I've been home from the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) conference held in Austin, Texas since late Sunday night (two weeks ago now) and my suitcase is still parked on the dining room floor where I left it. I refuse to unpack. Austin does that to a person, the city lures you in with its barbeque and tequila culture, round-the-clock music scene, and its rebellious indie spirit and leaves you starry-eyed with an insatiable appetite for more of the city. Like a scene I walked by on Wednesday afternoon during the peak of mid-day heat. I turned the corner of 6th and San Jacinto to find a guy crouched in a prayer-like position and so weathered by the sun his face bore lines and trails not unlike a road map without an end point in sight. I slowed down just long enough to read across his folded fingers LOVE, LOVE tattooed in blue ink. This wasn't my first trip to Austin. A couple of months after I finished graduate school in 2003, I packed a suitcase and flew from Colorado to Texas in the middle of a 100 plus-degree August. I walked around with cold cloths wrapped around my neck. My second night there, I met a few friends for margaritas and tacos somewhere in the middle of the city. My view outside of a Tex-Mex restaurant was not unlike Salvador Dali's painting The Persistence of Memory, only I'm the stand-in for the melting clocks in this instance. Being in Texas, I could live with my heat-tequila-induced hallucinations, but I couldn't live in that heat. I hear air conditioning cures this and after recently walking around in ninety-something days, I'm open to reconsideration. It's the kind of place you don't want to leave. Especially after IACP (by the way, you can buy a virtual IACP pass for access to 34 panels and sessions). Hundreds of culinary professionals including writers, photographers, historians, and chefs gathered in the Lone Star State for four days packed with workshops, panels, cooking demos, culinary tours, awards ceremonies, and more. One could easily spend every waking hour there transfixed in culinary perpetuity. Being utterly overwhelmed and inspired is required and without the countless cups of coffee, small bites of food trailer sustenance, and moderate doses of lemon drop martinis—it could be difficult to remain standing. Somehow I found my way to the conference hotel each morning where I met a number of new and familiar friends for drinks and dinner (whose work you'll want to check out): Amy McCoy of Poor Girl Gourmet, Ben Hau of You Fed a Baby Chili?, David Dadekian of Eat Drink RI, Eagrani Yuh of The Well Tempered Chocolatier, Jessica Merchant of How Sweet It Is, Karen Covey of Gourmet Recipes for One, Kian Lam Kho of Red Cook, Kristen Hess of Artful Gourmet, Marie Asselin of Food Nouveau, Mary Rolph Lamontagne of Good Food Quest, Megan Myers of Stetted, Rachel Barbarotta of Fab Foodie Bites, and Reverend David J. Ciancio of Burger Conquest. If you happened to be at the conference, I was the one bumping into you with a heaving backpack filled with a laptop, four camera lens and body—you know just in case—and if you were one of my bruised victims, sorry about that. After the first day, I retired my photographic armor in favor of a small shoulder bag. Let's get to the conference rundown. Day one—Wednesday began with a Lightroom session taught by Scott Martin who spoke about how to manage your photography workflow; a new member meeting; an opening reception at the Texas State History Museum with local chefs and purveyors; a night owl sessions with Penny De Los Santos and Duc Tran on cooking, writing about, and photographing cuisines outside their native cultures. Day two—began with a culinary demonstration on Mexican Cuisine Before and After Cortez with Sue Torres (chef/owner) Suenos Restaurant; a session on to blog or to publish with Dorie Greenspan and Hank Shaw followed by one about creating a virtual book tour with Tara Desmond; an awards gala and reception; and a late night session on ways to make any food image look good with food stylist Denise Vivaldo. Day three—Finding and crafting a great story with Daniel Klein, Penny De Los Santos, and Kim Severson inspired me early on day three; then a culinary tasting and demo by chef Jacques Pepin and his assistant Barbara Fenzi moderated by Amanda Hesser; and a food writers, editors & publishers section meeting. Day four—Saturday was the last day of the conference, which started with a session about the changing publishing industry and how cookbooks fit into print and digital formats with Dorie Greenspan, Lorena Jones, and Rux Martin; onto Elise Bauer, Kalyn Denny, and Lisa Stone's session about food blogging beyond the basics; and ended with Diane Cu and Todd Porter's session on digital food photography. I left the conference having met a number of incredibly talented people along with pages of notes on the essential takeaway from Austin. I hope this post leaves you equally awakened. • Travel light. Carry a small notebook, pen, and pocket size camera. • Organize your digital photography catalog and streamline your photo workflow in your software of choice (I've recently switched to Lightroom). Create a "working" hard drive, external backup, external archive, and remote archive/backup. (from Scott Martin) •Control your light when making a photograph. Think of a clock in which the subject is positioned at the center where the hands would meet and you, the photographer are positioned at 6 o'clock. Don't take 50 plus photos of the same exact shot. You should be able to get it in 3 shots. Move and change angles. (from Dianne Cu and Todd Porter) •Focus on writing craft and don't be afraid as Hank Shaw puts it to "open a vein." Likewise get your vomit (aka first or) down draft, "No word or phrase is worth struggling over. If you have to shoe horn it into your paragraph, cut it." •Be true to your culinary roots, "You cannot escape who you are, it will eventually show up in your food or cooking." Jacques Pepin • Follow these steps to craft a great story for video: 1. Keep it simple 2. Capture what's happening & become friends with your subject 3. Have a steady hand (Daniel Klein—Chef/The Perennial Plate) or for still photography: 1. Understand that it's not about the camera, it's about the scene (forget your F-stop and shutter speed & learn to see using instinct and intuition) 2. Be very vulnerable 3. Don't talk, do listen (from Penny De Los Santos—Photographer) •Be flexible, until you find the Vegetarian Holy Grail aka The Vegan Yacht... know that an overstuffed baked potato is the best you can ask for in the land of barbequed meat. That's it Austin...until we meet again.