Cupcake cannons, mozzarella making and more at TECHmunch
That's one of the many things I learned while spending the weekend in Austin, Texas, for TECHmunch, a traveling food blogging bootcamp organized by Los Angeles entrepreneur and Bakespace.com founder Babette Pepaj. TECHmunch was in Austin because, well, it seemed like everyone was in Austin for South by Southwest, the taste-making festival that started as a way to celebrate indie film and music but is increasingly known for its interactive side. (Apple opened a pop-up shop there on Friday, the first day that the hotter-than-hot iPad2 went on sale.)
Held at Whole Foods Market's spacious flagship store in downtown Austin, the TECHmunch sessions included guest speakers such as Web developer Chris Pearson (creator of Thesis, a favorite among food bloggers), Ben Huh of the I Can Has Cheezburger empire, Brett Erlich of the Rotten Tomatoes Show, search engine opitimization guru Lee Odden (link below to Odden's presentation), and online travel expert Stefanie Michaels, a.k.a. Adventure Girl.
The focus was, as you might expect, food blogs. Everything from how to get more eyeballs, how to keep more eyeballs, how to use video to get more eyeballs ... you get the idea. And I took copious notes on those things, I really did. But I also learned the following:
Cupcakes aren't just meant to be eaten. Blogger Jennie Chen of Miso Hungry, above, was the woman wielding the air-gun, which was most recently used to shoot zombies at an Austin-area charity event. (There's no way I could make this stuff up.) The gun comes with two differently sized nozzles, one for shooting big cupcakes and one for those smaller bite-sized cupcakes. Cupcakes can be shot from the cannon with great force, up to 50 or so feet. But the pressure gauge can be tinkered with too. Which means it is indeed possible to shoot a cupcake into someone's mouth. Unfortunately, I did not get to see the cupcake cannon in use at the closing event, a cupcake party hosted by Nichelle Stephens, founder of Cupcakes Take the Cake. Thank goodness for YouTube.
No trip to Austin would be complete without a stop at Whole Foods. You simply will not believe it. There's a wine bar. A barbecue bar. A chocolate bar. A vegan bar -- it's 80,000 square feet, people! Their produce section alone is about the size of my Whole Foods in Long Beach. I could go on and on. But I won't because it will just make me miss the Whole Foods in Austin that much more. Just go.
Chameleon Coffee rules. Food blogging conferences are always overrun by vendors hoping to get their products in front of food bloggers who might then write about them. (We all got goody bags brimming with such products. But many didn't merit the room in my suitcase or carry on. Salt-free tortilla chips? No, thank you.) But there was one standout for me: Chameleon Coffee. They use organic fair-trade beans and cold-brew their coffee -- a process that leads to less bitterness, less acidity and more caffeine -- and sell the concentrate in old-school pharmacy bottles. This is a teeny-tiny operation and so far, they've only managed to get their line on the shelves at a handful of markets in the Austin retail area, where locally produced products are a point of pride. They know they face an uphill battle to get wider distribution which is a shame, because I'm addicted to that smooth caffeine buzz. And so were others in attendance: There was a constant line whenever Chameleon Coffee set up shop, even though free wine and beer was just a few feet away.
Plan ahead. I'd always heard that SXSW is a madhouse. I didn't really believe it. Well, if you are going to the festival next year, spring for the cost of a hotel right in the heart of it all so you can walk to and from your destination. I booked my hotel stay at the last minute and ended up a few miles away, and figured I'd just rely on cabs. Bad idea. 'Cause everyone else who didn't plan ahead was trying to do the same thing. Bottom line: I spent about two hours a day waiting for cabs and a ridiculous amount of money sitting in traffic, watching the meter creep up.
When I grow up I'm going to become a mozzarella maker. I was traipsing through the Whole Foods Market for lunch on Saturday when I heard the magic words, "Would you like some fresh mozzarella?" Turns out that voice belonged to Cindy, a happy-go-lucky Whole Foods employee who often spends her Saturday's hand-pulling mozzarella for customers who ooh and aah over the warm, salty, buttery ball of cheese that she forms from curds while customers stand and stare. If you end up in Austin, call ahead to find out if Cindy will be doing her thing. It is worth any detour you have to make.
Coincidentally, I opened the mail last week to find a new book, "The Joy of Cheesemaking." Did I just say 'Coincidentally'? I think not. Stay tuned.
-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch
Photos: Rene Lynch