The 7th Annual StarChefs.com International Chefs Congress Welcome Address
Thank you, Will. I’m Antoinette Bruno, Editor-in-Chief and CEO of StarChefs.com—a proud champion of this industry for 23 years. Will had a tough job—he had to explain the theme of our Congress, to bridge the gap between our ambitious concept and the work of your everyday life. But it’s not a false connection. You work in the trenches of the day to day, but you strive for something transcendent. And every year at ICC, we take three days to celebrate that: your ability to push yourselves. To explore.
This year’s theme is a reflection of what we’ve been privileged to witness in the industry. And we call that Origins and Frontiers. Over the past year, we’ve tasted with countless professionals who are passionately preoccupied with history, regional identity, and their influence on the future of cuisine. And I’m happy to share that in the 2012 Culinary Trends Report.
History and tradition are the bones and blood of cuisine. But with José Andrés’s partnership with the National Archives for America Eats and Grant Achatz’s time-warping Next, history has become a focal point, the source of inspiration. We’ve seen chefs across the world reviving old school techniques and recipes, giving their cuisine the savor of the past.
There are extreme examples, like Dinner—where Heston Blumenthal re-imagines historic English dishes like “Meat Fruit.” At Restaurant Gwendolyn in San Antonio, Rising Star Chef Michael Sohocki cooks everything with pre-Industrial Revolution equipment. He says, “No perishable ingredient may travel further than a good, strong horse.” There’s even a rough-hewn Spanish grill in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn, where Speedy Romeo Chef Justin Bazdarich cooks everything—and I mean everything—with a wood fire grill. But it’s not just extremes. We tasted history in doses, from Yoshi Takazawa’s famously modernized ratatouille in Tokyo to Chef Shirley Chung’s thousand year old hamburger at Jose Andres’s China Poblano—ancient Eastern tradition by way of Las Vegas Boulevard.
And a sense of history pervades ICC, from Hooni Kim sharing ancient and modern beef preparations in Korean cuisine to Chef Marilú Madueño Martínez demonstrating the influence of Incan origins on her modern Peruvian cuisine, bringing Peru to the Congress for the first time!
If history is the backbone, product is the lifeblood of this industry. And this year, we had ancient grains, local fruits, and obscure species—all fostered by advances in farming technology, preservationism, and a continued emphasis on foraging.
We tasted mirliton, an ancient South American vegetable by way of Atlanta and New Orleans. We drank tart, local scuppernong shrub prepared by a third-generation Georgia native. And we savored toothsome freekeh, a smoky, traditional Middle Eastern grain, from chefs in New Orleans, Hawaii, and Portland. In London, Pollen Street Social Chef Jason Atherton served sea herbs like wild sea purslane and stone moss with his local seafood, creating “a continuation of the dish” that had the savor of appellation. And pastry chefs are following suit. 2012 Atlanta Rising Star Taria Camerino trades ease of preparation for the bold flavors of fair trade chocolate from Ecuador, the Philippines, and Colombia.
ICC Presenter Jordan Kahn uses native and invasive herbs for the smoked tofu recipe in your ICC book. And Sean Brock, who cultivates heritage seed lines, will join Linton Hopkins as “Sons of the South” paying tribute to hometown product. On Monday, Hopkins will also join a Cortador to demonstrate an exquisite regional product, Ibérico ham, made possible by the Trade Commission of Spain.
From regional ingredients, we get roots cuisine: the culinary culture of one place. Smaller markets are tapping into their roots, finding distinct local character to rival big city cosmopolitanism.The “keep Austin weird” mentality has created a local food scene with swagger. Bryce Gilmore’s Barley Swine is the essence of Central Texas. And Contigo Restaurant was actually built to reflect Texan Ranch culture. In New Orleans, it’s Big Easy 2.0, with next generation farmers and chefs evolving the city’s culinary traditions. A beautiful example? Presenter John Besh works hand in hand with Covey Rise Farm—who delivered these tomatoes to Restaurant August less than five years after Hurricane Katrina. And we have the Gulf recovery to thank for these pristine Louisiana oysters!
In Hawaii, our next Rising Stars frontier, roots cuisine means comfort foods and local products. We tasted a rainbow of local products at Frankie’s Nursery, and saw them again in finished comfort foods like the Oxtail Soup at Alan Wong’s, and Mark Noguchi’s Ho’i’o Fiddelhead fern dish.
ICC presentations like “Urban Gothic” with Elizabeth Falkner and “The Cuisine of NG7” with Sat Bains will showcase contemporary urban identity as its own roots cuisine. On the flip side, you have guys like Andy Ricker, Alex Stupak, and Jordan Kahn exploring the concept of “borrowed roots” with cuisine’s they’ve come to love and respect.
From the ancient roots of beer making to mixology’s strong sense of history and the profound influence of terroir, the beverage industry has always had a deep-rooted sense of Origins and Frontiers.
We tasted the product of a strong roots culture in Atlanta, as a close-knit cocktail community created a new drink type, the complex, low-alcohol Suppressor. Beer, the most ancient beverage of all, still continues to evolve. We’ve awarded several Rising Star brewers, and continue to taste—and marvel—as American craft brewers both recreate and adapt classic styles with a sense of innovation.
All over the country, I’ve had sommeliers excitedly introduce me to grapes I can’t pronounce—gems of terroir like the Chateau Musar, made from native Lebanese grape varieties which include Merwah and Obaideh. I’ve had grapes like Malagouzia and Limnio from Greece—and you can sample Greek wines right here at our Somm Bar! On Monday, Lisa Granik will share how the origins of wine—in the country Georgia—are new frontiers for sommeliers. And on the cocktail side, we have presenters like Kirk Estopinal and Neal Bodenheimer, who created an entire bar around the historic Cobbler cocktail. Dave Wondrich will delve into Chilean Pisco, which brings Chile back to ICC for the third year in a row! Today Wondrich will join Audrey Saunders and Bobby Heugel in a pseudo-séance, summoning the Ghost of Jerry Thomas.
As Origins and Frontiers inspire us, we’re finding new forums to express that inspiration. From large format chains to artisan retail outlets and beyond, chefs are finding new venues to influence the American pantry—on scales large and small.
We have the family genius behind Russ & Daughters at ICC. But chefs are also getting into the game, building complementary retail outlets that increase output and profit—there’s Anne Quatrano’s Star Provisions, Donald Link’s wine-butcher-sandwich shop, Cochon Butcher, and the 2012 Rising Star Artisan award-winning Noble Pig in Austin, Texas. Even former Pastry Chef Sam Mason has gotten into the game with Empire Mayonnaise, which you can taste here at the Waring Booth! Retail is a frontier increasingly within reach.Then there are game-changing fast-casual chains like Chipotle and Umami Burger. Run by 2010 Rising Star Adam Fleischman, Umami Burger is now on the verge of “worldwide expansion.” Fleischman tells us they’re looking to open 1,000 stores—five in New York City alone. At ICC, we’ll look at Chipotle’s success in bringing culinary and technical acumen and a sense of corporate responsibility to fast food.
Then there’s the atelier restaurant, not necessarily a new type, but more prevalent among young chefs looking to express roots culture, heritage product, and personality. We’re talking about restaurants like Jason Bond’s Bondir, Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi’s Torrisi, Chris Nugent’s Goosefoot, Alexander Gauthier’s Le Grenouillère, and Matt Lightner’s Atera. It’s the age of the personal platform, the micro-frontier.Last but not least, we’re witnessing a new kind of restaurant empire, based not on repeated concepts but different articulations of a chef’s style. Fine dining Chefs Linton Hopkins and Spike Gjerde have established robust local empires that elaborate rather than simply expand their creative output into several verticals—like a bakery for Hopkins, and a coffee bar for Gjerde. After all, for a chef, the final frontier is creativity.
For our part, at StarChefs.com, we don’t forget our origins, but we’re always tackling new frontiers. Our “Off the Beaten Path” App launched last fall and has recommendations in 200 cities. Chef Picks “CityGuides” launched last spring and is now operational for 10 cities and counting—true growth!
Speaking of which, we have a big announcement, one we hope will have a profound impact on the way American chefs and restaurants are viewed worldwide. We all know the story—first there was France, then Spain, then the Nordic moment—somehow America got lost in the shuffle. Which is why we’re pleased to announce the StarChefs 100, launching in 2013, a definitive ranking of the top 100 American restaurants, chosen by chefs—not the public, not press, not inspectors, but chefs!
Our goal is to engage and expand our community, online and in person. And that brings us to ICC. From Main Stage presentations to our packed Chefs Products Fair to discussions of social issues like the treatment of farm workers through the lens of the tomato industry, ICC strives to represent everything this industry is capable of. Our new program, Eat@ICC, is a reflection of you—with food carts and pop-up restaurants showcasing wide-ranging, free-roaming creativity. Even our Somm Slam and International Pastry competition—both in their third year—reflect the fact that you, as an industry, never stop striving to be, or create, the best.
Because it’s not about us. ICC is your show. No matter how ancient the origins or vast the frontiers, the only thing that makes these ideas come alive is living talent. How connected do you feel to the legacy of food and drink? We hope the next few days will help you find that out.
Before I close, I’d like to take a moment to thank our sponsors, the companies that make this event happen—companies integral to StarChefs’s mission, like Jade and Meat & Livestock Australia, who made Eat@ICC possible; Vitamix, Hobart, and Steelite, who have been with us since the beginning; PreGel, who believed in our Pastry Competition. All of our sponsors are integral to making ICC work. And you’ll sample their products and test their equipment over the next few days—please do patronize our sponsor booths! Another sincere thanks to our advisory board, for their creative leadership, and continued faith in our dream.