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#EWR11: Behind the scenes look at the first night

I first met Robyn Webb more than 7 years ago when I broke up with a boyfriend, needed to fill up my time and started assisting at the culinary program at a local Sur La Table. Robyn was one of the most organized instructors, and actually taught instead of just letting the students follow the printed out recipes. It's her voice I hear in my head when I teach private knife skills classes.

In the last 7+ years, I have tested Robyn's magazine recipe, recipes for her cookbooks, and am now the official editor, cook and photographer for her blog. However, when Robyn asked me last October if I'd like to be the official photographer for a food blogging conference in DC she was organizing with Casey Benedict, I was a bit apprehensive. Did I want so much responsibility? Would I be good at it? Would it be worth my time? These questions ran in my head for months, and by the time the weekend of the conference came, I was scared, nervous and not sure what I got myself into.

I showed up last Friday at the gorgeous Madison hotel in DC and joined Robyn and Casey as well as the other four volunteers (Nikki, Daphne, Rella and Allie) to put the final touches on Eat Write Retreat. We had almost 90 gift bags to assemble, registration table to set up, dining room tables to decorate, all the while looking forward to meeting great bloggers from all over US and Canada, getting to know the sponsors of the conference and anticipating how much we'll learn from different workshops and panels.

This was my second food blogging conference {I attended Foodbuzz two years ago}, but the first one in which I served as staff/volunteer/photographer.

Let me tell you: there is SO much work that goes into this. I can't even imagine how many hours Robyn and Casey put into making this conference run smoothly, making sure that everyone's dietary restrictions were met, getting interesting speakers and industry professionals, and making sure {to their best ability} that this would be an inclusive weekend free of any High School drama, cliques, and that everyone would leave satisfied and eager to come back next year!

I'm pretty confident they've achieved their goals.

As for me, I'm happy to report that all of my anxieties and most of my worries were unwarranted. Yes, this was a lot of work; yes, my body ached from the physical labor, but I also got to meet many friends I've known only on Twitter, stay in a lovely hotel room, and learn about writing, photography and styling (more on this in the coming posts).

One of the fun things I got to do with the other volunteers was to decorate the tables for Friday night dinner. Instead of numbering the tables, Robyn and Casey decided to organize them by vegetable or fruit. Of course I was at the tomato table ;) This would be a fun idea for a casual wedding.

While the participants were finishing up the dinner, we went to an adjoining room to help Gina Chersevani and Chef Peter Smith from PS7 plate, pour and serve desserts morphed into cocktails and cocktails re-imagined as desserts.

Let me just tell you this: I really wish I haven't had two glasses of wine with dinner. My balance was a little off, but I managed to spill only two glasses out of dozens that I carried with the other volunteers. I definitely hope I'll never have to be a waitress or a caterer: it's such a hard job! Below are some of the photos of the cocktails and desserts. Thanks to Eat. Drink. Smile. for having the full descriptions of each dish.

Chocolate Zinfandel Granita made with coconut milk, Strawberry Rose Granita, Chardonnay Vanilla Granita {the chocolate was definitely my favorite: not surprising}

Rice Pudding
St. Elizabeth’s All Spice, Catoctin Creek Whiskey, Jasmine Rice, Cream, Vanilla {not my favorite, but absolutely creative}

Baked Alaska

Godiva Chocolate Vodka, Vanilla Ice Cream topped with Lemon Espuma
{if you like bananas, this is SO your type of a drink}

Don’t Mess with my Tutu

Cherry Mousse in a pastry shell with Cotton Candy
{not only did I LOVE the name, but I really enjoyed the flavors, the presentation and the made in house sour cherries. Just a gorgeous dessert}

Hibiscus Margarita
Dessert Soup with Hibiscus Granita
{I would take this over a regular margarita any day!}

I want to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who took a second to thank the volunteers, Robyn and Casey as well as the sponsors and panelists. You have made our day by letting us know your appreciation.

A special THANK YOU to Lauren for teaching me how to set a customized white balance on my camera: I can't even tell y'all how much difference it made for taking photos in dark restaurants and in conference roms!

Stay tuned for two more posts about Eat Write Retreat: the food (of course!) and the panels/workshops.


Wendy said...

Thanks for the behind the scenes look at EWR and for all your hard work!

Maris (In Good Taste) said...

Many thanks for helping to make this the wonderful weekend we all had! Great photos!

Delicious Dishings said...

I love the fruits and vegetables! Great idea for a fall farm wedding, actually! :)

This sounds like a fabulous experience.

Alejandra said...

Your photos were so great! And man, ALL THOSE BOXES!! Thank you guys so much for all your hard work making the weekend so special for us. I absolutely loved every minute of it.

Liren said...

Thanks for taking us along and letting us peek behind the scenes! I wish i could have been there, but am so glad you were there to document the event!

Unknown said...

Great stuff! Love the dessert with the tutu! You did a great job documenting the event; the food looked fab, the swag looks amazing, and love the centerpieces on the tables. Great job Olaga!

Valerie said...

Hi Olga! Thanks so much for your work behind the scenes at EWR! It was an unforgettable experience and a smashing success. I'm already looking forward to next year!

Bonnie Deahl said...

What a great post of the first evening!~ Your photography is beautiful and so creative. You are a very talented blogger. It was a pleasure meeting you too. Blog on! Bonnie