Each fall, a magical thing happens in the foodservice industry. Editors and publicists come together for one week to network, collaborate and eat their way through a new town, thanks to the International Foodservice Editorial Council (or IFEC).
This annual conference is unlike a traditional conference because networking and food are the central focus, and the cornerstone of the event is the editor meetings. These 10-minute sessions provide a platform for editors to discuss upcoming stories and publicists to pitch ideas on behalf of clients.
This past November, IFEC was held in a city that is elevating the food game from production to the table: Portland, Maine. Not to be confused with the coffee-mecca in Oregon, this historic town by the water has a truly unique food culture that was incorporated into the event with learning sessions, chef showcases and food tours.
One of my favorite educational components of the event was the “Trap to Table” Learning Session presented by Maine Lobster. Chef and Sustainability Expert, Barton Seaver, and lobsterman, Brian Rapp, brought to life the unique story behind the Maine Lobster fishery. It was amazing to hear the incredibly detailed work that lobstermen of Maine put into sourcing high-quality, sustainable lobsters.
Lobsterman Brian Rapp explains the unique story behind the Maine Lobster fishery tradition to attendees. Photo provided by IFEC.
To illustrate their commitment to sustainability, Rapp recounted how lobstermen in the area not only throw back lobsters that are reproducing and are too small to sell, but they also throw back lobsters that are too large, which seems counterintuitive and unprofitable for them to do. However, Rapp explained Maine lobstermen practice this because as female lobsters keep getting thrown back, they continue to grow, and eventually they need male lobsters of equivalent stature to continue mating and populating.
In addition to learning sessions, IFEC also hosts annual food tours. After the conference comes to a close, we split off in groups to explore and experience what the movers and shakers in that particular food community are doing. This year, I selected the tour that took attendees to New England Distilling Company, North Star Sheep Farm, Pineland Creamery and Market, and Olivia’s Garden (a hydroponic farm).
Immediately it was evident that the same commitment and passion the lobstermen exuded extended to all the food producers of Maine. Phil and Lisa Webster of North Star Sheep Farm are fifth generation sheep farmers, and their philosophy is “all taste and no waste.” This means that they only partner with people who are willing to work across the whole animal. Beyond their high production standards, Lisa Webster, our tour guide, told us how the couple also chooses to invest in young farmers to train them how to have sustainable farms as well.
The Local Food Scene
Although I primarily traveled to attend IFEC, I made every effort to snag a local cup of coffee or bite to eat any chance that I could.
Being a former barista, my top priority was finding good local coffee, and there were plenty to choose from along the brick sidewalks of the historic downtown. I instantly fell in love with Tandem Coffee and Bakery, a former convenience store turned hip specialty café. I walked there each morning of the conference to snag an amazing breakfast sandwich and single origin brew.
I also managed to hit one local lunch spot: Duckfat. My meal included a smoked turkey panini, duckfat fries and apple cider vinegar soda. You heard that right—vinegar soda. It was glorious!
All in all, I was blown away by the people of Portland, Maine. In all my food encounters from farmers to baristas, I met passionate, down-to-earth people going beyond the extra mile to craft high-quality, sustainable products. It’s only been two months, but I’m already in cute lighthouse withdrawal.
Portland, I’ll be back soon.
This post was written by Bethany Bell. As the Social Media Manager at deep food marketing group, Bell develops and executes PR and social media strategies for global food brands. Before joining deep in 2013, this Missouri State graduate was the Person in Charge of Getting the Word Out at Askinosie Chocolate, an artisan, bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Springfield, Missouri. Growing up in the coffee industry, Bell is also a strong advocate for supporting local.