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International Chefs Congress 2007 Welcome Address

by CEO & Editor-In-Chief Antoinette Bruno

September 17, 2007

Good morning, and welcome to the 2nd annual International Chefs Congress — A Kitchen Without Boundaries. We are thrilled to welcome over 1000 culinary professionals from all corners of the globe to this venue for education and discourse.

This year StarChefs turned 12 years old. Take a moment and recall the American culinary industry 12 years ago, in 1995: it was all about Asian Fusion — there was little to no talk of Spain — pervading culinary thought was French. There was no internet presence — the media was print-focused, and very few print publications focused on restaurants. Needless to say, information spread more slowly.

And look at us today: Japanese, Spanish, Brazilian, Australian, Southwest American, Mexican and more — all together under one roof. Indeed, in the last 12 years, a dialogue about global cuisine has emerged. Each chef, country, and ingredient can take pride in its impact. Vadouvan sorbet and Australian rock lobster …Woflberry and lime flower sabayon …this are the range of dishes appearing here on this stage and in restaurants around the world.

The content at this year’s congress will run the gamut — techniques and tools, classic cuisine and cutting-edge — but the special focus this year is Ingredients: Conceptualization and Cooking. The ingredient inspires every dish. The difference is in the chef’s approach — whether to “cook” it in a vacuum or place it in the lyophilizer, or to use a delicate hand to keep it as close as possible to its harvested state, or — as we see more and more often — do a bit of both!

As we put together this year’s program, we heard comments about the number of science-focused presentations. It’s “all science,” we were told, “and I don’t cook that way.” But science is everywhere. It’s a way to understand the process of cooking — to delve deeper into the ingredient — and this leads a chef in many directions. For Wylie Dufresne and Alex Stupak, it may be using pectin to form an encapsulating gel rather than alginate, because it has a better flavor release. For Andoni Luis Aduriz it may mean using the scent compounds of a particular flower or plant to open your mind to new pairings.

Southwestern pioneer Stephan Pyles uses science in the kitchen — in his workshop yesterday he explained the makeup of chilies and the Scoville Scale, and how to use this knowledge to better understand how to temper the chilies’ heat, what flavors to pair with them, how to manipulate them, and so on.

You’ll find this mixing of scientists and artisans, traditions and machines, at the Products Fair on this floor. We spend the year recruiting exhibitors and sponsors whom we feel are relevant to you — there are large and small equipment manufacturers like Jade, Winston, Vitamix and Irinox, who makes blast-chillers. There are purveyors of artisan goods — Xroads Philippine sea salt, Japanese Wagyu Master, Millissime oils. And there are those that have both, like Le Sanctuaire, that sources spices from around the world, plus some of the most exciting new tools. There is food, plus an array of wines and spirits, all meant to expand your horizons and inspire.

We’d like to thank our sponsors for making this event possible — none of this could happen without you! A special thank you to our initial founding sponsors — Jade, Hobart and Nespresso — whose support has been essential to making our vision possible.

This patronage enables our forum, bringing chefs together with their peers, the people that make their equipment, and the people that grow their ingredients. The goal is to spark a dialogue — this was also the aim of yesterday’s School Lunch presentation by Anne Cooper, and the lunch lottery, and round-table discussion that followed: to create a dialogue between restaurant chefs and school chefs, and ignite positive changes.

I’d like to thank the Sam Tell Companies for making the congress kitchens a reality and for helping solve problems along the way to make this Congress even better than the last. And I’d like to thank our Congress Advisory Board, especially Norman Van Aken, Marcus Samuelsson, Wylie Dufresne, Sam Mason, Iacopo Falai, Todd Gray, Ken Oringer, Josh DeChellis, Paul Liebrandt and Daniel Boulud for their invaluable input over the years.

Thank you to all the presenting chefs, to our culinary director George Mendes, to my partner Will Blunt, and to the hardworking, resourceful team at for helping us create this venue for discourse, education, and growth.

Our industry is one of the largest and fastest-growing in the country. Each year StarChefs surveys its readers to learn more about who you are, what you’re doing, and what you expect from the future.

We pulled some Congress attendance statistics to give you a better idea of your peers here today: over 50% of you attending this congress are from Fine Dining outlets. 63% of you attended culinary school, and 35% of you have worked in the industry for over 16 years. A solid half of you are executive chefs or chef/owners.

These stats are almost exactly the same as those for StarChefs’ readership: 85% of our readers work in the back of the house. 2/3 are chefs, and 1/3 of that group are executive chefs. 3/4 are male, and 3/4 have attended culinary school.

As our readers look forward, well over half of them — 60% — see ownership in their future. A quarter of that group hope to own a small fine dining restaurant. 7% want to own a pastry shop. 8% want to own a bar or lounge, and over 15% want to expand: to one day be the chef/owner of more than one restaurant, or even a franchise.

If ownership or partnership is your dream, Adam Block can tell you how to make it a reality in his business seminar tomorrow morning, entitled “The Art of the Deal.” And he knows what works: he’s brokered restaurant deals for Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller, and Eric Ripert, to name a few.

As we all know, succeeding in the industry is not just about cooking good food. It takes business savvy, media savvy, and a plan. Block’s clients are household names — but they didn’t get that way overnight. Along with years of hard work came a savvy media strategy: cookbooks, websites, appearances, PR. 32% of our chefs have published or consulted on a cookbook, and 22% have appeared on TV. 77% of chefs’ restaurants have a website, but only 12% have a publicist. 26% do their own PR …but what are the rest of you doing? Opening your restaurants and just waiting for diners to come?

We’ve brought media coach Linda Pelaccio to empower you to take the initiative with the media, and yesterday Ann Bramson of Artisan, literary agent Lisa Queen, writer Jeffrey Steingarten and Chef Grant Achatz were here to tell you the realities of publishing a cookbook.

The idea of media exposure, of course, is to grow your diners. Diners that return every time the menu changes, or even before the menu’s changed, are one mark of a successful restaurant AND an important part of a steady revenue. We often talk about the bottom line — the revenue you have to make to keep your business afloat — and how to reach that goal. One of the fastest-growing areas of the culinary industry is the wine and spirits segment — tapping into this market is also one the best ways to increase your numbers — of diners, and of revenue. 66% of respondents said they don’t have a mixology program at their restaurant. That means over half of you are missing an easy way to significantly increase your bottom line! Mixology is picking up speed in big and small cities across the country; in celebration of the growing discipline, we’ve brought together some of the brightest and most creative names in culinary mixology to lead a series of intimate, hands-on workshops. If you didn’t catch Adam Seger’s greenmarket cocktails and Junior Merino’s cocktail and food pairing workshop yesterday, be sure not to miss Jason Kosmas today or Albert Trummer tomorrow.

69% of chefs said they have a wine program at their restaurant, but only 32% have a sommelier. This means a lot of you are building your own program. Educate yourselves: today Scott Mayger from Telepan in New York will run a tasting workshop on Australian wines, and tomorrow Steven Olson will guide you through Sherry pairing.

Another revenue point: the cost of entrees continues to rise. 34% of chefs charge between $25-$33 for an entrée — this is 10% more chefs than last year. 14% of chefs charge over $34 for an entrée — 20% more chefs than last year.

This has been a big year for pastry. The definition of pastry is changing; pastry chefs like Pichet Ong, Alex Stupak and Will Goldfarb are redefining the flavors — and the business — of pastry and savory, and are here at the Congress sharing what they are doing.

Yet at the same time as this dramatic and exciting progress, there is a nation-wide dearth of pastry chefs. We’ve heard a lot of you in savory complain how hard it has been to find someone to run pastry. Only 41% of chef respondents have a pastry chef — the rest do it themselves or buy-in. Opportunist pastry chefs found a way to profit from pastry chef shortages — 11% of our surveyed pastry chefs began selling wholesale in the past year.

47% of our respondents view food as art, while 50% say their plating style is “simpler, home-style plating.” Half of our respondents either use, or are interested in using, custom plate ware or service ware — so be sure to check out the high-end dinnerware we’ve brought to our products fair.

As for the ingredients, which are the focus of the congress, after all, 65% of chefs said they focus on locally grown, seasonal ingredients. 56% said that over half of their produce is seasonal, and 33% source over half their produce from local purveyors.

As for techniques, 20% say they are currently integrating new, innovative equipment into their repertoire, and 20% have done so in the past. As for the tools that many consider standard: 27% of respondents use smokers, 22% use Low-Temp Cooking and 14% use sous vide — a reminder that these tools are not as “standard” as we think.

Sous vide, which began as a mainly industrial technique then spread to fine dining, will be the subject of a presentation by Joel Robuchon and Bruno Goussault, who is considered the inventor of the technique, and has helped to design and build five industrial sous vide cooking facilities in the US, France, Chile, Brazil, and Norway.

For the 2nd year in a row, the majority of respondents said that South America would be the region whose flavors and ingredients most influence the culinary arts in the coming year. Yesterday we had two ambassadors of Latin flavors host hands-on workshops: Stephan Pyles, and Carmen “Titita” of El Bajio in Mexico City, taught some notable American chefs about traditional Mexican sauces using black chipotle mecos and piloncillo. Tomorrow, Brazillian chef Alex Atala will delve into the indigenous ingredients of the Amazon in his presentation “Welcome to the Jungle.” Like with the past decade’s influx of Asian and Spanish ingredients, this region’s flavors, products and techniques are coming into their own on a global stage.

Long gone is the fear of food too esoteric. As consumers learn more about food, they ask more about food. This challenges chefs to explain, and sometimes re-think, the day-to-day choices made in their kitchens. We are a young culinary nation, whose enthusiasm for cuisine is growing exponentially by the year. But the trans fats ban in New York and the nation-wide foie gras debate reveal a discrepancy in this nation’s cultural and gastronomic commitments — where is the food industry taking us, and who is in control?

One last acknowledgement, to StarChefs’ original founders The answer is: you. You are the leaders — what you do in your restaurants has an impact on the rest of the industry. The presentations, techniques, ingredients and flavor combinations that you experiment with trickle down into other foodservice areas: quickservice, hospitals, corporate dining rooms and schools. And thanks to your influence, there has never been a better time to cook — and eat — in America

On that note, I’d like to introduce our keynote speaker, writer and de facto food historian David Kamp, a gastronomic and cultural optimist who is here to talk about the evolution and positive state of American food. Kamp has been a writer and contributing editor for Vanity Fair and GQ for more than a decade. His book, The United States of Arugula: How We Became A Gourmet Nation, is a humorous and intellectual cultural history of the last century of American food that follows the culinary characters that helped move us from, quote “a food phobic nation of tinned Spam and Wonder Bread to a technicolor foodie dreamland of …sushi in supermarkets …extra virgin olive oil, artisanal bacon, celebrity chefs and so on.”

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...Published: September, 2007