International Chefs Congress Wrap-Up: 2009 Trends Report


Antoinette Bruno's 2009 Trends Report at the 2009 chef's congress

Good morning, and welcome to StarChefs’ International Chefs Congress: A Kitchen Without Boundaries.

We are once again so excited to host the fourth annual Congress; the second in this great, historic hall. After a tough year of economic bruises, we’re thrilled to bring such a dynamic group of culinary professionals together under one roof to share your passion, exchange ideas, learn, and ultimately progress as a cohesive industry.

We have a fantastic program in store for you over the course of the next three days, from Main Stage demos and discussions with some of the world’s greats, to hands-on workshops with culinary experts. There’s nothing else quite like it in the US—and that’s why we do it year after year.

Before I continue, I’d like to thank the Congress Advisory Board: José Andrés, Daniel Boulud, Josh DeChellis, Traci Des Jardins, Wylie Dufresne, Todd Gray, Paul Liebrandt, Rick Moonen, Ken Oringer, Lex Poulos, Marcus Samuelsson, and Norman Van Aken for their invaluable input, both this year and in the past.

Thank you to all the presenting chefs. We are so honored to have you here, participating in this venue for discourse, education, and growth.

And THANK YOU to our sponsors for making this event possible – none of this could happen without you. The patronage of these innovative companies enables us to bring together culinary leaders from around the world, uniting them with each other and with the people that make the equipment they cook on and the products and ingredients they cook with. A special thank you to our founding sponsors – Jade, Hobart, Vita-Mix, Winston, and Wisconsin Cheese – whose support over the years has helped make our visions a reality.

I’d like to thank TriMark USA for making these dream demonstration kitchens and FCI for making the workshops run smoothly.

I encourage you all to spend some time walking around the Chefs’ Marketplace. The variety of products, equipment, and technology is stunning. Jade Range is here showing off their gorgeous new high mass oven, while Accutemp will be featuring their whiz-kid machine, the Accu-steam griddle.

We’ve brought not only the products, but the producers too: Wisconsin Cheese has their artisanal cheese-makers here and WJ Deutsch is sampling over 40 wines from around the world at their wine bar. Cheese-making and wine tasting demonstrations will run during each break. New Zealand has flown in 13 producers from fisheries to lamb to wineries. And don’t miss Chef Bart Vandaele at the Anheuser-Busch booth demonstrating how Belgian beers and fine dining go hand-in-hand.

We’d also like to thank Spain, New Zealand and Baldor for their generous support. And Kold Draft and Steelite/Bormioli Rocco for their support of our mixology workshops.

Now for our 2009 Trends Report.

Since our last Congress, StarChefs has traveled to over 30 towns and cities across the globe and gone to over 400 hundred tastings. We’ve been on the ground talking to chefs, pastry chefs, sommeliers, mixologists, product and equipment manufacturers and more. And have seen and tasted a lot of spectacular food.

Here, in the US, we are continually impressed by the increasing number of chefs who hand-craft so many of the items on their plates. We’ve had house-made mozzarella, ricotta, burrata, tofu; hand-rolled pasta and hand-pressed fregola. But nothing compares to the continued boom in charcuterie and salumi programs in restaurants across the country; our recent trends survey confirms that 27% of you have an in-house charcuterie or salumi program.  We’ve brought in one of the leading US experts in salumi-making for a wokshop and demo, our 2008 Las Vegas Rising Star Chef Zach Allen of Carnevino, B&B Ristorante, and Enoteca San Marco.

Chefs are still devoted to head-to-tail and farm-to-table cooking, which is becoming even more specialized with mindfully-raised, precision-quality animals and nearly extinct varieties of plants. Our Trends Survey shows that 27% of chefs are currently using  animals from head to tail. Three chefs will show off their butchery skills with us on the Main Stage: April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig will butcher a Saint Canut piglet; Josh Emett of Gordon Ramsay will slice and dice a New Zealand lamb; and Morimoto is back again with another fish-focused butchery demonstration. Chef Sean Brock, from McCrady’s in South Carolina, will share his story about working to save the Jimmy Red variety of corn and how he incorporates heirloom items into his progressive Lowcountry cuisine.

Immigrant influences amongst US chefs, whether by heritage or adopted, is a given—and something envied by chefs across the globe, including Chef Ferran Adria. Americans have a long history of adopting and adapting cuisines to fit our cultural and agricultural landscapes.

Now Asian ingredients and dishes from countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea, and India are entering the mainstream. Ingredients from these far-flung countries—from fish sauce to dashi to steamed rice buns—are effortlessly blended into modern American dishes. San Francisco Chef Charles Phan of The Slanted Door, one of the pioneers of contemporary Vietnamese dining, will demo one of his translated Vietnamese apps on this stage on Tuesday.

What’s more, the onslaught of fast-casual Asian concepts—think Angelo Sosa’s New York City-based Xie Xie—anchors what were once considered “exotic” cuisines as American culinary standards. We wonder how long before  we see steamed pork buns with pork belly on the menus of McDonald’s or served in school lunch cafeterias? But the flow of casual Asian influence isn’t just downstream, but upstream into fine dining as well. Though many fine dining chefs have been playing with Asian ingredients for years (David Bouley is one example), we’ve seen things like hand-made soba noodles on the menus of upscale American restaurants, like Charlie Palmer’s Aureole, and we think we’ll see a lot more of it in the upcoming year.

Here, at the Congress, Indian-born restaurateur Rohini Dey and Chef Maneet Chauhan of the Indian-Latin fusing Vermilion in Chicago and now New York will be on our Main Stage discussing The Deal with Fusion; and The Rise of Asian Concept Restaurants seminar will delve into the ins and outs of some of New York’s hottest modern Asian sandwich spots, Xie Xie, Num Pang, and Baoguette.

It’s no secret that the recent global economic downturn has had an effect on the industry. For almost all of us that has required some belt-tightening; for some that has meant delaying a restaurant opening; but for others it’s been an opportunity to hit the streets with restaurant quality food in a fully-equipped truck or street cart. While there are many challenges, these chefs and entrepreneurs avoid a lot of the overhead costs of running a brick and mortar restaurant and in turn can offer their high-quality goods for less.

A member of our Take it to the Streets business seminar, Roy Choi of food truck Kogi BBQ in LA is a prime example: he has three trucks in Los Angeles. In New York City alone, in the last year we’ve gone from a couple gourmet trucks to dozens that peddle everything from cupcakes to desserts to ice cream, tacos, pizza, dumplings, and even waffles. We’ve spotted gourmet trucks in major food cities across the US; and in Seattle our 2009 Restaurant Concept winner was a souped-up Airstream trailer serving farm-to-street food called Skillet Street Food.

Underground restaurants are really taking off on a national scale, popping up in basements, lofts, and living rooms from Brooklyn to Seattle. They offer creative freedom—not to mention health department and tax freedom—and an alternative to the established restaurant industry for both trained chefs and ambitious un-trained cooks.

These mobile food units often are forced to communicate with their loyal followers  through social media networks like Twitter and Facebook. Chef blogs are still going strong but they’re nothing new. The most tech-savvy of us are all about tweets these days—I’ve become an adept tweeter about my culinary adventures and discoveries. It’s a great way to get the word out about your business and keep people interested in your latest experiments. Alinea-chef Grant Achatz tweets about ingredients or ideas and inspiration for new dishes; he’ll be joining me on the panel discussion in The Power of Twitter seminar. And you can tweet here at the Congress and it will show on the flat screen in the Chefs’ Marketplace.

It’s been a hard year for pastry chefs. We’ve seen a surprisingly large number of executive chefs taking on pastry duties since the recession hit—pastry chefs being one of the first victims of the economic decline in the industry. Our trends survey showed that 38% of executive chefs are now also turning out the sweets in their restaurants; and our 2008 Salary Survey results showed that pastry chefs took the largest hit to their salaries between 2007 and 2008. 

But it’s not all sour news for the sweet life: despite the dearth of pastry chefs in the industry, there are notable innovations and trends. Pastry chefs tend to fall into one of three styles: the hyper-creative avant garde; seasonal modern American; and the nostalgic. We’ll get a glimpse into the minds of three of the best known avant garde pastry chefs when Sam Mason, Johnny Iuzzini, and Alex Stupak come to the Main Stage for their Three Men and a Dessert presentation tomorrow morning.

And our liquid culture continues to evolve and stay at the vanguard of the food and beverage scene. Mixology has permeated the culinary scene and developed a critical mass in the restaurant market. While dedicated mixology has continued to grow in both small and large markets—from San Diego to Seattle to Chicago and New York—it’s also started to become an essential part of restaurants everywhere. And beyond just being an exciting trend, we’ve seen a number of cases where the mixology program is pulling the full weight profit-wise for the restaurant.

Mixology is now a career with tremendous potential. This year alone we tasted with nearly 40 mixology candidates for our New York Rising Star Award! And with all this competition, there’s always innovation!

Reviving obscure classic cocktails and techniques found in old handbooks is something of an obsession for many mixologists today—Tony Abou-Ganim and Julie Reiner are discussing their takes on classic Tiki drinks on Tuesday.

Complex infusions and botanicals in drinks, like those of Albert Trummer (who has a workshop on the topic), and specialty house-made bitters are all-the-rage.

The farm-to-bar movement is another tendency we’ve seen growing across the country, with fresh local ingredients becoming more of a mainstay in cocktail recipes. Sonoma mixologist Scott Beattie will share his hyper-seasonal/local philosophy in his workshop.

And taking mixology one step further, we’re seeing a small sect of drinks made to evoke emotions and memories, following in the footsteps of Chefs like Heston Blumenthal and Grant Achatz. It’s not just about flavor and texture anymore, but also about aroma. We’ve invited cocktail pioneers Audrey Saunders and Tony Conigliaro to demonstrate their new discoveries on aroma in cocktails on our Main Stage.

If there’s anything that this tough year has shown, it’s that the culinary industry is incredibly rezilient, resourceful, and still full of new ideas. We’re looking forward to another year of on-the-ground reporting and uncovering your innovations and breakthroughs.

The theme of this year’s Congress is What is American Cuisine?  Our goal is to explore how chefs and industry-leaders from around the country-and across the globe-define American cuisines.  We’ve come a long way in the last few decades; today US chefs are producing food that is sophisticated, complex, and in some cases ground-breaking. 

American cuisine has earned its place on the international stage, and it’s now time to help define and recognize it as standing on its own.  On our main stage, we will have a series of discussions and demonstrations addressing our theme.