Welcome Address at the 6th Annual StarChefs.com International Chefs Congress

Welcome Address at the 6th Annual StarChefs.com International Chefs Congress

Thank you, Will. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Antoinette Bruno, Editor-in-Chief and CEO of StarChefs.com—a proud champion of this industry for 22 years. There’s a lot to cover in the next few days—our 2nd Annual International Pastry Competition, presented by PreGel, actually began yesterday!—so I’ll keep my introductory remarks short. Or I’ll try.

StarChefs.com CEO and Editor-in-Chief Antoinette Bruno delivers the ICC Welcome Address

StarChefs.com CEO and Editor-in-Chief Antoinette Bruno delivers the ICC Welcome Address

My colleague and partner in crime Will Blunt shared our sense of what the Sixth sense means in hospitality. And before we begin our day—that is, those of us not prepping for workshops or sweating off Round 1 of the Pastry Competition—I’d like to share how we got here, how we get from five senses to the Sixth. Sight, sound, touch, smell, and, of course, taste—these are five senses, five points of entry that we, as an industry, have to influence a guest’s experience:

We feast on visuals, on the plate, and in the restaurant space. And we don’t just chew. We listen to the sound of the crunch in our mouths. We feel the comfort of a worn wood table, and we savor the rich, silky kiss of foie gras against our tongues even before we bite down. We smell the sweet carbon perfume of the perfect char before our dish has even left the grill. And we taste. We taste the sour against the sweet, the salt against the fat, and we savor it.

These are the five senses of hospitality, and together they help us reach the Sixth. The timing is no accident. In a day and age when every resource is called upon to keep us all afloat, the Sixth Sense is paramount. After all, you keep the guests you win, and you win the guests you reach.


This year, we’ve seen evidence of the Sixth Sense all over the world, not just in temples of avant garde cuisine, but anywhere the hospitality industry reaches deeper. I like to think of it this way—the Sixth Sense plays up the who, what, where, when, and why of hospitality. And I’d like to share what we found in our travels in all over the world, and of course here in New York City.

So without further ado, The 2011 Culinary Trends Report: the who, what, where, when, and why of the Sixth Sense in food and drink, around the country.

WHO

You’ve heard the saying “you are what you eat”—which, for most of us, means pork belly. Well, for industry pros this year, it’s all about “you eat what you are.” Or rather, “you eat who you are.”

This trend is about identity. Whether it’s the identity of the ingredient on the plate, or the identity of the chef standing behind it—identity is the latest ingredient, the intangible added value of the Sixth Sense. It’s no surprise that 46 percent of the restaurants we tasted at this year were chef-owned, because personality is king.

This year Vikram Vij served us relaxed, refined Indian cuisine in his Vancouver restaurant—cuisine that ate like a peaceful, soulful exhalation from the chef himself. And Lisa Schroeder turned her maternal instinct into a business model at the aptly named Mother’s in Portland.

The Sixth Sense embraces the fact that no creation is without fingerprints. And in their Tuesday workshop, Audrey Saunders, Naomi Schimek, Christy Pope, and Katie Stipe will explore those fingerprints, specifically the dainty, feminine type, as they trace the more graceful lines of the feminine identity in mixology.

And of course who is more important than your team? In his pastry workshop, Le Bernardin Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis will address the identity of the kitchen team as an essential ingredient in the success of the restaurant.

WHAT

The Sixth Sense is about revisiting and testing definitions. To better define their product, chefs are seeking out more personal contact with it, like hunting and foraging, which have evolved beyond a marginalized trend to be the new farm-to-table. And groups like Cook it Raw are giving some of the most influential chefs in the world the firsthand experience of nature. Jeffrey Steingarten, a judge in our Pastry Competition, wrote a piece on Cook it Raw’s transformative journey to the Laplands for last December’s Vogue. Definitions are also evolving. Across the country, 60 percent of the restaurants we tasted in this year are blurring casual and sophisticated—68 percent in Chicago alone! Chefs like Chris Pandel of The Bristol, Jimmy Bannos Jr. of The Purple Pig, and ICC Presenter Stephanie Izard are leading the charge with a new kind of “gutsy comfort food”—the culinary equivalent of a linebacker in a tuxedo.

StarChefs.com CEO and Editor-in-Chief Antoinette Bruno delivers the ICC Welcome Address

At ICC, we’ll address the what from ingredient to finished dish. In today’s Main Stage presentation “Visual Storytelling” Laurent Gras will invert our experience of kampachi—with a plating where the ingredient essentially looks at us. Of course it’s us looking at the ingredient, getting at its essential “what.” In his workshop this morning, Master Butcher Doug Piper showcased the culinary potential of Lamb from Meat & Livestock Australia.

And you can learn how to enhance the what of your product with the right application of equipment: explore sous vide with Aki and Alex of Ideas in Food; get the perfect sear with Richard Blais in his Jade plancha workshop; check out the targeted technology of Waring’s Combination Food Processor in our Products Fair.

WHERE

Whether it’s a hyper-local product, an authentic ethnic cuisine, or a technique that’s crossed an ocean, food and drink are uniquely capable of transporting us. And we’ve been to some very distant places and tasted strong evidence of the “where” in cuisine: from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine, from Seoul to Scandinavia. And this year we tasted how deep those connections—between place, person, and plate—actually go. ICC Presenter Rodolfo Guzman is leading the time and place charge in the Southern hemisphere. He shared the bounty of his native Chile with us—and he’ll share it here tomorrow.

Last year, ICC Presenter Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen put the flavors and products of Maryland front and center, part of another pervasive trend of this year: maturing American regionalism. 37% of the restaurants we tasted at had a distinctive American regional menu—the trend of embracing local product has translated into embracing local character. We tasted it in Maryland, and we tasted it in Houston, where chefs are taking Texan pride in local product. Randy Rucker of Bootsie’s says foraging “allows us to connect with our food sources before and after we present it to our guests.” Even the journey to reach his restaurant is a taste of place. As Rucker says, “It adds a sense of ‘destination.’”

And from its microbreweries, roasters, and distillieries to its cuisine, everything we had in Portland screams “Portland!!!” Cuisine in Portland is emphatically local, cocktails are meticulously personal, and the community is wholly self-aware. Portland is becoming a flavor unto itself.

WHEN

Beyond flavor, timing is the major imperative in hospitality. From the welcome to the amuse to the first sip to the last bite, timing is built into the bones of this business. And we’re not just running from the clock—the trend this year is building the clock and calendar into the diner experience. The “when” of food and drink can mean a few things. When an ingredient was picked. What moment inspired it. How long the diner has to eat it—like the 150 Minutes to Feel at Mugaritz you’ll experience today with Andoni.

In our travels to Scandinavia—an epicenter of “time + place cuisine”—chefs like Bjorn Olsson and Danyel Couet of F12 create menus inspired by experience, with dishes like “Hiking.” For Fredrik Andersson of Mistral, the purpose of the menu is simple: “to convey the joy of a new day.” At ICC we’ll share time in two ways. We’ll have three days together, and a few boozy nights. And we’ll explore the concept together. With Love Letter to an Apple from Sandro Micheli we’ll see a celebration of a seminal fall ingredient—the apple—showing how seasonality is actually the taste of gain and loss in the calendar year.

In his hands-on workshop on the Art of Being in the Present Moment, Stanislav Vadrna will demonstrate how the cocktail experience is a celebration of the here and now. And tomorrow, the Alchemy Consulting Team will look at the experience of a cocktail through an hourglass in their workshop, Cocktails Experienced Through the Meta-Sense of Time.

WHY

Meta or otherwise, times are changing. Expectations are maturing, resources are shrinking, and motivations are evolving. We are examining those motivations—the whys of food and drink—through the Sixth sense. Memory is a key driver in why we do what we do this in this industry—I can’t begin to count the number of times a chef has mentioned a mother, a moment, or a meal as a primary influence. ICC Presenter Bill Kim remembers his mom toasting sesame seeds. That, for him, was the definitive moment.

But sometimes the “why” is the accident we embrace. Houston’s Chris Shepherd became the proud owner of a dish called “Candied Pork Ass,” simply because he embraced the chaos of a home grill catching fire. The raw impulse of creativity became his “why.”

At ICC we’ll examine the whys from the prep kitchen to the plate to the place. In his Cutting Kaiseki workshop, Isao Yamada of David Bouley’s Brushstroke will demonstrate how important precision knife cuts are, not only to the production of Kaiseki, but to its very philosophy. And on Tuesday, Chef David Bazirgan will share the why behind his presentations—how he goes from interaction with the raw ingredient to theater on a plate. And for more plating possibilities, check out Steelite’s Crucial Details line at the Products Fair, a line of plateware designed to captivate our senses. In their Tuesday Business Panel, “Holistic Hospitality,” Elizabeth Blau and Adam Tihany will discuss the new bounds of the guest experience as professionals embrace a deeper motivation in their work.

CLOSING

As you evolve, so do we.This year we’re proud to announce the launch of our iPAD app, Chef’s Pick, starting with our Off the Beaten Path edition. And for the first time ever, we are opening up our online community for commenting, with registration here at the ICC. Our goal is to continue the conversation, to engage and expand our community, online and in person.

Our events, workshops, demos, competitions, and product fair are all part of a program meant to stimulate and motivate this unique community. Whether you’re exploring Foods from Spain at the Products Fair floor or with Angel Leon on the Main Stage, whether you’re nibbling Three Cheese gougères with PreGel’s Fig Arabeshi at lunch, or knocking back an on the fly pairing with Wisconsin Cheese at our 2nd Annual Somm Slam, you’re part of that community. And we cannot wait to hear from you.