Sunday, October 16, 2016

Tips and advice from some of the best bloggers around at Stylist Live

Where can you hear from Michael Zee, the man behind the Instagram sensation Symmetry Breakfasts, Kate Doran from food blog Little Loaf, Alex Stedman of fashion blog The Frugality, Amali de Alwis, CEO of Code First: Girls, restaurant critic, author and TV pundit Grace Dent, Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, lawyer, cookbook author and wife of former Deputy PM Nick Clegg and Dan Doherty of restaurant Duck and Waffle? Why, at Stylist Live, of course!
I love Stylist magazine - it's distributed free of charge in certain large cities (including London where I work) and at airports, a ground-breaking idea for a 'proper' magazine. It's weekly so smaller than the monthly glossies but in my opinion the same level of quality and a really excellent publication, as its various awards prove.

Several months ago I saw an ad in the magazine for Stylist Live - an event in London featuring over 150 inspiring talks and workshops with stalls and demonstrations. I feel like I don't often spend a day doing something just for myself, so took a day off work and bought an early-bird ticket for just £15, which gave me access to reserve one session plus a catwalk show - but crucially, I could go to any other talks on the day if there were still spaces.

So off I went on Friday, arriving at the show just as it was opening, and headed straight (well, after getting some breakfast) upstairs to the rooms where the talks and workshops were taking place. Perhaps because it was Friday (Stylist Live also took place on Saturday and Sunday) there weren't quite so many people and I was able to get into all the sessions I wanted to and usually got a good seat near the front.

I went through the schedule and circled the talks I was interested in (plus the one I had already booked) and decided to start the day with something a bit different - a talk on coding from Amali de Alwis, CEO of Code First: Girls. Her organisation teaches girls how to code, aiming to increase the number of women in technology. She gave a fascinating talk about women in technology and basically explained how the internet works, and is clearly passionate about what she does and why more women shouldn't be afraid of coding.

She explained coding languages and talked about how you can create websites - I asked Amali whether it's very difficult to move from a blogger platform like this Google one that I use, to create my own website - something I'd never dreamed of doing in a million years. Amali said it's really not that hard, and Code First: Girls offers 8-week evening classes in London where by the end of it I can have created my own website looking exactly how I want it. I might have to do that!

The second talk I went to was by Alex Stedman from The Frugality. I'd never heard of it as it's a fashion blog and I don't follow those - Alex has 70,000 followers on Instagram too so must be doing something right! I've since browsed her blog and it looks really good - Alex is a stylist by background and shares clothes and accessories you can buy on the high street that don't cost a fortune.

Alex Stedman from The Frugality (right)

Alex gave advice on using affiliate programmes (eg Linkshare) to make a commission from anything on your site that you promote and readers click through to the retailer to buy; she also felt that having too many sponsored posts on a blog is not a nice user experience as you lose your voice. The best way to grow your following, Alex suggested, is to put yourself out there on social media - people won't just stumble across you.

She also felt it was important to have a niche and not to try to be something to everyone - which I do with this blog. It's inspired me to think a bit more about my brand! Her other tips included:
  • only work with brands that fit your style (you have to say no to good freebies sometimes)
  • get a good camera - but it doesn't have to be expensive
  • have a consistent style in your photography
  • curate your Instagram grid to give it a balance
I really liked Alex and thought she came across as very articulate and clued-up and was surprised I took so much away from listening to a fashion blogger.

The next session I went to was Michael Zee on 'how I turned my food blog into a business'. You've probably come across Michael's work - he's the man behind Symmetry Breakfast, which is such a brilliant idea. His brand is instantly recognisable from the photos - to Alex's point above - and when someone in the audience asked how he managed to get such great photos in terms of lighting and set-up, Michael admitted his dining room just happened to have the perfect natural light in the mornings. He made it sound effortless, but I'm sure it's anything but!

He started posting pictures of the breakfasts he made for himself and his partner on his personal Instagram feed but friends suggested he create a dedicated account, and when it was shared by a well known shoe designer his followers leapt overnight.

Michael's book SymmetryBreakfast: Cook-Love-Share is now out and he said in answer to a question about whether he was approached to write it (he was), that if nobody approaches you to write a book, then don't be scared to self-publish. In fact, blogging and Instagramming is self publishing anyway!

One fact I loved was that Michael - who was really funny and likeable - admitted that he owns over 1,000 plates which are arranged by type in cabinets along the entire wall of his dining room.

There are so many great food blogs around but I felt quite bad that I had never even heard of the Little Loaf since blogger Kate Doran had been invited to give a talk on 'how to create a brilliant food blog'. I've since visited her site and can say she does indeed have a brilliant food blog, and a book: Homemade Memories: Childhood Treats With A Twist Kate actually brought some homemade biscuits to the event for everyone to try which was a lovely touch - and they were really good!

Kate Doran from Little Loaf (left)

Kate had lots of useful advice for food bloggers:
  • decide what you want to get out of blogging - is it mastering new recipes or getting comments from readers, or something else?
  • The best blogs let the audience into a little piece of your world
  • be true to yourself
  • good photos are really important - always shoot in natural light if you can
  • don't over-style photos but do use props. For instance, an apple pie is quite brown but if you put some fresh green apples next to it, it lifts the whole photo.
  • build a community on social media
  • write for your readers, not for algorithms
  • post regularly (she emphasised this doesn't have to mean frequently) so people know when to expect something
  • but only post when you have good content, not to just throw something up
I then went to get some lunch and had earlier spotted the Mac Factory, a stand selling macaroni cheese, which I love. They are based in Camden and do various events and festivals - they literally only sell macaroni cheese, but with different toppings. I chose 'posh spice' with chorizo, harissa and onion; all their macaroni cheese pots are topped with a parmesan crumble which is really nice. The harissa was a tiny bit too spicy for me but I loved the dish and it reminded me I should really make macaroni cheese more often - unfortunately my husband isn't a big fan of pasta but I am trying to slowly change his mind!


The catwalk show was next and I considered not going but there weren't any other talks at that particular time I wanted to go to, so I thought I may as well. It only lasted about 20 minutes and consisted of five themed 'looks' including about 8 models in different outfits to fit each theme. We were given a programme listing everything so you could pick out anything you liked and know which shop it came from which was a good idea. I did actually end up buying a silver skirt when I got home - not from one of the catwalk looks as some things were quite expensive and a lot of shops don't cater for my size, but I found this one in Evans.


Finally I went to a panel session on what we will be eating next year - but the speakers quickly got away from food trends and started talking about everything from restaurants they liked to which music festivals have the best food (Wilderness, apparently). The panellists were Grace Dent, who I'd seen on TV only the night before on The Apprentice: You're Fired; she is a restaurant critic, columnist and author - she's written various books including How to Leave Twitter: My Time as Queen of the Universe and Why This Must Stop; Miriam Gonzalez Durantez was introduced as a lawyer, mum, food blog and cook book author - Made In Spain: Recipes and stories from my country and beyond- interestingly, they didn't mention the reason that she became widely known in the first place which was as the wife of former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. Obviously she's a very successful woman in her own right and not living in her husband's shadow! (As an aside, I loved her style and the dress she was wearing). The third panellist, Dan Doherty, is the head chef at Duck and Waffle which I have previously reviewed here, and also has a cookbook out: Toast Hash Roast Mash: Real Food for Every Time of Day

L-R: Dan, Miriam, Grace, Stylist deputy editor Susan Riley

Asked what food trends they particularly liked, Dan cited the rise of Middle Eastern cuisine (particularly in London) while Miriam waxed lyrical about the turbot at the River Café, which she said was "like a religious experience". Grace was quite derogatory about the increase in restaurants and cafes selling just one type of food like the pop-up crisp restaurant and the cereal café in London.

In terms of trends coming up, Miriam suggested that healthy eating would continue to be big - specifically high protein and goat would become more popular as a meat, while nuts and seeds would continue to be important. She also spoke of the move towards the chef and the customer being at the heart of the dining experience and that food is "much more person-focused".

Dan felt that the clean eating trend had perhaps gone too far; that the intention was good but it is "getting out of control" and that it's more important to eat balanced meals. Grace was happy to see people are increasingly "taking vegetables seriously as a main dish" -she is not vegetarian but often doesn't want to eat meat and spent years ordering two sides instead of a main dish, to which Dan joked "chips and mash?"

The panel gelled really well together and were very funny, especially when they were discussing veggie burgers that look like they are bleeding (like rare meat) - apparently the 'blood' is made from beetroot juice.

I was the only person to put a question to the panel in the whole session which was pretty cool. I asked which food trends had taken them by surprise, to which Grace immediately answered chia seeds. They are quite slimy apparently... I have a jar in my cupboard that I haven't got around to using very much of! She also wondered about "trends that refuse to die - when will we reach peak burger?". The bao trend - pork in buns - is "delicious but why are we queuing around the block?" she wondered.

Miriam mused that we don't eat enough fish in this country which surprised her as we live on an island,  but she also thinks that the quality is going backwards.

Dan mentioned raw kale - a big food trend but he pointed out that raw brassica tastes "effing disgusting" and gives you a stomach ache. He also said he had come across raw coffee in tablet form which is supposed to speed up your metabolism, and Grace mentioned the fact that every so often the idea of eating insects arises - which she swiftly dismissed as never going to happen, and I have to say I hope she's right!

I had a look around the stalls at Stylist Live after the panel, and bought a lovely cow hide bag from Owen Barry (I couldn't resist as my last name is Cowe!), had a mini makeover at Lancôme and generally browsed everything else that was on sale. I would have liked to try out the new Dyson hair dryer but the queue was too long!

Next year Stylist Live will be in Olympia - which I actually thought was a bit of a shame as I imagine that might mean it's even bigger. This year it was at the Design Centre in Islington which was easy to get to (for me anyway) and a very manageable size - easy to move between sessions without having to walk miles and enough stalls that you could get around without your feet killing you by the end of the day!


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