With an overcast sky and light drizzle as company, I made my way through the labyrinth of narrow alleys and lanes around Chinatown in central Singapore. I walked passed a Hindu temple already abuzz with activity; filled with worshipers and devotees diligently exercising their faith and going about their rituals within the gated grounds – despite it being only half-past-eight in the morning. The damp asphalt road ahead was flanked by two mirroring and near-parallel rows of colourful and refurbished shophouses; home to eateries and design studios, amongst other businesses.
Further up the road, the staff of Caribbean restaurant Lime House were already busy with preparations in the kitchen as they were playing host to Food & Socialikes Connect 2015; dubbed as the “first ever conference in Singapore for food bloggers and Instagrammers, by food bloggers and Instagrammers“. Not long after taking a seat on the brightly-coloured bench outside the restaurant, I met up with a fellow participant of the event, Ian. After exchanging pleasantries, Derrick (one-fifth of the event’s organisers) prompted us to join other early-birds up the dimly lit flight of stairs of the eatery’s third storey lounge.
In addition to Derrick, the rest of the organising commitee – Aries, Nathanael, Nicholas, and Nicole; all of whom were dressed in pink – took the effort to greet each and every one with enthusiasm and humility as they waited in line for registration. As the crowd grew, so did the level of enthusiasm and excitement. I then spotted a familiar face in the crowd – Adam Shah, from The Halal Food Blog. He felt relieved to see a familiar face amongst the crowd of fifty-or-so people, and we then made our way to our seats. As the crowd tucked into their morning coffee courtesy of Gentleman’s Coffee and Kafve Coffee, together with a chicken sandwich by venue host Lime House; Nat played the role of school teacher and attempted to call for decorum in the room filled with boisterous and excited food lovers.
The event showcased an array of food-centric individuals: companies, app developers, food bloggers, food photographers; the list goes on. Dixon and Shawn from Burpple kicked off the programme by giving their insightful thoughts on how the collaboration between food and technology has helped shape and subsequently expand their business. Food photographer Alex Ortega was next to grace the stage, armed with tips and tricks for smartphone food photography. Despite being a man of few words, Alex managed to successfully capture the attention of the audience who listened and watched very attentively for anything which may give them the upper hand for two of the day’s food photography contests – one of which will see Alex serving as the judge.
After the lunch interval, four names in the local food scene – Maureen Koh (Miss Tam Chiak); Dylan Ong and Joshua Khoo (Saveur); and Willin Low (Wild Rocket) – served as panelists in a talk about the impact of social media on restaurants. With the mid-day sun shining through the windows; the pros and cons of social media were openly discussed, along with a few jibes at some rather peculiar traits often seen on social media with regards to people reviewing and talking about eateries. The panelists collectively understood that the reality of technology and social media cannot simply be left aside; seeing it is as something very relevant and powerful in today’s times. They came to a rather comical and unplanned agreement that those who work in the food industry should not read food-related blogs, in an effort not to be too distracted and/or discouraged by words from food writers, bloggers, and anybody who has access to the internet.
The next panel touched on plagiarism and the rights of social media users featured Maureen, together with Bernice Tan (The Hungry Bunny; a food lover who, aptly for this panel, happens to be a lawyer); Daniel Ang (Daniel Food Diary); and Catherine Ling (Camemberu). Nat highlighted that all of the four panelists have had the unfortunate experience of having their photos and/or articles plagiarised; which made them appropriate candidates to talk on the said issue. The whole room listened attentively as Bernice opened the panel by talking about the legalities of the internet and the likes (for example; the Digital Millennium Copyright Act or DMCA). She also weighed on the hefty financial costs (which she concluded and strongly reiterated to be not worthy of one’s time and/or effort) of taking a plagiariser to court, among other issues that may slip the mind of those who aren’t au fait with the law. When it came to Catherine, she mentioned with a casual yet matter-of-factly demeanour:
“It’s simple; just send them an invoice stating the link of your original post along with the relevant amount of monetary remuneration you wish to receive. I had a friend who did that, and they paid her!”
Additionally, she shared her first-hand experience about plagiarisers who were (rather shockingly and strangely) more willing to pay a blogger for using their post(s) and/or photo(s); as opposed to simply crediting them – with no costs involved – with a foot note/disclaimer on their page.
Slightly past 2 o’clock in the afternoon, famed food blogger Dr Leslie Tay (ieatishootipost) took to the floor to touch on lessons in life and blogging. Armed with PowerPoint slides and a philosophical approach, he waxed lyrical on topics pertaining to the person as an individual as well as one who could be a contributor to the society at large. Drifting away from his food blogging norm, Leslie did fairly well to get the audience and hosts to think about the bigger picture in life. The amount of social and charitable work done by him and his army of followers clearly depicts him as one who walks the talk. A collective roar and highly appreciative round of applause filled the room as he closed his talk; with the audience moved and encouraged by his words and charitable deeds.
Wong Hoong An (SingTel/HungryGoWhere) felt he had big shoes to fill following Leslie’s highly motivational and inspirational talk. Despite describing himself as one who is not very technically savvy, Hoong An brought up valuable and relevant information and experience with regards to past and present trends of social media and food. Along with his knowledge of food trends and patterns, his business insight was clearly exhibited as the talk went on.
Following a short tea-break, Hoong An was joined by Daniel Ang; Tony (Johor Kaki); and Seth Lui as part of the final panel discussion titled “The Future of Social Media”. Hoong An and Daniel raised the topic of YouTube being a severely under-utilised medium when it comes to food blogging; to which I wholeheartedly agree. Capitalising the use of YouTube can allow one’s blog and/or brand to grow beyond the ubiquitous photo-and-text blueprint commonly seen on food blogs in Singapore. Seth – who was on the receiving end of a number of jokes at his relatively quick rise to food blogging stardom and recent recognition in South Korea – maintained a cool composure and eloquently shared his experiences in the realm of food blogging.
The late afternoon sun played hide-and-seek with the off-white clouds as the day’s event drew to a close. Nat delivered the event’s parting words, together with sponsor and venue shout-outs; which was followed by a rousing round of applause in what could only be described as an event with no current equal. While there have been numerous food-centric events in Singapore, much of it has been only about the showcase and consumption of food. This gathering of like-minded individuals and entities, and building of a food-loving community (including writers/bloggers, photographers/Instagrammers, etc.) has been long overdue. I do hope that this event serves as a catalyst for similar events which gathers and engages the food-loving community in this island nation.
As expected with anything making its debut, hiccups and uncertainty would be inevitable. Unfortunately, certain discussions strayed a little off-topic (while others seemed to have dwelled a little too long on a sole question/topic); which meant certain speakers to cut their presentations and/or discussions short (which was the case for Dr Leslie Tay; who, unfortunately, had to rush through and omit some of his slides).
However, much respect and credit has to be given to the five aforementioned organisers for making the event a reality and success. Despite the initial brouhaha concerning a venue change, they pressed on and successfully managed to secure an alternate venue, along with an impressive number of names and sponsors from the local food and beverage industry, namely;
Alfero Gelato, Brand Cellar, Cold Front Co, Dancing Chef, The Entertainer, Fiji, Fullerton Hotel, Garden Picks, Gentleman’s Coffee, Huiji, Kafve Coffee, The Laughing Cow, Lime House, Miam Miam, Oceans of Seafood, The Palette Knife, Soon Huat, Spicy Thai Thai Cafe, Sunrise Bistro & Bar, and Win Win Food Singapore.
A quick chat with Nat after the final panel discussion revealed that there may be a possibility of a similar event next year, but he seemed slightly more open to the idea of making the event a biennial one. Only time will tell as to what will be in store for future installments of Food & Socialikes Connect. One thing is for sure though; I would be more than thrilled to be sitting in a room of like-minded people and soak everything in once again.
Here’s to many more great food experiences, together with positive growth and development of the food-loving community in Singapore!