IACP Conference Report: Chocolate Threesome

For those of you not yet hipped to the big foodie news in Denver
last week, the International Association of Culinary Professionals was
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 was 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. This
is the last of his reports from inside the convention.

There's this great excuse that food writers (and only food writers) get to use for calling in sick, showing up late, blowing deadlines, whatever. It's a French phrase: crise de foie. And it basically means a "liver crisis"--as in, you've done so much damage to yourself, eating and drinking indiscriminately for days on end, that you've begun to feel like one of those foie gras geese, waddling around with your liver so swollen from force-feeding that it's actually protruding from your body. But for me, a crise de foie has always been the hallmark of me doing my job well, feeding my body and all rational faculties to the whirlwind of drinks and dinners and overindulgence of every possible stripe, going in face-first and smiling ear-to-ear, then crawling out the other side battered, bruised, smelly and with no regrets.

Crise de foie. That's why Saturday was a wash for me. Why I was proud just to be able to haul myself up off the couch at the crack of noon and make it down to the hotel for a lunch meeting with an old friend -- to eat boxty and black pudding, drink purely medicinal pints of Guinness and talk of our families and kids and cats and careers.

We had a good solid hour of relaxing conversation before the IACP's morning sessions let out and the bar once again became crowded with trade. Which was fine, because the flood also brought friends, more talk, more plates of Scotch eggs and boiled bacon and sandwiches far too big to eat politely. Our intimate two-top became a four, then an eight, then a ten. And at that point, things were just rolling again.

I'd shaken the worst of the cotton from my head and the glass from my spine, and even if I looked like one of those guys they're always pulling out from underneath double-wides on Cops, at least I was surrounded by pretty women and guys who looked like they belonged.

We all talked about the conference -- about the terrifying things that working writers don't know (what a URL is, how to find a cab in a strange city), about where we all ate yesterday and last night and that morning (high on the list: Pete's Kitchen, Beatrice & Woodsley, Bones, Rioja and Root Down) and about how food blogs (like this one!) will save us, not bring us low. 

Me and Jeff Houck (a Twitter-monkey, food writer and blogger for the Tampa Tribune) found some common ground in a discussion of Bloomin' Onions--which were allegedly invented by the Outback Steakhouse chain out of Tampa, Florida, but which I cooked in a tiny place outside of Tampa, under the command of a chef and owner who claimed to have come up with the idea long before. I wrote about this guy in my book (which I discussed, at length, in one of my earlier IACP blogs), and have always loved this story of a man so deeply wounded by the presumed theft of his one great idea that, forever after, he took it out on every single customer who came through his doors.

It was a good time. The food came and went, the rounds of beers. Houck started talking about his time in hotels -- how the best, most solitary moments come when he finds himself in the fortunate position of having been left two chocolates on his pillow rather than one: a chocolate threesome with him in the middle. "Oh, this thing is happening," he said, imagining his conversation with the chocolates. "It's you and me. And you? You can watch..."

Hours. We can spend hours talking about these kinds of things -- bloomin' onions and chocolates and sex and the terrible things we've done in area codes far from home. But eventually, the party had to break up. The PR people at the table had clients to see to, the writers had columns to file. Houck had to catch a plane and most of the women had to go home and change before the IACP awards gala scheduled for later that night. I had a couple of dogs in the fight myself (friends and fellow altweekly writers from other cities, even if there were no nominations for me this year), so was planning on crashing the thing myself, but had no reason to change. I love me just the way I am.

Out the door, down the street. I waited out the afternoon at the Churchill Bar at the Brown Palace so I could smoke cigarettes indoors and overpay for whiskeys on the rocks just so I could also get the snack tray of garlic-stuffed green olives and corn nuts and try to talk the house out of a couple of macaroons (which didn't work this time, my waitress claiming institutional penury).

Then there was the cocktail party (catered by the Sheraton, full of grinning booze-pushers and interminable until I found a crowd to attach myself to), the all-too-intimate crush of bodies in front of the free vodka, the free cheese, the free beer and a terrible bang-and-clatter as the Sheraton ballroom began filling with the noise of American Indian dancers and drummers.  I lingered until they started breaking down the tables and rolling away the free grub, having found a wise group of hard-drinking Swedes who'd raided the beer table and grabbed all the bottles of Left Hand Brewery "Juju Ginger" they could carry. I liked 'em. Good folks.  And certainly, their priorities were in the right place.

As things turned out, I almost missed the part where they handed down the award for best piece of internet writing to my buddy Jonathan Kauffman from the Seattle Weekly (which was nice, since he now has a fine set of bookends--the IACP and the James Beard Award he picked up a couple years back) because I was out in the lobby talking marketing strategies and microbrews with the Swedes. But I made it back just in time to see Maggie Savarino Dutton accept the award on his behalf.  Kauffman wasn't around; he was in Korea.  Likely fleeing to avoid prosecution for something unsavory.

The rest of the ceremony (with the exception of the part where Lee Klein from the Miami New Times--another comrade-in-arms--picked up the award for best newspaper writing) was a bit dry and drawn, but that didn't matter.  It'd been a helluva week.  I was beat.  When all was said and done--the last award handed out, the last food writer chased from the ballroom--I made time for one final drink, a few happy goodbyes, and then I, too, was off.  I had no idea what I was going to do with a Sunday all to myself, with no lectures to attend, no people to meet.

I figured that, probably, I'd just find somewhere new to eat.

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