a french flair with the light Puff Pastry. C'est Magnifique!

3. Braised Beef "Bolognese" with House-made Cavatelli from Trattoria al Forno at Disney's Boardwalk. Being the known Pasta-holic that I am, it's not wonder that I fell for the carbolicious dish! What I found interesting was the spin on a traditional bolognese sauce by using a beautiful braised beef instead of the traditional ground beef. So hearty and comforting!

Food Bloggers at Work!! 

The major knowledge nugget I took away from FBF is to stop comparing myself to other bloggers. It's a vicious trap that I find myself in from time to time (I blame Los Angeles) but it's so easy to get discouraged when you see other bloggers doing things or working with brands and you instantly think that you must not be good enough or that you're not doing things the right way. In the final session led by Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes, she talked about how useless it is to compare yourself to others. Even Elise, who has been running one of the top recipe sites for years falls victim to "Blogger Burnout" and admitted that comparison is the often the culprit.

Want to see more from my trip to Food Blog Forum and Walt Disney World? Check out my Instagram feed or search #KKinDisney

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