2009 International Chefs Congress Wrap-Up: Main Stage Day One

StarChefs.com's kicked off day one of the fourth consecutive International Chefs Congress today! Managing Editor Will Blunt was the first to grace the Main Stage with a quick welcome and introduction of Editor-in-Chief and CEO Antoinette Bruno for her 2009 Trends Report.

In their keynote address, MC's Matt and Ted Lee discussed their Lowcountry origins and the culinary treasures that hide in tucked-away towns and cities all across the US. The two implored the audience to continue using and seeking out indigenous products to support the native farmers, producers, and artisans. "Drill down into the foods of your own region, "they explained. "Often the best sources for [culinary ideas] are in fishing docks, nursing homes, and cookbook archives." They cited their own source of inspiration for a recipe that appears in their upcoming cookbook, Simple Fresh Southern (Clarkson Potter, 2009), that was adapted from a 1940s-era Georgia cookbook combining deviled eggs and shrimp. "Sometimes the choicest ingredients are in plain sight," they concluded.

Norman Van Aken, Charlie Trotter, and Emeril Lagasse at 2009 Chef CongressAuthor and panel moderator Clark Wolf led a fast-paced and dynamic discussion with a big-name line-up of Norman Van Aken, Charlie Trotter, and Emeril Lagasse. Van Aken said he prefers to describe America as a patchwork quilt rather than a melting pot, since the former implies that each culture retains its identity. They discussed the possibility of the next group of food rock stars: farmers. Lagasse summed it up by saying "listening to the farmers, fishermen, and the food makers—that's what it's all about." Things got a little heated when they got to the topic of food writers and reviewers. Charlie Trotter leapt out of his chair and exclaimed, "Who in the hell has the time to go online or have a pathetic blog? Do you have a job? What do you do for a living?" Despite this errant and conspicuous negativity, the panel ended on a positive note with the three chefs offering advice to younger chefs. In fact Trotter himself – calmed down – summed it up beautifully: "Journey within. In the inward man dwells truth. Have the strength to go within."

David Bouley shared ways to incorporate Japanese techniques into any kitchen with examples from his French-Japanese fusion. The most important thing he takes away from Japanese cuisine is its reverence for the ingredients., He talked at length about how, more than ever, we have access to better and better ingredients in America. Bouley, along with Upstairs at Bouley Chef Isao Yamada, demonstrated the preparation of two of their signature dishes: Sea Urchin Terrine with Vodka Crème Fraiche and Caviar and Miso Black Cod with Black Onion Powder.

Famed Japanese kaiseki master Yoshihiro Murata of Kikunoi started off his demonstration with a short video introduction to "food of the four seasons." Murata explained the importance of dashi in his cooking overall and especially as a vehicle for umami. He prepared a kuzu gelee with roasted turnips and carrots—a dish that he said captures the essence of his fascination with umami, the mysterious "fifth taste." In his conclusion, Murata proposed that with umami "there's no need" for salt and pepper—a nearly heretical concept for many American chefs.

In their "Patent Pending: Secrets from Food Scientists" presentation, Dr. Nathan Myhrvold and Chris Young summarized their years of food experimentation with demonstrations of their Constructed Cream and Edible Prune Coals. The two made use of their microbiology and chem-lab know-how, and discussed the use of freeze dryers, centrifuges, and homogenizers. The demo left avant garde chefs itching to get their hands on the duo's upcoming 1,500-page book.

Sarah Hill of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Will Blunt, and Antoinette Bruno present the award for to Chef David Burke the Contribution to American Cuisine Innovator AwardA St-Canut milk fed piglet was the centerpiece for April Bloomfield's packed Main Stage butchery showcase. The Spotted Pig chef broke down the animal into its primal cuts, which included the head, shoulders, legs, loin, and belly. She then created her belly-centric dish of Slow-Poached St-Canut Suckling Pork Belly with Onion Puree, Garlic Confit, and Chives. The audience, meanwhile, snacked on skin cracklings from a pig Bloomfield had butchered the day before.

In the day's last mainstage presentation, master of creativity Pierre Gagnaire and his team created six innovative on-the-fly dishes using ingredients in a mystery basket that were revealed only moments before the presentation began. In the most packed session of the day, the audience sat on the edge of their seats watching the chef in a flurry of slicing, dicing, searing, and sauteeing. Chef Bart Vandaele was a humorous narrator for the event, delivering a play by play on what Gagnaire was doing. Several times, Vandaele observed it was clear that Gagnaire's wheels were turning up until the moment he plated each dish. It was fascinating to say the least watching  this creative process in the works

by Amanda McDougall, Katherine Martinelli, Emily Bell, Carolina Daza Carreño, and Francis Joven