IACP Conference Report: Hunting the most dangerous game of all. Man.
For those of you not yet hipped to the big foodie news in Denver this week, the International Association of Culinary Professionals is in town -- a kind of traveling circus show of food writers, food editors, food pimps, chefs, authors, wine gurus and associated tradesmen. And, of course, Jason Sheehan is embedded right in the middle of all the action, causing trouble, sponging up free drinks and generally comporting himself in as disreputable a way as possible. His reports from inside the convention will be running throughout the week.
Jesse had a plan and a posse: He was there for the sole purpose of hunting down as many high-line food writers as he could and pressing both invitations and press packets on them. He wouldn't be satisfied until he (or one of his minions) had said the names "Sketch," "Mezcal" or "Rockbar" to every single person in the crowd with a pulse and a byline.
And, of course, he wanted my help.
What could I provide? Photos of most of them, introductions to a couple. Also, I was a willing accomplice -- mostly because I didn't have anything better to do. I asked if we should be wearing bandannas over our faces and carrying tranquilizer pistols. He didn't think that would be necessary. I said he was no fun, and we set off. The big prey? Barry Estabrook from Gourmet magazine. Get to him, and our night would be a success.
I also had another reason for wanting to help Jesse out (beyond the obvious giggles to be derived from stalking and then gang-pitching various food industry professionals). See, I had learned one vital lesson from Virginia Willis, the recipe writer and author of Bon Appetit, Y'all, during that terrible time in the basement listening to the food writers talk. She'd taught me that an author ought never be afraid of introducing themselves and their work in the same breath. That an author ought never miss an opportunity to pimp for him or herself, to push their work on anyone and everyone, to basically stand in the middle of a crowded street and hurl copies violently in all directions, hoping for headshots.
I liked Virginia. She was bold and loud and friendly and, in her way, a marketing godsend. Why? Because I'd just received the first review copies of my own first book, Cooking Dirty: A Story of Life, Sex, Love and Death in the Kitchen, and was wondering what, exactly, I was supposed to do with them. Getting one into the hands of Estabrook sounded like it might be a useful thing to do, though I was still down with the idea of just dropping them from high places onto the heads of unsuspecting passers by.
Anyway, long story short, we pestered a lot of people. Jesse and his crew invited everyone in sight to visit their various bars and restaurants, and I did my best to act cool while introducing myself (at Willis's suggestion) as "Jason Sheehan, author of Cooking Dirty," and forcing my book onto anyone who'd have it. For a time, I started introducing myself as "Gustave Dingle, author of Cooking Dingle," and then switched it to "Dingle Cooky, author of Gustave's Dingle." (It was loud and no one could hear me anyway.)
After a while, when this became dull, I started leading with the book and only later introducing myself. But that seemed dicky, so I decided that perhaps stealth was better and just started leaving them laying around for people to find, giving me two hands to drink with and a much better opinion of myself. I've never been a good salesman or self-promoter and have a deep and abiding mistrust for anyone who is.
Like Jesse, who is an absolute champ. And who I still owe a copy of my book. You know... Cooking Dirty, by Jason Sheehan? Available for pre-order right now on all major bookselling websites? Yeah, get your asses out there right now and buy thirty or forty copies immediately, please.
We never did manage to find Estabrook, but the next day, the conference kicked off at some ridiculously early hour (like 7a.m.) and I refused to show my face until a more reasonable time (like noon). There was yoga, discussions of gluten-free cooking, artisan pizza-making, blogging and bison and slow-food. Then lunch. Then more talk: coffee, sustainable seafood, crisis communications, and seminars on how to pitch, how to market yourself (which maybe I should've attended) and how to write about food and sex together. Even that sounded a bit dry when I poked my head in late in the afternoon.
Still, that left an entire evening free for drinking and carousing at the bar, hanging out with the IACP's best and brightest, trying to hand out more copies of my book (Cooking Dirty, by Jason Sheehan, which I've been told makes you both smarter, skinnier and better looking the more copies you buy) and basically just relaxing.
That was the plan, anyhow. And it was a good plan.
Eight hours later, when looked back fondly upon from the wrong end of Colfax Avenue -- piling into a cab with a battered and exhausted gang of new friends, including one major food writer and the best wine writer I know -- I found myself wondering what had happened to that plan. It all seemed so foggy and far away. And I knew that if only I could put together the exact series of events that had landed me miles from the hotel at two o'clock in the morning, stinking of high-price tequila and PBR, I would probably be able to remember what had happened to my shirt and how I had run out of copies of my new book.
By Jason Sheehan
Due to be released at the end of June, but available now to anyone with access to a time machine and twenty-five bucks.