2010 International Chefs Congress Wrap-Up: Business Seminars Day Two

2010 International Chefs Congress Wrap-Up: Business Seminars Day Two

The French American Trailblazers The French American Trailblazers
“We’re here today to talk French!” Dorothy Cann Hamilton announced, inaugurating this morning’s business panel The French American Trailblazers. An audience of chefs from as far a field as Virginia, Texas, and Hawaii listened as Hamilton introduced iconic chefs Alain Sailhac and Andre Soltner, also of FCI (not to mention Sailhac’s legendary turn at Le Cirque and Soltner’s iconic Lutece), as well as Georges Perrier of Philadelphia’s late and beloved Le Bec Fin—culinary trailblazers who changed the face of American dining as we know it. As Hamilton explained, “they didn’t know about stars, [they] didn’t know about the American market—all [they] knew was hard work.” The panel began by defining—or attempting to define—the basic concept of French cuisine. “What is French food?” Hamilton asked. “I’ve been in this business 60 years,” said Soltner. “And I still don’t know!” Of course, the chefs had varying opinions on several points—“chefs never agree,” said Soltner. But they all agreed that whatever the contours of French cuisine, its essence is technique. “The French don’t cook any better than any other country,” said Perrier. “But we put love into every technique.” The panel went on to discuss everything from the evolution of the American palate to the mixed blessing of restaurant criticisms. “They police us a little bit,” said Sailhac. “If they are very honest, it’s good for the restaurant.” And in response to Hamilton’s query, “what does it take to make a super chef?” Perrier offered this bit of hard-earned wisdom to the audience. “What does it take? Work, work, work, work, work, work, work.”


New Media Panel discussion on New Media
The panel discussion on the effect of New Media was revealing in many ways. Chefs Marcus Samuelsson and Tony Susi joined online food writers Ed Levine and Francis Lam in debating the role the internet plays (and the roles it doesn’t play) in the culture of cuisine. Levine summed it up neatly: “The genie is out of the bottle.” But while the web has potent powers, it must also be approached correctly. Lam and Levine discussed how website design can improve the quality of online conversation (or, alternately, impede it). And they had a few recommendations: not writing and taking it personally, not allowing anonymous commenting—Lam called comment boards “a world of road rage”—and giving people time and space. When the floor was opened up to questions, chefs in the audience compared tactics for dealing with negative criticism. One chef commented “I’m glad criticism has been democratized. Now I don’t have to cater to one specific palate.” The final word went to Chef Susi, who’s seen plenty of the ugly underbelly of online critcism. “At the end of the day,” he said, “a chef needs to block out the criticism and focus on the food in front of him.”

by Emily Bell