Cooking Honest: The Power of Authenticity in the Kitchen
The 9th annual International Chefs’ Congress kicked off as they always do, with hands-on workshops led by some of the world’s best chefs. Right out of the gate, New York favorite Paul Liebrandt gave us “Idiosyncracy, Imagination and Presentation at the Elm”, in which he demonstrated how to make a favorite dessert: the Gold Bar. While he worked and taught at the front, this lucky auditor tried his hand at plating the coated ganache, gilding it with leafs of gold, green and violet.
From The Restaurant at Meadowood, Matt Tinder walked us through his panettone recipe in “La Dolce Biga: Techniques with an Italian Starter.” Tinder elucidated on how much work and time goes in to creating his delicious chocolate bread, and we got to sample some by the end.
The second round of workshops featured Charleston, South Carolina’s Mike Lata showing how to be both frugal and creative while using the bounty of the sea.
The neighboring pastry workshop from San Francisco’s William Werner of Craftsman and Wolves was an exercise in community as he took the attendees on a ride from Boutique to the plate. At the end of the session he insisted on a group photo of the participants.
In between workshops and the Opening Ceremony on the main stage, we milled about the showroom floor with industry professionals. Books were signed, tastes were tested and photos were taken.
Some highlights from this first day on the floor include Arcobaleno’s pasta extruder in the steady, gluten-free hands of the young guns from Charcoal BYOB (PA) with Alex Talbot (Ideas in Food, NH), Winston Industries’ collaboration with chef Annie Pettry (Decca, KY) and Alto-Shaam’s coop with chef Francis Derby (The Cannibal/Resto, NY). Marra Forni pizza ovens put on a good show before the main stage festivities with chef Elizabeth Falkner behind the pies.
New Zealand’s Kiwi Kitchen hit all the right notes with chef Jason Roberts’ Öra-King’s sustainably farmed salmon tartar and some of the most incredible oysters that we have ever tasted – the Tio Points. These were heavy with minerals and unique brine that spoke of a distinctively delicious merroir.
Top Chef winner, Nicholas Elmi of Lauel in Philadelphis prepared a favbulous tasting menu for a few lucky show-goers at the Steelite Booth. There was plenty more that we didn’t get to taste for lack of time and space in our quickly filled stomachs, and we regret any omissions hereafter.
At 2:00 on the main stage, Will Blunt and Antoinette Bruno came onstage to officially open this year’s Congress. The 9th Annual ICC was about “Cooking Honest”; each presenter’s goal would be to share with the audience an aspect of their culinary voice that makes it indisputably and indispensably theirs: their heritage, their personal history, their innovations and techniques. Judging by the murmurs of the crowd, this was gonna be a good one.
Next up, identifying the culinary trends that have cropped up around the country over the past year:
The Dominance of the South – home cooked honesty.
Dirt – Husk’s soil-based wine list, edible clay and soil soup.
Dim Sum – Lightening the service load.
Butchery’s Evolution – Woodlands pork, Spike Gjerde, and the new world of meats in America.
Beyond the Somm – The evolution of the wine program
The Terroir of Coffee – The new café sommeliers
Pastry Entrepreneurship + the Techniques of Humble Desserts – Cuisine’s innovators are back to basics and making it on their own.
James Briscione of The institute of Culinary Education in NYC, was the emcee of the opening day. He had the pleasure of introducing and moderating the presentations of the day’s main stage speakers.
Dan Barber of Blue Hill has long been known in the industry as an innovator, proudly and publicly pushing for change in our current agronomy to a localized system that highlights regional diversity and sustainability without genetic modification and antibiotics. Not to simplify the matter too much, he wants a food system that we can count on and feel good about, not only because it protects the environment and our own well-being, but also because the food produced by this system tastes great.
With Michael Mazourek, a horticulturist at Cornell University, and Steve Jones and Jonathan Bethony of the Bread Lab at Washington State University, Barber wowed us with the endless possibilities of today’s horticulture. The Cornell team has bred countless varieties of vegetables to adapt to environments in which they might not normally grow, or to resist certain new diseases, or even to taste and look better and more appealing for a certain fine-dining restaurant. And they’ve done this naturally, using genetic sequencing to identify, not modify the genes responsible for these various traits.
The Bread Lab team has done similar things with grains in the Northwest, but has taken it a step farther in the production process to identify certain techniques and recipes to make delicious bread with only 5 ingredients, instead of the double-digit ingredient lists found in most commercial and industrial breads today. This work could revolutionize the American agricultural system, but programs like Dr. Mazourek’s and Dr. Jones’ have been facing diminishing budgets for decades. It’s up to us to fight for change at the governmental level to ensure their work can continue.
For George Mendes, Head Chef of Aldea, cooking honest starts by looking inside. Too many chefs forget this essential part of the process, looking instead for inspiration in their peers’ cookbooks and restaurants. Looking inside entails looking into your cultural heritage and your youth, and remembering those everyday meals that set your experience apart from the rest. Looking inside asks that you dig a little deeper into your history, through traveling to your ancestral country or village and learning from the people and history that still live there. For Chef Mendes, looking inside requires that you dig with in your own experience, and that you get creative with it. That’s the way to cook honestly. To accompany the big ideas in this presentation, Chef Mendes showed us some inspiring, traditional Portuguese preparations of day-old bread (one a soup with dashi and cod-skin puree, the other a traditional porridge with shrimp and soft quail eggs) and demoed his famous duck rice.
Day one of the Congress continued on a somber note, with Chefs Homaru Cantu (Moto, Chicago), Michael Taus (Zealous, Chicago) and Norman van Aken (In the Kitchen with Norman van Aken, Miami) onstage to celebrate Charlie Trotter, one of the most important American chefs in our time. A famous innovator, he created the Chef’s Table and played with vegetables like no one else in Chicago.
A famous perfectionist, his kitchen turned out some of the most important talents of this generation, like John Shields, Matthias Merges and Homaru Cantu amongst a host of others. And now, to honor his legacy, this trio VanAken, Cantu and Taus announced The Trotter Project, a philanthropic organization that features education initiatives, technological solutions to modern food problems and an online restaurant database that aims to have the most innovative and organic rating system on the Internet. You can find more about this fascinating not-for-profit at thetrotterproject.org.
The program continued on a sweeter note with the return to NYC of Room For Dessert. Will Goldfarb opened his dessert bar in NYC to great critical acclaim, but ultimately closed it and moved to Bali to continue his career in a tropical paradise. He has since re-opened Room For Dessert, but in Bali. His presentation focused on the use of palm sugar as a means for making special meringues.
The day finished with a knowckout presentation by Japanese master, Yoshihiro Narisawa of Narisawa in Tokyo. His presentation highlighted the culinary art of ancient Japan at the contemporary table.
That does it for our Coverage of Day 1. For a plethora of photos from Day One, please click here for the Docsconz Flick’r Photoset. Check back soon for updates from Grant Achatz, Enrique Olvera and Joan Roca!