International Chefs Congress 2006
by CEO & Editor-In-Chief
– WHAT IS STARCHEFS
Good morning, and welcome to StarChefs.com International Chefs
Congress – A Kitchen Without Boundaries.
This year marks the 11th anniversary of StarChefs.com,
the first online culinary magazine. What was originally
intended as a home on the web for super-star celebrity chefs
like Bobby Flay, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Todd English
has grown over the last decade to become THE foodservice industry
insider site – with a clear focus on working chefs.
Despite our somewhat sensationalist name, StarChefs is about
identifying and featuring the best chefs in the industry –
not because they are on TV, but because they are talented,
innovative, passionate, and driven individuals who contribute
greatly to our culinary community.
UNCOMMON – and INFLUENTIAL COMMUNITY
StarChefs’ audience, both on the web and here today
does not represent the average foodservice industry professional.
In a recent reader survey conducted on our site, 60% identified
themselves as Executive Chefs or Executive Sous Chefs in fine
dining, upscale casual, or hotel operations, and over 50%
are chef owners.
You in the audience are part of this elite
group of professionals, and it is our goal to provide a forum
for you – both online and on the ground – where
you are challenged, motivated and inspired to succeed in this
industry and to contribute to raising the bar on cuisine in
Believe it or not, what you do in your restaurants
has a huge impact on the rest of the industry. The high quality
of food, the creative presentations, and kinds of flavor combinations
and techniques that you experiment with – all these
things trickle down into the other foodservice areas –
the quickservice sector, hospitals, corporate dining rooms,
and yes, schools – where our most precious citizens
develop habits and ideas about what is food.
- OUR SERVICE TO THE INDUSTRY
The next two days are intended to be an intensive exchange
of ideas, and an opportunity to network and develop relationships
with top chefs. Many of you know StarChefs by our JobFinder,
the leading niche online classifieds service for the food
& hospitality industry. We are committed to helping you
get the best jobs out there.
We’ve also set up a live Career Counseling
exchange that will take place all day tomorrow on the 5th
Floor in one of the seminar rooms. These are one-on-one sessions
with some of our presenting and host chefs, including Norman
Van Aken, Wylie Dufresne, Todd Gray, Traci Des Jardins, Patricia
Quintana, Tadashi Ono, and Waldy Malouf. You can sign up at
StarChefs’ Booth for a Career Counseling slot. If possible,
please bring your resume to the session tomorrow.
PRODUCTS FAIR FOR YOU
One more mention about the Products Fair. As stellar as every
single presentation on the stage and in the workshop and seminar
rooms will be over the next two days, we invite you to take
a break and spend some time next door. My partner, Will Blunt,
and I spent a lot of time recruiting exhibitors and sponsors
whom we felt were relevant to you – leading large and
small equipment manufacturers like Enodis, Winston Industries,
YieldKing, Hobart, Vitamix and Pacojet – all of whom
you also see represented here on the demonstration stage --
plus interesting artisan purveyors like Hudson Valley Foie
Gras, Millisime, and Devi Tea. We’ve brought in a selection
of super-premium wines and spirits, including Zyr Vodka, Rhum
Clement, Siembra Azul Tequila, plus an extraordinary offering
of Beers from Belgium. And you can stay wired all day with
espresso and capuccino, thanks to the Nespresso Professional
Espresso Bar and Cyber-Café.
THEME – FLAVOR & the AMERICAN SPIRIT
The theme of our first Congress is “Flavor and the American
Spirit.” While innovation and cutting-edge techniques
have been industry buzzwords for the last couple of years,
it is apparent that the pendulum is swinging; there is a renewed
focus on flavor, and culinary techniques are no longer an
end in and of themselves, but rather a means to an end (as
they probably always should have been).
What’s more, America’s leading
chefs have a distinctive point of view to share. The American
spirit of rugged individualism and of bold risk-taking are
at the heart of their personalities and, in large measure,
the reason for their success. What distinguishes America’s
top chefs and their approach to cooking is their lack of boundaries.
They are not tied to strict cultural traditions in the kitchen
but are free to interpret cuisines from every country in the
world. The international luminaries whom we’ve invited
to demonstrate alongside our US-based chefs embody the American
spirit in that they have dared to defy the boundaries of their
We look forward to bringing this event to the chef community
in America on an annual basis and exploring different themes
each year, based on the trends that we see emerging in the
restaurants we visit, through our conversations and interviews
with chefs around the world, as well as through the research
that we conduct online through our reader surveys. You can
mark your calendar and tell all your colleagues and friends
to save the date for next year’s Congress -- September
16, 17 and 18, here again in New York. And we genuinely welcome
your feedback on this inaugural event, so that we can make
next year’s an even more valuable experience for everyone
involved. We want to hear your ideas on topics, speakers,
Coming back to trends and research, I wanted to take a few
minutes this morning to talk about some of the trends we see
really taking shape in the American dining scene. In the industry
survey we conducted this summer, we learned some interesting
statistics about chefs in this country:
65% of our chefs surveyed told us they focus on locally grown,
seasonal ingredients, and almost half of them use fresh, seasonal
products almost exclusively. Before you roll your eyes about
this seemingly obvious trend, I have to tell you that when
I was interviewed yesterday by Phil Lempert, the Supermarket
Guru on WOR, we got to talking about trends in the restaurant
industry. And I told him how chefs are using more and more
organic, local, seasonal product, and he looked at me like
I was crazy -- “But what do consumers care about local,
seasonal products?” he asked?!
So there is a striking disconnect between
what chefs are putting out there on the plate for their customers
and what customers are buying for themselves in their daily
trips to the supermarket. I think the mandate is clear –
and I hope that the panelists on tomorrow’s sustainability
panel will agree with me and underscore this point –
that the chef community needs to do more to educate their
diners not only about the quality of the product they get
in the restaurant, but where and how to get that kind of product
in the markets. We need to educate consumers and give them
the resources and the confidence to demand high quality, healthy
food that respects and protects our environment and also helps
support local economies.
Since our overarching Congress theme is FLAVOR, I thought
I’d share some of the numbers on that as well. 65% of
our surveyed chefs reported a significant integration of sweet
and savory flavors in their dishes – something Sam Mason
is going to be talking about in his presentation tomorrow
afternoon. Again, this trend may seem obvious, but I think
the average chef - again, whom none of you are
- has a tendency to oversimplify this culinary concept. On
one end of the spectrum are the chefs who put together really
obvious combinations of sweet and savory. On the other end
are those who combine completely disparate and esoteric ingredients
without real thought - or more to the point, without really
tasting the end result.
One other interesting data point on the topic
of flavor: 71% of our chefs surveyed said they are currently
using more familiar, classic flavors and ingredients in their
dishes. I think this statistic will strike some interesting
debate and conversation.
Two of our presenting chefs illustrate this
debate through their demonstration topics - later this afternoon
you’ll see Ken Oringer take the stage talking about
inventive preparations of exotic ingredients. Ken travels
extensively throughout Asia to source unusual ingredients
to include in his cooking. Meanwhile Josh DeChellis, whom
you’ll see onstage tomorrow, takes a different tack.
In his demo, as well as in his cooking at Sumile, Josh seeks
to build awareness of Japanese cuisine by presenting dishes
that are created with ingredients familiar to Westerners
but that are reflective of the philosophy of Japanese
3. EXPERIMENTATION & SCIENCE:
Our audience online and in person here today represents the
industry’s experimenters –
24% -- almost a full quarter of our chefs -- reported the
use of gums, homogenizers, hydrocolloids or liquid nitrogen
in their kitchens. In addition, 27% said they had amassed
increased knowledge of science and chemistry, and 20% indicate
experimenting with complicated techniques that use innovative
equipment. When you think about it, these numbers are statistically
significant – reflecting the behavior of one out of
4 or 5 of our chefs.
Tomorrow you’ll have a chance to see
one of the young masters of experimentation in action, talking
about his research and exploration of versatile chemicals
like homogenizers and hydrocolloids, as well as with new equipment
that allows him to achieve unusual textures in his dishes.
Of course I’m talking about Wylie Dufresne.
Also in our survey, 18% of respondents reported
using what we call “sensory deception”, where
what you see is not what you taste. Again, at first this number
might seem insignificant, but it actually points to a growing
trend. I urge you not to miss David Scabine’s presentation
tomorrow afternoon for an engaging and theoretical discussion
on the Taste of Shape.
At StarChefs, our editorial staff talks a
lot about the role of experimentation in cooking, and how
we as a organization have to be vocal in our support of those
chefs who take the greatest risks, rather than criticize them.
Whether chefs play with tradition, tastes, textures, or words,
and whether they succeed or fall flat in the eyes of the public,
experimental cuisine is an invaluable pursuit for the following
reason: it takes the industry to the next level. It challenges
all of us to rethink and reconsider what we hold as fact.
The price of revolution is the risk of failure, and the likelihood
of many pitfalls, even along the way to success. And all intelligent
and creative chefs must be praised for taking such risks.
This important topic will be brought to life tomorrow afternoon
when Paul Liebrandt takes the stage and talks about the role
of a chef as artist or artisan.
4. REVENUE & THE BOTTOM
The last area that I want to report on to you today has to
do with revenue and the bottom line. As chefs struggle to
find the right venue to be creative and to express themselves
as artists and inventors, there is always the reality of the
bottom line, keeping food cost in check, and serving and satisfying
their customers - in order to stay in business and have their
We asked our chefs to identify various actions they have taken
to increase their check average. Three of the actions that
stood out were: 1) Adding small plates and lower priced appetizers
to the menu; 2) Offering a prix fixe tasting menu, and 3)
Taking time to thoroughly educate staff on dishes as well
as wine pairings.
35% of the chefs who were surveyed said they
charge between 16 and 24 dollars for entrees in their restaurants.
Another 30% said they charge between 25 and 33 dollars per
Of those who offer tasting menus, the largest
group of chefs – 22% -- said their charge per person
is between 31 and 60 dollars, followed by 20%, who charge
between 61 and 90 dollars. Of course if you’re from
out of town and you go out to dinner at Per Se or Jean Georges
tonight and order a tasting menu, don’t come crying
to me tomorrow and tell me you got charged upwards of 120
dollars! This is New York!
I’d like to thank everyone who has made this event a
reality – our Chefs Congress Advisory Board, especially
Norman Van Aken, Marcus Samuelsson, Daniel Boulud, Ken Oringer
and Josh DeChellis, who really helped conceptualize and shape
this event. I can’t thank enough our tiny but incredibly
talented, energetic, dedicated staff who worked countless
hours to make this event happen. A special thanks to George
Mendes, for pinch hitting as our Culinary Director and coordinating
all our chef presenters.
Thank you to all our generous sponsors, without
whom this event would not be possible, especially Lex Poulos
at Jade Range, who took Daniel Boulud’s hand-drawn sketch
of a demo cooking table - mocked up on the back of a menu
- and turned it into this phenomenal demonstration kitchen.
A huge thanks to Greg Rowehl of Commercial Kitchen Design,
for installing this monster and making sure it and all of
the other equipment here on stage actually works!
Never-ending thanks to Kevin Starkey of Covenant
House for having us here for our inaugural event. We’re
delighted to work in partnership with Covenant House to support
Ezekiel’s – the organization’s culinary
arts training program for at-risk youth. In addition to a
cash contribution, and a portion of ticket sales going directly
to Covenant House, we are pleased to have the students in
the Ezekiel’s program attending and helping out at the
Congress. These kids have an incredible opportunity to work
alongside an amazing roster of world-class chefs, and these
are the kinds of mentoring and learning experiences that can
deeply impact their lives.
We’ll also be contributing the proceeds
of the Jade Range Raffle at Rising Stars tomorrow night to
Covenant House. If you don’t already have tickets to
tomorrow night’s push-cart gala at Crobar, you can either
buy tickets at registration or at StarChefs’ booth.
I promise you, you don’t want to miss that event tomorrow
night, where we celebrate and honor New York’s top up-and-coming
culinary talent. And you can win a professional quality range
for your home kitchen, for only ten dollars!!!
One last acknowledgement, to StarChefs’
original founders -- four restaurant industry visionaries
who came together in 1995 to create the site, before the internet
was even a household tool: they are Bob Giraldi , Patty Greaney,
Phil Suarez and Fern Berman. Although they are no longer part
of StarChefs’ day-to-day operations, we are grateful
for their original concept of an online community of chefs.
And we are proud to be able to extend that community through
the International Chefs Congress.