New Food Media Lab Includes Oaklanders

Its chair was East Bay Express alum John Birdsall.


Image: Dan Dion

The San Francisco Cooking School recently held its first-ever Food Media Lab, a three-day array of workshops, discussions, and other events for food-media professionals at all levels. Its organizers hope that this will become an annual tradition.

Keynote speakers included such culinary-world celebs as New York Times food critic Tejal Rao, Season author Nik Sharma, James Beard Award-winning author and chef Andrea Nguyen, filmmaker Eric Wolfinger, Eater SF editor (and former East Bay Express food writer) Ellen Fort, Lucky Peach editor-in-chief Chris Ying (depicted above), San Francisco Chronicle food writer Soleil Ho, podcasters Brian Hogan Stewart and Andrew Friedman, and many more. 

The event's chair was former East Bay Express restaurant critic John Birdsall. 

“Writing about food as a freelancer can feel lonely," said Birdsall, a multiple James Beard Award-winning Oakland resident.

"Knowing there's a community of other writers and people in food media somewhere out there is crucial. Getting to meet so many working and aspiring writers, podcasters and photographers refreshed my sense of purpose and confirmed my conviction that food writing is a craft kept alive by a community dedicated to telling powerful stories," Birdsall said.

The lab's overall theme was "The Stories You Tell."

Its first day, June 17, was centered around writing — with workshops on pitching books and stories, building relationships with editors; finding agents; cold-calling; and more.

Its second day was focused on photography and podcasting — with discussions about many aspects of listening, looking, lighting, and branding.

Its third day was all about "building your unique tribe: why a platform matters" — with insights into collaborating, networking, social-media community-building, and more. 

“The success of the Food Media Lab came not only from the generosity of the speakers and teachers, but also from the engagement and curiosity of the participants. Stories were shared, lessons were learned, and creativity was sparked,” said the lab's host Jodi Liano, founder and director of the SFCS.

“It was collaborative in all the best ways and full of real, honest talk about the business of food media. If the Food Media Lab is representative of the future of this business, I can’t wait to see what’s next. 

"These future media stars are an amazing group of people," Liano said. 

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