Imbibe and Inspire – An Interview With Stephen Torres

Stephen Torres - Photo by Evan Sung

Stephen Torres – Photo by Evan Sung

“What inspires the people who inspire” is the theme behind the website Imbibe and Inspire, the brainchild of culinarian Stephen Torres. In the fall of 2013, Torres and a few of his friends took a major step and put on his first ever one-day culinary conference in Chicago on the Roots of American Foodways with the likes of Will Guidara, Paul Liebrandt, Alex Stupak and a host of others engaging in TED-like talks on the origins of American Foodways.

This year, the event put together by Torres,  promises more of the same with a focus on honoring a true giant of American gastronomy, the aptly named Jeremiah Tower. From the press release:

In its second year, Torres has brought about programming that addresses the question, “What is American Food?” “I created this conference because there are so many interesting things happening in American food. We scratched the surface last year and now,  the sky is the limit.

The conference will consist of a series of lectures and panel discussions, including a round table talk with some of the great forefathers of American cuisine– Frank Stitt, Larry Forgione and Jeremiah Tower.

Tower will be the honoree at this year’s conference for his contribution to American cuisine. Each day of programming will conclude with a  75-person dinner prepared by the participating chefs.

I recently had a chance to get some more insight into Torres and his event. Here is my interview:

Docsconz:    Please tell me about yourself. When did you first find that you had a passion for food and wanted to build a career around it? 

Torres: I was a very picky kid so I was not exposed to a lot of fresh produce and different cuisines. My diet consisted of grilled cheeses, tomato soup and McDonald’s. Somehow when I was 14 I started cooking at a Mexican restaurant and have never really left the industry since. In high school I use to throw parties around food and drinks (mostly beer)  (dont tell my mother!) but I think seeing how it brought people together to hang out, talk and dance was a huge factor. I love the social aspect that food and drinks bring. Very much the way, somehow, everyone always ends up in the kitchen talking at family gatherings.

Docsconz:    What has been your career path so far?

Torres: I started the website Imbibe & Inspire about 2 1/2 years ago and this will be the second year the conference will be held. I have always worked in restaurants (FOH), most recently at Torrisi Italian Specialties. I think that is such a special restaurant. The dishes that Dan Haar and now Anthony (present and former CDCs) create are so well executed and delicious. The way that restaurant has evolved is very cool as well. I have been focusing on these different events for the past year now. The freedom to travel and go different places is great but I do miss working in a restaurant.

Docsconz: What are your long-term objectives?

Torres: My long term objectives for the conference is to be on par with MAD & MesAmérica as far as relevance and impact. I am not very familiar with MesAmérica but I think I have a good idea from your coverage : ) I am not a chef so I do not think that what I am doing could ever surpass what Enrique and Rene do but I will continue to keep pushing with new ideas. Honestly, its Redzepis world, I think everyone else is just trying to keep up. I truly believe that his impact on gastronomy will one day be greater then Ferran’s.

Docsconz:   Please tell me about the Conference. Is there a particular theme? 

Torres: I am so proud of this year’s conference. Last year I wanted to honor someone who I personally thought does not receive enough credit and that chef was Jeremiah Tower. He had commitments last year and couldn’t attend but he’s coming this year and I could not be happier. The chefs who are attending all have a story about Jeremiah’s legacy and career that inspired them. I have spoken to the participating chefs about him and it is so insane the reach that man has had on young cooks. I only read about it in books but to hear people I respect talk about his impact on American cuisine. Therefore the theme of the conference is “influences”.

Docsconz:    Who is your intended audience?

Torres: The intended audience for the conference is anyone who is interested in what is happening with our foodways with a special emphasis on young people who work in restaurants/bars. We have FOH professionals, bartenders and several other experts in their fields who are presenting this year, not only chefs.The most important thing to me is that everyone who leaves the conference whether its a participant or attendee is that they had fun.

Docsconz:   Why is this conference significant?

Torres: The conference is significant because it is an extension of what I set out to do almost 3 years ago. I want to give a platform to individuals doing amazing things in the culinary industry to reach people who would normally not have access to these people. I truly believe that there is nothing like this in the United States, maybe even the world. Rather then turning our attention outward, we are are facing inward. I think there is so much going on with american cuisine that we could talk about it for a long time.

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Watch for upcoming related interviews with Kyle Connaughton and Jeremiah Tower.

Click here for more information on this year’s Roots of American Food celebration as well as to purchase tickets.

The Roots of American Food

#americanfood2014

Sunday, September 7th and Monday, September 8th, 2014

Wyndham Grand Hotel, Chicago, IL

In partnership with Steelite International, Breville and Goose Island


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