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

2015 AFJ Conference Sponsor Descriptions

2015 AFJ Conference Exhibitors

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).

Jeff Klinkenberg. 

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).

Roy Peter Clark

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

Fabrizio Aielli.

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.

Don Pintatoba.

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.)

Keith Sedita.

David Laxer.

Chad Johnson.

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-owner of The Refinery and Fodder & Shine; Chad Johnson, executive chef, The Epicurean Hotel and Haven; and Ferrell Alvarez, chef and co-owner, Rooster & The Till. Moderated by Jeff Houck, Columbia Restaurant Group.

Maryann Ferenc.

Greg Baker.

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


7 p.m. Emeril's Taste of Florida, St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts.
VISIT FLORIDA is hosting the 2015 conference Taste of Florida event at the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts. The theme is the Cooking Channel's “Emeril's Florida,” with Emeril Lagasse hosting the best culinary talent, farmers, and food artisans representing the entire peninsula. From James Beard nominees to Evans Farm's Anastasia Gold Caviar, it will be a taste of Florida like no other.


Thursday, September 17


Breakfast on your own or with an AFJ colleague.


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

Ben Montgomery. 

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. Snacks in break room provided by Florida Dairy Farmers.


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.

Andrea Gozmart.

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 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.

Nathalie Dupree.

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?

Katie Hawkikns-Gaar.

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. Snacks in break room provided by Florida Dairy Farmers.


Teresa Chan.

3:45-4:45 p.m. Reflecting diverse voices in American media: An Asian perspective, a panel discussion moderated by Ricky Ly, founder of Panelists include Teresa Chan, owner and founder of Sus Hi Eatstation, Hari Pulapaka, tenured math professor at Stetson University and four-time semifinalist for The James Beard Award for Best Chef South, and Chau Trinh, chef, Sushipop.
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.

Ricky Ly. 

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


7-10 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).

8:30-9:30 a.m. Breakfast available at Poynter courtesy of Florida Dairy Farmers.

Craig Pittman.

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: Dr. Bill Hogarth, Director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography, University of South Florida, and Katie Sosa, vice president of sales at St. Petersburg’s Sammy's Seafood


15-minute break. Snacks in break room provided by Florida Dairy Farmers.

Isabel Reis Laessig. 

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.

Julie Deily.

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.

Jaden Hair. 

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

John Schlander.

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. Snacks in break room provided by Florida Dairy Farmers.

Kelly McBride.

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. Snacks in break room provided by Florida Dairy Farmers.

Ren LaForme.

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


15-minute break. Snacks in break room provided by Florida Dairy Farmers.


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:


Brunch at HSN: Journalists will break into groups for tours of the Home Shopping Network, including the kitchen and food products in the HSN culinary studios. Pick-up for the brunch and tour is at 8:15 a.m.; the tour will end around 11:15 a.m.

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 chair Heather McPherson. 


Platinum Level

Florida Dairy Farmers (FDF) is Florida’s milk promotion group that works to educate consumers on the dairy farming industry and the nutrient-rich foods it provides. FDF represents more than 130 dairy farming families throughout the state, many of which are third and fourth-generation dairy farmers. Together, these farmers milk approximately 123,000 cows that produce more than 277 million gallons of milk each year. The Dairy Council of Florida is a component of FDF and serves Florida educators and health professionals. For more information, call 407-647-8899 or visit

Healthy Earth: Local. Earth-friendly. Sustainably made. These words often describe heirloom tomatoes, jeans, even soap. Now they can honestly define seafood as well. Healthy Earth is fast becoming a world leader in developing sustainable and economically viable sources of seafood, even as overfishing, pollution and a growing global appetite for seafood is putting ever more pressure on Mother Nature. Based in Sarasota, Florida, and supported and led by veteran entrepreneurs and internationally-renowned marine scientists, Healthy Earth is producing world-class caviar with Black Opal Caviar and the tangy traditional Mediterranean treat of bottarga with Cortez Bottarga. Contact: Pallas Knight,

VISIT FLORIDA, the state's official tourism marketing corporation, serves as Florida's official source for travel planning to visitors across the globe. As the Sunshine State’s No. 1 industry, tourism was responsible for welcoming 98.8 million visitors in 2014 and employing more than 1.1 million Floridians. Contact: Kenneth Morgan-Schleuning, Public Relations Manager,

Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater is the official tourism marketing and management organization for Pinellas County, Florida, and works domestically and internationally to develop and enhance sustainable tourism in both the leisure and meetings markets. Made up of 26 distinct communities, the destination is best known for its record-breaking sunshine, 35 miles of spectacular white-sand beaches and a wide array of cultural offerings. A variety of attractions, world-class museums, sporting and beach activities, arts, culture and nature-related experiences distinguish St. Petersburg/Clearwater as an unparalleled vacation destination, and its location on a Gulf peninsula makes it truly unique among Florida beach destinations. Live Amplified at Contact: Ed Cassidy, Brand Management Director,

Gold Level

Florida Strawberry Growers: The Plant City-Dover area is a mecca for the sweetest, most luscious strawberries around. Moreover, strawberries remain the commodity that made this community a family. In 1982, the Florida Strawberry Growers Association (FSGA) was officially formed. This organization became a voice for Florida strawberry growers. The mission for the handful of farmers was to become "partners in research, promotion and member/community service.” In the years since then, the growers have met that mission and succeeded in forming a voluntary organization that represents over 12,000 acres of berries today. Florida strawberries provide a taste of summer all winter long! Our season runs Mid-November through March. Contact: Sue Harrell,

TinyLetter is an email newsletter service for people with something to say, brought to you by the people behind MailChimp. People use TinyLetter to share their work with fans and friends. It's simple and free. Contact: Lain Shakespeare,

Visit Tampa Bay encourages adventurous travelers to unlock its trove of unique treasures. With new hotels, amazing dining and thrilling attractions, the excitement of Tampa Bay is yours to discover. We are a not-for-profit corporation that works with more than 700 partners to tell the story of our home – the hip, urban heart of the Gulf Coast of Florida. Tampa Bay has earned its place on several top-10 lists while becoming the ideal destination for family vacation, sporting events, corporate and medical meetings, festivals and conventions. Contact: Dave Reynolds,

Wicked Dolphin: Born out of a desire to produce a great Florida craft rum, Wicked Dolphin is distilled in Cape Coral, Florida, using all natural, local ingredients and the highest quality Florida sugarcane. The family run distillery handcrafts each expression using a 750 gallon American copper pot still, before barrel aging for at least one year in American oak barrels previously used for bourbon. Wicked Dolphin Rum has already garnered a number of top awards and has been recognized as a pioneer craft distiller in Florida. The distillery produces Wicked Dolphin Silver Rum, Wicked Dolphin Spiced Rum, Wicked Dolphin Coconut Rum and Strawberry, Blueberry and Apple Pie RumShine. Contact: Laura Baddish, The Baddish Group,

Silver Level

Duda Farm Fresh Foods is a leading grower, shipper, processor and marketer of a wide range of fresh vegetables and citrus with primary locations in Florida, California, Arizona, Georgia and Michigan. The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of A. Duda & Sons, Inc., a family-owned, diversified land company headquartered in Oviedo, Fla.,

Melitta brings over 100 years of European heritage to the American coffee drinker. In 1908, Melitta filters and drip coffee were founded by a German housewife, Melitta Bentz, who was in search of a better way to make coffee. Since then, Melitta has been dedicated to providing the ultimate coffee experience with gourmet coffees, coffee filters and coffeemakers. Part of the Melitta Group of Minden, Germany, Melitta North America is headquartered in Clearwater, Florida and engrained in the Tampa Bay community. Melitta’s category-leading filters are produced in Clearwater, and Melitta coffee is roasted in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Contact: Kate Humbarger, Social Media/Website Coordinator,

Visit Orlando is the official tourism association for the most visited destination in the United States, with representation in more than a dozen countries around the world. Visit Orlando, together with its 1,200 member companies that make up Central Florida's hospitality community, represent the area's leading industry that is responsible for US $60 billion of annual economic impact. Contact: Denise Spiegel, Director of Global Publicity,

Visit Sarasota County: Located on Southwest Florida's Gulf Coast, Sarasota County offers a vibrant arts and cultural scene, a diverse array of culinary experiences, a circus heritage unlike no other in the world and a variety of opportunities to take advantage of the clear waters and the great outdoors. Sarasota County provides a beach getaway with numerous sprawling, white-sand beaches, including Siesta Beach, named the Trip Advisors’ People’s Choice Award for “Best Beach” in 2015. In 2017, Sarasota County’s Nathan Benderson Park will host the 2017 World Rowing Championships—the first United States destination to host the event in more than 20 years. For more information on visiting Sarasota County, visit or call (800) 522-9799.

Bronze Level

Orlando Sentinel Media Group, a division of Tribune Publishing, reaches an audience of more than 1.2 million across all platforms. We are the dominant voice in our community and the most comprehensive news source of the Central Florida region, reaching consumers through the Orlando Sentinel newspaper and an array of niche products and multi-platform marketing solutions. Orlando Sentinel Media Group also publishes the weekly, Spanish-language newspaper, El Sentinel, and its companion website, This year the company launched, Orlando’s source for business intelligence, and Signature Magazine, an upscale lifestyle magazine. Contact: Heather McPherson, Food Editor,


Betsy’s Best, Betsy Opyt, Founder, 

Brooks Tropicals, Mary Ostlund, Marketing Director,

Disney Parks and Resorts/Food & Beverage Marketing, Michelle Baumann, Walt Disney World Public Relations,

Florida Beef Council, Ashley Hughes, Director of Beef Marketing and Promotion,

Florida Dairy Farmers, Diahann Albarrán Smith, Marketing Director,

Florida Food & Farm Magazine, Jan Norris, Editor,

Florida Strawberry Growers Association, Sue Harrell, Director of Marketing,

MMA Creative: Experience Kissimmee and World Food Championships (shared exhibit), Amy Green,

Shawnee’s Greenthumb Popcorn, Art Friedrich, Business Manager and President,

Story Farm Publishers, Bob Morris, President/Owner,

University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Jana Barnash, Business Manager,

University Press of Florida, Samantha Zaboski, Exhibits & Events Coordinator,

Visit Orlando, Denise Spiegel, Director of Global Publicity,

Visit St. Pete Clearwater, Ed Cassidy, Brand Management Director,

Visit Tampa Bay, Dave Reynolds,


AFJ conference hotel: Courtyard St. Petersburg Downtown


AFJ's conference headquarters hotel is the Courtyard St. Petersburg Downtown. The room rate is $115/night (until August 25, after which the discount ends). 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.


Association of Food Journalists


Platinum Sponsors

Florida Dairy Farmers

Florida Dairy Farmers


Healthy Earth

Healthy Earth



Visit Florida


Visit St. Petersburg Clearwater

Visit St Petersburg Clearwater


Gold Sponsors

Florida Strawberry Growers Association

Florida Strawberry Growers Association





Visit Tampa Bay

Visit Tampa Bay


Wicked Dolphin

Wicked Dolphin


Silver Sponsors






Visit Orlando

Visit Orlando


Visit Sarasota County


Bronze Sponsors

Orlando Sentinel

Orlando Sentinel