The night before the 2017 StarChefs Colorado Rising Stars Awards Ceremony took place, Symrise hosted a private roundtable discussion featuring some of Colorado's most prominent names in the food and beverage industry. Participants included: Chef Max MacKissock from Bar Dough, Chef Cindhura Reddy from Spuntino, Bartender and General Manager Austin Carson of Mizuna, Pastry Chef Alberto Hernandez from Boulder's Frasca Food & Wine and Pizzeria Locale, and Community Chef Kelly Whitaker of Basta.
Twenty-first century conversations—at the office, gym, happy hour and dinner table—frequently circle back to our real-yet-virtual discussions posted on social media. It should come as no surprise that the era of viral shares and instant gratification also has the potential to affect the art and industry of the food we serve.
As of January 2017, Facebook alone captivates 1,870 million active users around the world—making it the most popular platform by a landslide of nearly 1 million more users than it’s closest competitor, WhatsApp, reports Statista. When one considers how the average household chef discovers a new recipe, Pinterest and Instagram seem like streamlined go-to tools with countless captures of delicious creations—a.k.a. food porn—to fuel kitchen inspiration.
“Everybody has a voice now with social media. There’s a voice and arena to see new ideas, but the bad part is that some of the off-the-wall ideas don’t work,” says Chef Max MacKissock from Bar Dough in Denver. A handful of variables—including the city’s recent restaurant boom, a widespread promotion of novice chefs, and fresh concepts that are driven by social media—can lead to seemingly on-fire trends that fizzle out or that lack a progressive element.
Longstanding trend or not, tinkering with new creations comes with inevitable growing pains before success.
“Spuntino is a restricted menu: we have a tiny ‘easy-bake oven,’” explains Chef Cindhura Reddy from Spuntino in Denver. “On average, it takes a couple of weeks to work out the kinks in a new menu item. Running it as a special helps, and when it gets to the menu at the end of 2-3 weeks, we feel confident about execution and consistency,” she says.
And sometimes, a creator needs to give a new idea a shot before realizing the need to let it go: “At one point, I said, ‘I want to churn butter’—two weeks later, I said ‘We’re not going to churn butter,’” Reddy shares, met by laughter.
The paradox of the digital age is that when chefs embrace the transparency and share their new ideas, the dialogue can lead to not just healthy competition but also to greater improvements. In other words, collaboration and community can lead to enhanced success, according to some of the state’s most esteemed culinary leaders.
“I remember a generation of French chefs that didn’t want to share anything, and I was amazed that your generation is very open. How can you leverage and integrate collaboration in your creative process?” Emmanuel Laroche, Symrise VP Marketing & Consumer Insight Driven Innovation, asks MacKissock, Reddy and the three other panelists: Boulder-based Community Chef Kelly Whitaker from Basta and Pastry Chef Alberto Hernandez from Frasca Food & Wine and Pizzeria Locale; as well as Denver’s Mizuna Bartender and General Manager Austin Carson.
“I want Colorado and Denver as a whole to get better. I think it can be better when people move here and collaborate and bring new ideas to the table. We make each other better. My wife has five restaurants—going on six—and internally we plan on what we want to do for seasonal dishes,” explains MacKissock and adds, “We are very transparent now. With the Internet, you can find any recipe, so why not just share?”
The type of competition that’s fostered in a collaborative network can be a healthy stimulus for innovation.
“There’s a level of competitiveness that’s starting to come up,” says Whitaker. “With maturity and professionalism, you realize that there are different perspectives. Chefs are realizing that if we are going to keep pushing the food forward and making Denver better, then we need to share ideas.”
Hernandez agrees, “Let’s be better together. Don’t be jealous about your recipes,” then shares how he creates his to-die-for pistachio and basil cake. The dessert is draped with a cucumber sauce, honeydew, tonic syrup and pecorino with strawberry and raspberry sorbet. The real secret sauce, though, is that he pops the cake in the microwave for 40 seconds for the ideal texture.
Met with a collective gasp, he says, “Yes, I use a microwave in my cooking. I know a lot of people who are like, ‘You shouldn’t use a microwave,’ but I like it.”
That’s why sharing secrets is so much fun: they always take us by surprise, regardless of whether or not we choose to master the culinary trick on our own.
This is article one of a two-part installation from the Symrise-Star Chefs Colorado Roundtable...Check back next week!