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 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.


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.

Maryann Ference.

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.


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.


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 Tranh, 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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

Ren LaForme.

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:


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. 


Betsy’s Best

Brooks Tropicals

Disney Parks and Resorts/Food & Beverage Marketing

Florida Beef Council

Florida Dairy Farmers

Florida Food & Farm Magazine

MMA Creative: Experience Kissimmee and World Food Championships (shared exhibit)
Shawnee’s Greenthumb Popcorn

Story Farm Publishers

University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

University Press of Florida


Visit Orlando

Visit St. Pete Clearwater

Visit Tampa Bay


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




Visit Tampa Bay

Visit Tampa Bay


Silver Sponsors




Florida Strawberry Growers Association

Florida Strawberry Growers Association




Visit Orlando

Visit Orlando


Visit Sarasota County


Bronze Sponsors

Orlando Sentinel

Orlando Sentinel