2010 International Chefs Congress Wrap-Up: Main Stage Day One

2010 International Chefs Congress Wrap-Up: Main Stage Day One

Keynote Keynote Address
StarChefs.com kicked off day one of the fifth annual 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 2010 Trends Report.

‘Is cooking an art, craft, or something else?’ Michael Ruhlman set the stage for three prominent American chefs: Dan Barber, Thomas Keller, and David Kinch, who debated the answer to whether a chef is an artist or a craftsman. The audience was full of excitement as Ruhlman opened the debate. Keller strongly stated, ‘I have never considered myself an artist; I am not an artist, I am a craftsman.’ He continuously argued that his work is a craft perfected with repetition, and with the goal of nurturing his guests. Barber said, ‘I'm not going to contradict Keller’ and stated that he perceived his work as finding a balance between being an artist and being talented at his own craft, while Kinch referred to food as music. Before concluding, the microphone was passed to audience member Jeffrey Steingarten, who restated that what chefs do is repetition of a dish to reach uniformity in the kitchen, rather than art. The debate brought mixed feelings, especially as to the future of young chefs aspiring to become artists.

Dan Hunter flew more than 30 hours, passed US customs with fresh Australian herbs, and joined us in a fascinating journey across his homeland. From a small town in the southeast of Australia, Hunter presented three dishes representing nature, expressing his Australian identity. Salt bush, sea parsley, lemongrass, and truffles, were some of the ingredients that Hunter highlighted in his demonstrated dishes. His culinary compositions were simple, with hints of citrus, and focused on the earth.

Dominique Persoone Dominique Persoone
And in their highly interactive Main Stage presentation Pastry Chef Dominique Persoone and Food Scientist Bernard Lahousse shared the latest innovations in food pairing. By analyzing the flavor components of different ingredients they map out what other flavors match, based on shared components. In this way, they discovered that chocolate matches with grass, tequila, rainwater, and even oysters. Since 80% of our taste is olfactory, they sprayed the air with the odor of fresh grass while at the same time showing a video of a lawn being cut. Each audience member bit into a chocolate with a liquefied grass center. Similar experiments with oyster fillings and tequila were surprises for the participants. What a show!

For his Main Stage presentation Chef Daniel Patterson of Coi, (San Francisco, CA) spoke about his drive to capture the fleeting and “ephemeral” nature of the perfect dish. He demonstrated two dishes that capture the cuisine of place that has become his signature style; the first, oysters wrapped in a gel made from their own juices on a bed of lemon ice and wheat grass ice and sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper and lemon zest. He reminisced about how wheat grass became an ingredient on his menu—transitioning in his mind from a kooky West Coast health shot to a usable ingredient with a unique flavor profile that’s fresh, vegetal, and licorice-like. The second dish was his upside-down tomato tart with pesto, cherry tomatoes, tomato foam, and a dehydrated black olive “crust.” When asked by an audience member how he defines a perfect dish, he said—after a thoughtful pause—that a dish is perfect when it has an internal logic; when taste, texture, temperature, and flavors combine in that one moment—an ideal synergy.

Tom Aiken Tom Aiken
Tom Aikens of London's Tom Aikens and Tom’s Kitchen demonstrated a dish from his restaurant for his Main Stage presentation: lamb loin marinated in sheep curd and cooked sous vide with olive crumb. A big supporter of sous vide, Aikens recalled using the technique while working under Joel Robuchon in Paris in the nineties, without the benefit of the modern immersion circulator. Nowadays, “if you want to save on time and save on mistakes in cooking, in terms of labor, you can’t beat [sous vide]—[it’s] the saving grace of a chef,” said Aikens. As he marinated the lamb in sheep curd to tenderize the meat, he discussed how kitchens now differ from his French training. “The two chefs I learned the most from were Joel Robuchon and Pierre Koffman,” he stated and went on to describe the rigorous training he received under Robuchon, the stress of creating his signature mashed potatoes, and what he took away from the experience. “The way kitchens are run now is very different from when I was training. Now we communicate as a team. It’s very important for a chef to have a relationship with his porter, with his chef de partie, with his dishwasher,” he said. After breading the lamb with sheep curd and olive crumbs and finishing it in the oven, Aikens plated it with olive paste, mashed potatoes with sheep milk cheese, and more olive crumb.

Assistant White House Chef Sam Kass was the surprise evening guest speaker. He gave an impassioned speech, pointing out that “the number one reason to cook is to sustain and nourish,” and as such, chefs are in the ideal position to solve the problems of childhood obesity by supporting First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative to boost childhood nutrition and solve the problem of juvenile obesity. Representatives from All-Clad voiced their support of the program by donating kits to thousands of schools across the country enlisted in Chefs Move. StarChefs.com Managing Editor Will Blunt and Editor-in-Chief Antoinette Bruno challenged all the chefs in the audience to adopt a school as part of the Chef’s Move to Schools initiative. Go to www.letsmove.gov to sign up now!

Quebecois Chef Normand Laprise of Toqué! and his team including Chef de Cuisine Charles-Antoine Crete joked with the audience, but demonstrated in earnest their philosophy of maximizing every product with multiple culinary applications. As an example, they brought a series of products made from their preserved seasonal tomatoes, including tomato caramel, tomato paste and tomato chips. “I preserve 2000 pots of tomatoes in season,” said Laprise, and the mise en place of tomato was ample proof that they put them to good use. Crete prepared a Spanish mackerel dish glazed with vegetable marinade, showing what a true “cuisine du terroir” is all about.

by Jessica Dukes with Carolina Daza Carreno, Katherine Martinelli, Amanda McDougall, and Francoise Villeneuve