Association of Food Journalists
bullet 2015 AFJ Annual Conference


Registration is now available for the 2015 AFJ Annual Conference at The Poynter Institute, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Register now using this form.

Event hashtag: #AFJ2015


If it's not already on your calendar, then make sure to highlight the dates Sept. 16-18, 2015, for the 2015 AFJ Annual Conference. Two days of education at the conference will take place at The Poynter Institute,the world's leading instructor, innovator, convener, and resource for anyone who aspires to engage and inform citizens in 21st Century democracies.




Tuesday, September 15


4-7 p.m. Pay-your-own-way mixer for early AFJ arrivals at Sea Salt restaurant, 183 2nd Ave. N, upper level of the Sundial complex.


Dinner on your own or, even better, with a new or new-to-you AFJ member.


Wednesday, September 16


Breakfast on your own or with an AFJ colleague.


8 a.m. Registration open inside the Courtyard St. Petersburg Downtown (see more on the hotel below).


8-9:30 a.m. AFJ board and committee meeting in the Courtyard Board Room (invitation only).


8:30-10:30 a.m. One-on-one coaching sessions with coaches-in-residence Jeff Klinkenberg, former Tampa Bay Times staff writer and adjunct faculty member at Poynter, and Roy Peter Clark, Poynter vice president and senior scholar, reporting, writing and editing faculty (four slots each).


Walk to Sundial complex (two blocks) or take hotel shuttle.


10-11 a.m. Presentation on sea salt at Sea Salt restaurant. Chef/owner Fabrizio Aielli uses 130 different types and flavors of salts from around the world to season his innovative dishes. Will include a salt tasting and culinary primer.


12 p.m. Informal lunch on the terrace at neighboring Locale Market, with opening remarks from chef and cookbook author Don Pintabona.


1:30 p.m. Travel to The Epicurean Hotel in Tampa. According to Forbes, this hotel is "The First Food-Themed Urban Luxury Hotel." Volunteers will offer a brief talk about the culinary scene in Tampa and St. Petersburg on the bus ride to the hotel.


2:15-3:45 p.m. Group divides into smaller groups for the following rotating activities at The Epicurean Hotel (each attendee will take part in each activity):


  • Peek inside Haven, the newest concept from the Bern’s family, and check out Chocolate Pi at the Epicurean.
  • Breakout food styling session/demo of the resort's state of the art theater kitchen featuring Katie Farmand, food stylist, cookbook author, and recipe developer. Intro and video presented by Tom Haines, general manager.
  • Tour Bern's Restaurant (next door to the hotel) including the restaurant's famed wine cellar and the Harry Waugh Dessert Room.


(AFJ attendees will reconvene at the hotel after all have participated in these activities.)


4:15-5:30 p.m. Panel discussion on the Tampa Bay dining scene (held at the Epicurean) with Keith Sedita, ‎vice president of new business development, Columbia Restaurant Group; David Laxer, president and owner of Bern's; Maryann Ferenc, owner, Mise en Place; Greg Baker, chef, The Refinery; Chad Johnson, executive chef, The Epicurean Hotel and Haven; and Ferrell Alvarez, chef and co-owner, Rooster & The Till.


5:40 p.m. Return to the Courtyard St. Petersburg Downtown.


7 p.m. Taste of Florida (location TBD).
Sample a wide variety of Sunshine State foods and beverages while mingling with new colleagues and old friends.


Thursday, September 17


Breakfast on your own or with an AFJ colleague.


(All day sessions and events to be held at The Poynter Institute.)


Thursday one-on-one coaching sessions will be scheduled between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Thursday coaches will be Ben Montgomery, Tampa Bay Times staff writer and adjunct faculty member at Poynter, ten slots (five in morning, five in the afternoon), and Jeff Klinkenberg, five slots (afternoon).


8:30 a.m. Press room opens at Poynter.


8:30 a.m. Exhibitor booths open.


9 a.m. Welcome and housekeeping/orientation remarks from Poynter faculty.


9:30-10:30 a.m. Keynote session led by Roy Peter Clark.


15-minute break.


10:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Why food writing is even better than being a blind dog stuck in a smokehouse, with Jeff Klinkenberg.


12:15-1:30 pm Lunch at Poynter
A primer on Tampa vs. Miami Cuban sandwiches paired with sweet plantains and salad. During lunch will be a presentation by the Moré family at La Segunda Bakery in Tampa. This family has been baking Cuban bread for 100 years (the unique bread and salami are what make the Tampa version of the sandwich special). Andrea Gonzmart from the Columbia restaurant, the oldest continuously operated restaurant in Florida, and Andy Huse, Florida foodways expert and author of “The Columbia Restaurant: Celebrating a Century of History, Culture and Cuisine,” will round out the discussion.


1:30-2:20 p.m. A conversation with James Beard honoree Nathalie Dupree: Does Florida set a Southern table, and how do writers stay relevant on the evolving food scene?


2:30-3:30 p.m. How to create good sharable content with Poynter's Katie Hawkins-Gaar, digital innovation faculty member.


15-minute break.


3:45-4:45 p.m. Reflecting diverse voices in American media: An Asian perspective, a panel discussion moderated by Ricky Ly, founder of Other presenters TBD.
Central Florida is the setting for Eddie Huang’s “Fresh Off The Boat.” With 42 different ethnic groups, Asian-Americans are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the South, increasing by 69 percent, even outpacing the growth of Latinos, from 2000 to 2010. In Florida, the increase was 72 percent, according to data released in 2014.


5:00 p.m. Press room and exhibitor space closes for conference.


6:30-7 p.m. And the Winner Is: AFJ Awards reception with drinks, appetizers, and dessert bar, at The Birchwood in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg. Optional dinner or small plate noshes and more cocktails on your own along Beach Drive to celebrate.


Friday, September 18


Breakfast on your own or with an AFJ colleague.


(Sessions to be held at The Poynter Institute.)

Friday one-on-one coaching sessions with Lane DeGregory, Poynter adjunct faculty and Tampa Bay Times staff writer, and Ben Montgomery, Poynter adjunct faculty and Tampa Bay Times staff writer, will be scheduled; ten slots with each coach will be available (five in the morning, five in the afternoon).


8:10-9 a.m. AFJ annual business meeting (for current AFJ members only).

15-minute break.

9:15-10:30 a.m. Panel discussion: The culinary bounty of the Gulf of Mexico: Five years after the BP Horizon oil spill.
Moderator: Craig Pittman, Tampa Bay Times environmental writer
Panelists TBD

15-minute break.

10:45-11:45 a.m. Is there a secret sauce to success in food blogging? A panel featuring Isabel Reis Laessig (, Jaden Hair (, and Julie Deily ( discussing how blogging has changed over the years, how to develop habits to adapt to changes and how social media plays a role. These key points will be discussed:

  • Acceptance as mainstream media in a world of bloggers.
  • Developing your personal brand for success.
  • Writing in the age of sponsored posts.
  • Blogging for a living ethically without compromising your ideals.

11:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Quick boxed lunch. 

12:15-1 p.m. Why staying current with SEO is crucial with Poynter adjunct faculty member John Schlander, who is also digital general manager at the Tampa Bay Times

15-minute break.

1:15-2:15 p.m. Plenary session on digital ethics with Kelly McBride, vice president of academic programs, The Poynter Institute.

15-minute break.


2:30-3:30 p.m. Essential digital tools for storytelling with Poynter's Ren LaForme, interactive learning producer.


15-minute break.


3:45-4:45 p.m. The future of the independent restaurant reviewer: How do some publications manage to have a public reviewer? How can real commentary rise above the Yelp noise? With Q&A.
Panelists: Leslie Brenner, restaurant critic and dining editor, The Dallas Morning News, Lee Dean, food editor, Star Tribune, and Gwen Ashley Walters, food journalist and chef,
Moderator: Laura Reiley, food critic, Tampa Bay Times (formerly St. Petersburg Times)


Conference ends.


7-10 p.m. Post-conference cocktail mixer and food at Ulele in Tampa near historic Ybor City. This restaurant focuses on ingredients from Florida waters and land once home to many Native Americans.


Saturday, September 19


Optional events:


Tour of Home Shopping Network, with celebrity chefs in house.


Tour of Tampa's historic Ybor City
Now known as Tampa's National Historic Landmark District, Ybor City in the 1880s was a melting pot of immigrants from Spain, Cuba, Germany, and Italy and home to some of the world's most famous cigar factories. The free Ybor City tour will be from 2-6 p.m. on Saturday. VisitTampa buses will pick up participants at the Courtyard (actual walking tour is 2:30-5:30 p.m., bus(es) return to Courtyard at 6). Transport and guides are free, you buy your own food and libations.


AFJ conference hotel: Courtyard St. Petersburg Downtown


AFJ's conference headquarters hotel is the Courtyard St. Petersburg Downtown. The room rate is $115/night. You may reserve your hotel room for the conference now by visiting this website or calling (727) 450-6200; make sure you mention that you’re with the Association of Food Journalists room block.


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