Two years ago, I attended my first Vida Vegan Con in Portland. At that time, I still felt like I was trying to figure out social media, recipe writing and development and food styling for the blog. The conference was not only immensely helpful with teaching all of those things, but also a way to connect with countless vegan bloggers I followed regularly online. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t the only vegan I knew—I was in one place with hundreds of them.
It was a profoundly inspiring, empowering and energizing feeling.
This weekend, I attended the third Vida Vegan Con in Austin, and loved the synergy, connection and sense of community I felt being around countless bloggers I respect and admire.
But it was bittersweet, because this VVC is the last one!
Before I get into the conference itself, here are some of our food highlights in Austin, Texas:
Bac’n Cheezeburger and Street Tacos from Arlo’s Food Truck! If you’ve had this burger, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t and are in Austin, YOU MUST. Vegan or not, this is the best damn burger I’ve ever had. Perfectly textured burger with seitan bacon, with slightly spicy vegan mayo, shredded lettuce and all of the flavors and textures of a big sloppy delicious burger.
I also snuck in a second one later on:
Vegan Brie, fig, apple and caramelized onion pizza at Counter Culture. CC makes their brie from cultured vegan yogurt! This pizza was beautiful, fresh and the brie was out of this world.
Smoky soy curls with spicy BBQ sauce, vegan mac n’ cheeze and beans from BBQ Revolution. When we first saw the plates, I double-checked to make sure we were at a the right location: these soy curls looked, smelled and tasted too real, but nope—all vegan!
Vegan Reuben and sweet potato tamales from Bouldin Creek Cafe. A simple Reuben with beets, sauerkraut, Daiya cheese and awesome spicy dressing. It was pouring rain while we were eating this, which added to the cozy and fun experience.
Our last night in Austin, we had a fantastic opportunity to go to the Swoop House for an amazing six-course dinner made and hosted by culinary rockstars Chefs Chad and Derek Sarno of Wicked Healthy Food. I have been a huge fan of their work for years, so attending this small dinner was such an amazing experience.
In addition to the food and seeing the kitchen in action (which I’ll get to in a moment), what made this dinner really special was the small, elegant, warm and friendly feel of it. Throughout the entire dinner, Chefs Chad and Derek presented their food with precision, humor and grace, making everyone feel welcome and excited about what was in front of them. Their enthusiasm and love for what they were doing was artfully expressed in each of the six courses, which were unique on their own, but also flowed together beautifully with an appreciation and celebration of seasonal plant-based ingredients.
Smoked Carrot Lox with capers, dill aioli & dark rye toasts: This was a beautiful, petite canapé with super slightly-toasted rye, topped with rich aioli that melted with the smoky carrot lox. The olive gave it a little pop of umami and salt, making it a perfect bite.
Chickpea blintze, creme fraiche, seaweed caviar: I loved this canapé. The blintze was super soft, the creme fraiche was rich and balanced perfectly with the salty vegan caviar. I’m not sure what the flower is, but it made an already pretty canapé look ever more spectacular.
Golden beets | merlot gel, candied pecan, grapefruit, cheese with horseradish: This first course was visually stunning. The grapefruit was clean, the candied pecan was sweet and sticky, the beets were earthy and melted in your mouth and look at that merlot gel! I dragged everything through the vegan cheese and was eager for the next course.
Ricotta & Tomatoes | San Marzano confit, charred leeks, crispy bread: The tomato confit here was tangy and perfectly complemented with the richness of the vegan ricotta, shaped into a quenelle, and served with a super-thin piece of bread and a dried tomato slice. This had a feel of a manicotti or ravioli, but shaped into a different dish altogether.
Wicked Nicoise | Haricot vert, wicked surprises, mustard seed vinaigrette, olive dirt: This was the coolest dish I’ve ever seen! I’ve never had a Nicoise salad before. The chefs made an “egg” out of silken tofu and potato and it looked and tasted just like I remembered an egg tasted like. I am not sure how they did it, but it would fool anybody into thinking it was a real egg. Also included were poached potato, slices of heirloom tomato and vibrant green beans that tasted impossibly fresh. Underneath is “olive dirt” (dehydrated olives) with a mustard seed viniagrette. It was smoky, bacon-y—and gave every element on the plate a new dimension.
Spring Ravioli | Fava, spring peas & herbs, sherry parmesan cream, crushed almonds: Sherry parmesan cream, where have you been all my life? What are you made of? This sauce. It was so perfect. And underneath was the most delicious pillow of ravioli with fava, spring peas and mint with crushed almonds on top. It didn’t need anything else—it was beautifully simple and simply beautiful.
King Scalloped Mushroom | Grilled asparagus, buttered corona beans, sorrel pesto: This was a huge scallop (king oyster mushroom) that was wonderfully meaty, buttery and perfectly caramelized around the edges. The texture of it with the corona beans created a beautiful contrast. And I am not sure I’ve ever had sorrel before, but it made a beautiful pesto and the asparagus provided a nice pop of green that visually pulled everything together.
Berries, Melon & Cream | Amaretto gelato, drunken fruit, fennel, white balsamic, pistachio tuile: This was the perfect end to a perfect dinner. There was fresh fruit, a rich ice cream with a tangy sorbet and a fruit strip gel on the bottom. All perfectly plated and gorgeous.
At the end, we were full, but not unpleasantly stuffed! I tasted things I’ve never heard of before, and experienced seeing food presented in the most beautiful, creative and thoughtful way in a spot that was cozy, comfortable and free of the stuffy and formal feeling of most fine dining spots. I left feeling so inspired and grateful for the entire experience!
On Friday, we attended the Vegan Bazaar!
At the entrance, there was a huge display of Miyoko’s Artisan Vegan Cheese. And behind it, a table full of her cheese. That’s correct: a table full of her rustic alpine, double cream sundried tomato garlic, black ash, double cream herb and more. I behaved, but it was difficult to!
After that, we listened to Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary give an inspiring welcome speech on practicing compassion in all aspects of our life, and what roles we can play in inspiring others to lead a more compassionate life. Gene is a powerful speaker, and I admit I got a little emotional listening to him speak. I was lucky to get a quick photo afterwards … Gene is so warm and friendly!
On Day Two of the conference, we started off attending speaking sessions and panels. Jackie Sobon of Vegan Yack Attack kicked everything off with a presentation on blogging etiquette and social media essentials. Jackie is an amazing speaker and knows her stuff. I left with a few pages of notes and lots to clean up and change in my social media habits!
Next, we listened to Susan Voisin of FatFree Vegan Kitchen speak about post-processing for food photography, using Lightroom and Photoshop. I have Lightroom, and never use it—but the features Susan outlined in her talk inspired me to try it out again and learn more about what it can do. Thanks Susan!
Following that, we listened to Joni Marie Newman of Just the Food and cookbook maven speak on So you want to write a cookbook? and learned how bloggers can go from blog to book, how to protect your copyright and how to be a successful as a cookbook author. Check out Joni’s cookbooks here!
After that, we headed over to a panel called Let’s Talk Marketing, moderated by VegNews Publisher Colleen Holland. Colleen covered all aspects of marketing for those trying to develop their brand, start a business or launch a website. Colleen rounded out her talk by asking for input from those who’ve succeeding in these areas: Whitney Lauritsen of Eco-Vegan Gal, Jill Pyle of Vegan Cuts and Joshua May. It was great to not only have advice from a well-respected leader like Colleen, but also have input from others in various areas of business, with different levels and types of experience.
On Day Three of the conference, we started off by listening to entrepreneur and vegan cheese wizard Miyoko Schinner of Miyoko’s Cheese speak about The Exploits of a Veganpreneur: Experiences and Lessons learned Through Growing Multiple Vegan Businesses. Miyoko is such an inspiring individual and spoke about her 25 years of experience in business, including her success and failures, which has shaped her into the fearless powerhouse she is today. And we also learned what a burpee was, because Miyoko did three of them in a row, to illustrate her point of getting back up when you fall down.
After that, I headed over to Monique Koch, YouTuber at Brown Vegan speak on Honesty in Your Online Presence. Monique is an incredibly warm and genuine person who spoke openly about struggling with feeling the need to be a “perfect” vegan, and why progression is more important—and more honest—than perfection. I’ll be keeping an eye on Monique’s YouTube channel, because her enthusiasm is infectious!
Next, we attended Brian Patton of The Sexy Vegan‘s talk on Tweet Like You Give a Damn. Brian is probably the funniest person I’ve ever met, and his dry style of humor was woven into his talk and slideshow. The way social media works is sometimes a complete mystery to me, but Brian broke a lot of it down, and cleared up how to use social media to optimize the value of the time you put into it. Good tips overall and lots of laughs throughout.
We then went over to hear Hannah Kaminsky of BitterSweet Vegan talk about On-Location Photography. If you’ve ever taken pictures at a restaurant and were annoyed that they turned out really grainy, Hannah explained why and offered tips on doing better for next time. As food bloggers, this is pretty important information—the urge to share beautiful food through photography in an environment you can’t really control are always at odds, but Hannah helped bridge that gap to help take more beautiful pictures for sharing.
We finished up the conference with attending Whitney Lauritsen of Eco-Vegan Gal speak on How to Create Kick-Ass Vegan Videos on YouTube. Although I doubt I will ever make a video on YouTube, it was good to go and get perspective from someone who does, and has made a career out of it. Whitney is a master at her craft and broke everything down clearly and precisely, doing a great job of involving the audience as well.
By the time we left the conference, I was exhausted, but in a good way. Most of all, I felt empowered, inspired and motivated not just with the blog, but with being vegan. The old friends I saw and the new ones I met all formed great memories, and a reminder of just how many amazing vegan voices there are out there. The biggest takeaway from this year’s conference is that we’re all in this together, and supporting each other as much as possible not only makes veganism more visible, but also stronger and more united.
If you’d like to connect with or stay in touch with me, I’m here!
Before I end this post, I want to give a big thanks to the Vida Vegan Con Organizers Janessa, Jess and Michele. These three ladies worked tirelessly to make this year’s event amazing and unforgettable, and did it with grace. Thanks for all you did for the past three VVC’s to help grow and connect the vegan community!