by Beverley Ann D’Cruz
Eat Live Travel Write, Good Food, Good Wine and a Bad Girl, Hot Polka Dot, Oh She Glows and Tiffin Tales. Memorise these blog names, Canucks, because the first Project Food Blog Star could be from Canada. And a few of these five food bloggers are losing sleep and have kissed their social life goodbye in order to make this a reality. Organized by the US-based online food community Foodbuzz, the competition consists of a series of ten challenges – from throwing a dinner party to making a video – through which participants are judged by a panel and voted on by the community to advance to the next round. Currently at round seven and just 48 contestants remaining, the competition is heating up.
Inspired by American Idol, the Project Food Blog competition was created as a means for established bloggers to challenge themselves and for newer ones to be discovered while engaging community members to connect with each other. Up for grabs are $10,000 and a one-year stint on the Foodbuzz website in a dedicated Project Food Blog section. “We hope that our community will discover and connect with new bloggers and grow their readerships,” says Ryan Stern, Vice President of Publishing at Foodbuzz. “We also hope to give our contestants new ideas and inspiration for their blogs, some tools and tips for how to improve their content, and really raise the bar on quality and content across the entire food blogging community.”
And contestants agree. Angela Liddon, author of Oh She Glows based out of Milton, has received comments from readers remarking on the improvement of her posts. “Project Food Blog has helped me push my boundaries and develop my skill set as a blogger,” she says. “As bloggers we can sometimes get into ruts and this challenge has forced me to break out of what I was doing and try something new.” Adds fellow contestant Heena Punwani of Tiffin Tales from Waterloo, “With its rules and deadlines, the contest forces you to focus. At the same time, it inspires you to be more creative because you know hundreds of people are being given the same set of instructions and you have to interpret it differently.”
The past two weeks have had bloggers preparing a video for the next round, aptly entitled Video 411, which was unanimously named as their toughest challenge. Post-voting only 24 will advance. Unfamiliar with editing software and sans professional equipment, it has really put all their abilities to test. Toronto’s Mardi Michels of Eat Live Travel Write has been well organised for most of the challenges preparing much earlier. However, she admits this challenge was a tough one to crack. “I am a writer and photographer, not a videographer/editor so this really pushed me to the limit of my knowledge,” she says. “I’m happy with the end result overall – I think the concept is a good one even if the production is a little ‘homemade’!”
According to Stern, nudging bloggers out of their comfort zone with tests like these has been one of the main tenets behind conceptualising each challenge. At the same time, organisers wanted participants to be able to highlight their strengths and allow for enough room to express their unique identities through each post. “We also wanted to ensure that the challenges would be relevant to the a variety of skills that related to food blog publishing, including photography, branding, publishing a recipe, a video, presenting a party, etc.,” explains Stern.
Like Michels, fellow Torontonian Isabelle Boucher of Good Food, Good Wine and a Bad Girl has had each challenge planned in advance and works on the initial draft at least a week in advance to ensure enough time for revisions and editing. “There’s so little time between challenges that thinking ahead is the only way to stay on top of things,” she says, adding with a smile, “I never ever want to do a video ever again.” Similarly, Edmonton-based Lindsey Bell of Hot Polka Dot has faced each challenge with a multi-faceted plan that involves recipe writing/testing, food staging brainstorming, accessory choosing, lighting placement and photo shoots. But aesthetics aside, Bell admits writing can be testing as well.
“Sometimes the words just come to me like turning on a faucet but other times it needs a bit more coaxing to run clean,” she says. “In my opinion a good blog post is comprised of three major things: photography, writing and recipe. Food blogger’s holy trinity I suppose. If even one of those factors is out of balance the whole post fails. I guess that makes me a perfectionist, but it also makes me a good competitor.”
Although the competition is stiff and preparation is key, all bloggers agree that their journey so far has been an inspirational one that has enabled them to learn from each other and establish friendships along the way. In fact, Punwani recognised a church in another blogger’s photographs and realised that they lived near each other. One connection led to another and on a past Sunday several food bloggers from the Waterloo area had a meet-up. “I have the contest to thank for that,” she says.
Aside from the fading daylight and juggling full-time jobs, the only downside for some competitors has been asking other bloggers to vote for them in each of the challenges. Reminders are usually sent out through social media websites like Twitter and Facebook. While it is essential in combination with the judges’ decision to advance, self-promotion is not something that comes easily. “I have not enjoyed having to ask people to vote for me on my blog,” says Liddon. “That part is never fun and I always feel embarrassed about doing so. Luckily, the support I have received from my readers has been really positive.”
Stern says the Foodbuzz team has been ‘blown away’ by the high standard of work that has been submitted for the competition. “We eagerly await the arrival of new posts so that we can devour their delicious interpretations of the challenges,” he says. “We anticipated people would bring their A-game, but this is really the A++ game we’re seeing, and it’s been very hard to watch tough competition be eliminated.”
Already plans are in the works to make Project Food Blog an annual tradition. So will Canada take the top spot in the debut competition? Let’s hope so.
We asked the bloggers the most important question: Do you think you can win?
On peut toujours rêver. (One can always dream)
Mardi Michels, Eat Live Travel Write
I never expected to make it past Challenge 5, to be honest, so even making it to Challenge 7 is a surprise! I’d be absolutely overjoyed to make it to the final round, but I’m not holding my breath… I’m up against some really amazing bloggers.
Isabelle Boucher, Good Food, Good Wine and a Bad Girl
Yes I do. I’m normally not a very confident or self-assured person, but you can’t compete in a challenge like this and not think you can win. What’s the point? If I believe I’ll fail then that’s exactly what I’ll do. If I believe I’ll win then anything’s possible.
Lindsey Bell, Hot Polka Dot
Yes, confidence is everything.
Angela Liddon, Oh She Glows
That’s a loaded question, isn’t it? If I say ‘yes’, I sound over-confident and if I say ‘no’, I sound self-deprecating. But very frankly, I’m not thinking that far ahead. My ‘strategy’ is to tackle each challenge head on and then, whatever has to happen will happen. Que Sera, Sera.
Heena Punwani, Tiffin Tales
To vote and support the Canadian entries log on to http://www.foodbuzz.com/project_food_blog. Voting for Video 411 began on Monday, November 12 and ends Thursday, November 18!