Open Source Cooking: The New Era of Collaboration and Connectivity was the theme of this year’s StarChefs International Chef Conference (ICC) (http://www.starchefs.com/cook/events/icc/2015) held October 25-27 at the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint Brooklyn. It was the conference’s tenth year and there seemed to be a heightened sense of accomplishment, pride and camaraderie in the room as a result (the assortment of memorable food and cocktails helped: more about that in a later post).
Chefs gathered from all over the globe and included José Andrés of Washington, DC’s minibar, Michel Bras of the French-based Restaurant Bras, Virgilio Martinez of Lima’s Central, Aki Kamozawa and Alex Talbot of Levittown, PA-based Ideas in Food, Mario Sandoval of Madrid’s Coque and Daniela Soto-Innes of New York’s Cosme, among others.
Antoinette Bruno, the Editor-in-Chief of StarChefs started off the conference discussing the major trends she and her team have seen (and eaten!) in her annual Culinary Trends Report.
- Pastry has gone funky: “Fermentation and pastry have gotten comfortably in bed together,” said Bruno, citing Chicago's Little Goat Diner where Chef Mathew Rice makes a miso-butterscotch budino. Another example of the strange bedfellows: Pastry Chef Mina Pizarro of New York’s Juni who ferments oats for a chocolate-lovage dessert. And in Kirkland, WA you’ll find shio koji gelato created by Pastry Chef Junko Mine of Cafe Juanita.
- Milling is a movement: Chefs and pastry chefs are using an ever-widening array of grains with small scale milling operations cropping up coast to coast. And it’s not just chefs and bakers that are taking to grains; the beverage industry is also taking embracing this trend. The “hot” item of the moment is porridge with unexpected flavors turning up in welcome treats. At Gastropod in Miami, for example, they are serving soured pumpernickel porridge, while at Elizabeth in Chicago, they offer amaranth porridge.
- It’s tea-time: American chefs, pastry chefs and bartenders are using tea across all categories. At Clio in Boston, Chef Zachary Watkins garnishes a dish of uni, mushroom, and fried garlic with a dried aromatic tea while in New Orleans, Bartender Jonathan Shock of Square Root infuses Macchu Pisco with white tea. Chicago Pastry Chef Ana Posey makes a vacharin with sweet tea ice cream, tea-compressed green almonds, and tea-infused olive oil while Seattle Chef Brandt Bishop smokes scallops with black tea at Canon. And in Portland, Maine, Bartender Trevin Hutchins of Tempo Dulu at The Danforth Inn infuses gin with jasmine tea, something participants got to sample at the ICC Congress Cocktail Monday night.
- The Middle Eastern pantry spices things up: Like tea, this “hot” trend crosses all categories. At Erika Burke's Chop Shop (Seattle, WA), for example, olive oil poached octopus is spiked with chermoula, while at 80 Thoreau (Boston, MA), Pastry Chef Katherine Hamilburg makes a blood orange ras-el-hanout consommé. Further west, Chef Aaron Barnett of St. Jack in Portland, Oregon, dowses a smoked Scallop Carpaccio in harrissa-welk vinaigrette.
- Ramen gets personal: There’s more originality to the dish, representing the individual ramen master. This trend was represented with StarChefs inaugural Ramen Battle featuring Jamison Blankenship of Bar Chuko, Richie Nakano of San Francisco's Happa Ramen, and Mihoko Obunai of Mibo Ramen (Atlanta, GA).
- Large-format plates add a more festive and communal dining experience: Chefs are building on the learned behavior of the small plates movement and serving large format menu items with dishes such as paella or a half a hog. At Sycamore (Newton, MA), Chefs David Punch and Lydia Reichert serve a Duck Board on which guests share roasted, glazed, confit-ed, and smoked duck. And at the Four Seasons Boston, diners are served a whole opera cake.
- Veiled and hidden plating plays peek-a-boo: Surprise plating is something chefs are having fun with. At Canlis (Seattle, WA), guests have to break into an almost brain-like shell to dig into Pastry Chef Baruch Ellsworth's banana-chocolate-peanut-miso dessert. Ditto at Natalie's in Maine where Pastry Chef Brian Song composes Dulce de Leche, Walnut Cake, and Tarragon, buried in cinnamon-chocolate soil. At Alter in Miami, Chef Brad Kilgore places a spoonful of caviar on sea scallop espuma that is quickly swallowed up, disappearing into the chive, truffle pearls, and Gruyere underneath. At ICC, pastry guru William Werner of Craftsman & Wolves (San Francisco, CA) demonstrated how to make “The Rebel Within,” a savory muffin with a soft-cooked egg hidden inside.
- Vegetarian goes mainstream: No longer the oddballs for the hippie set, vegetarian food is now inconspicuously meat-free, elegantly technique-driven, and soulfully satisfying. Leading the way are New York chefs like Joseph Buenconsejo of Wassail, Elise Kornack of Take Root, Brooks Headley of Superiority Burger, and José Ramírez-Ruiz and Pam Yung of Semilla.
- Stretching sustainability: From culinary giant Michel Bras to New York City’s rising Andrew Whitcomb (Colonie), chefs from all over the world are focused on the almighty locally-sourced vegetable. Sustainability is quickly becoming an extension of the “farm to table” movement with chefs like Melissa Kelly of Primo (Rockland, ME) opening restaurants-farms—sourcing their menus from the greenhouses, animals, and honeybees raised on site. Canning, pickling, and fermenting helps capture and keep what chefs are harvesting throughout the seasons. It doesn’t get any more local.
- Spanish and Asian influences continue to be ever-present: Last year’s areas of influence are still going strong, with chefs, pastry chefs and bartenders experimenting with more intense flavors. Trevi Hutchins, mixologist at Tempo Dulu (Portland, ME), extends the restaurant’s Asian-fusion concept to the beverage program, creating a sake snow cone, complete with ginger, yuzi and smoked pineapple, topped with salmon caviar and a Laphroaig whiskey mist. Iron Chef Jose Garces of Amada (Philadelphia, PA) further discussed how chefs are influenced by Spanish and Latin America cuisine because of the growing Spanish-speaking population.
- Smoke is the new flavor: If you’re thinking woody flavors like mesquite and hickory, you’ve got it all wrong. Newly created “smoke” flavors are popping up in ganaches, pastrami, and cocktails, infusing flavors from teas and spices right into the dish.
- Classic cocktails are king: Mixologists and craft cocktail creators put new spins on old favorites like Negronis, Manhattans, and Old-Fashioneds. The popularity of gin, rye, and whiskey continues to rise; this threesome is a must-have in any bonafide beverage program.
- Interest in cider bubbles up: The industry is beginning to realize the versatility and depth of this relatively inexpensive category. Wassail on New York’s Lower East Side, for example, is New York's first dedicated cider bar, while tiki-focused Cane and Table (New Orleans, LA) struts its stuff with an exceptionally deep list of Basque Ciders.
- The beverage industry moves away from IPA: The craft beer industry in America is following a similar path to that of wine. California wines got bigger and bigger and higher in alcohol until the bubble burst. Now brewers are moving away from the over hopped IPA and experimenting with lower ABV and more diverse flavor profiles. Chicago's Off Color and Seattle's Holy Mountain are leaders in this trend.
Stay tuned for many more posts on the 10th Annual Starchefs ICC on in-sight!
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