I think I have recovered from the food coma that was the 2016 Food Wine Conference. There aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to completely describe my first time experience meeting so many wonderful people who share my passions. One of the things that amazed me the most was how far some of the conference attendees traveled. There were folks from Washington, D.C., Maryland, Iowa, Ohio, Atlanta, Birmingham and Michigan, to name a few places. The award for the one who traveled the farthest is a toss-up between Germany and Dubai. Dubai wins.
I arrived to the Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando a little after 2pm on Friday, the first day of the conference. The first event began at 4pm so I had a bit of time to relax. Conference check-in was first on the agenda. While walking through the hotel, I met Lyuba with the blog Will Cook For Smiles. Fun story, years ago when I worked for a major craft store I met her mother-in-law. Small world. Now, back to the conference happenings.
After getting my official badge and very cool swag bag, that included goodies from Stoneridge Orchards, Tupperware, and more, I was off to the Florida Milk Spa sponsored by Florida Dairy Farmers. There was a milk bar. What is a milk bar, you ask? Well, the offerings included white milk, chocolate milk and strawberry milk with mix ins such as caramel. I chose chocolate milk with caramel. Definitely making that for the kids. Once I had my champagne glass of gourmet milk I made a face mask of yogurt and avocado to enjoy later. I couldn’t leave with indulging in a mini massage. The perfect way to begin three days , nice and relaxed.
After the milk bar it was on to the Very “Berry” Welcome sponsored by Florida Strawberry Growers Association. All I can say is WOW. Beautiful chocolates, strawberry milkshakes, and strawberry cupcakes. Dessert before dinner because we were off to the Taste of Rosen Shingle Creek. Chefs from each of the property’s restaurant venues prepared a “taste” of their respective menu. So much great food in one place is a foodies dream come true.
The balance of the two days of the conference was a whirlwind of informative sessions which were kicked off with keynote speaker Donatella Arpaia of Food Network fame. She was delightful and started the conference off on a wonderfully positive and inspirational note. Fun tidbit: Her Mom is from the same region in Italy as my Grandmother, Puglia. The world gets smaller.
One of my favorite sessions of the first day was The Producers Behind The Brand. It was fantastic learning about family farms and the heritage behind the farms from such leaders as Janice Mondavi of CK Mondavi Family Vineyards, Todd Jameson from Florida Strawberry Growers Association, and Amy Richardson a Cabot Cooperative grower from Richardson Family Farm. This informative session not only spoke to family businesses but to knowing where your food comes from as well as sustainable practices.
After a delicious Around the World with Idaho Potatoes lunch it was back to the grind with more informative sessions before the #SundaySupper Denim & Diamonds dinner.
There were a number of awards given out but the star of the evening was the cowgirl ribeye provided by Certified Angus Beef ® brand. Talk about melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Perfectly seasoned and cooked by Chef Michael Ollier, executive chef for CAB. Wines from CK Mondavi Family Vineyard were perfectly paired with our meal and my favorite was the Scarlet Five.
After dinner the group retreated for dessert poolside on the warm but breezy Orlando evening. A selection of desserts, coffee and libations were offered to end the night.
Day 3 began with brunch poolside and then we were off to the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality. While there were a couple of fixed sessions, most of this day we could choose what to attend. Since I was the brand ambassador for Certified Angus Beef ® brand, I went to the Master Your Grilling Skills session with CAB executive Chef Michael Ollier, who has a true passion for all things beef and grilling. A man after my own heart.
The afternoon bought the #hashed competition. Teams of 8 – 10 attendees developed a dish using the star ingredient – blueberries, courtesy of Wish Farms. I was a team captain and, although we didn’t win, we had a blast.
All in all it was a most amazing weekend. Heading into the conference I knew no one. Not one single person. Leaving on Sunday afternoon, I felt like I had a whole other family. I made so many new friends many of whom I have since been in touch with on social media channels. Next year will be the 5th anniversary of the Food Wine Conference and I’m already excited for what that weekend will bring.
Disclosure: As a Brand Ambassador I received a discounted ticket to the conference.