Conference Beat™ – Culinary Change Maker Conferences: Chefs and Culinary Professionals – March 2014

Several notable conferences filled the early weeks of March; the Research Chefs Association (RCA) held their annual conference in Portland, Oregon and Women Chefs and Restaurateurs (WCR) and the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) both held national conferences in Chicago.


Those who attend these conferences are the culinary change makers on the forefront of innovation gathering to discuss and debate the trends.  Research and development chefs meet to explore, debate, and inspire each other with ideas and techniques that will drive menus and product development in the year to come and beyond.


Here are some of the hot topics of discussion at these conferences:



Trending Cuisines and Food Culture

Chefs and journalists were captivated with discussion of indigenous cuisines of the Americas as the next big trend.  One Native American chef suggested it should be considered the fourth mother cuisine along with French, Italian and Asian.  Discussed as vibrant, sophisticated and very broad based, these cuisines are widely varied because the vast geographic territory of the Americas provides very different ingredients.


In addition to Native American cuisine; contemporary fusion cuisines like Filipino are making their way onto casual menus in 2014.  While the cooking of the Philippines has been influenced by Malaysia, China, Spain, and even the U.S. during WWII, it makes for an authentic ethnic mash-up that is new and exciting for Americans unfamiliar with sour and bitter flavors.


Expect the flavors of Hungary, Turkey, Peru and Brazil to breathe new breath into our flavor repertoire in the coming years.



Plant Power

Embracing vegetables has been a trend for quite awhile; however, chefs today are exploring new ways to use vegetables on the menu.  They are taking a root to stalk approach and utilizing all parts of the plant.  This approach has both farmers and chefs excited as it opens the door to many new flavor profiles and application ideas.  Chefs are challenging farmers to plant more boutique produce and chefs are challenging themselves to come up with new and innovative menu ideas that will appeal to consumers without seeming too unique.




Protein of the Future

There was much discussion focused on the protein of tomorrow as sustainability is top of mind with chefs and food professionals.  Sourcing new cuts of meats and using under utilized protein sources such as non-traditional fish were among the culinary trends listed in the NRA What’s Hot 2014 survey. The buzz at IACP was about goat.  Goat is the number one protein source consumed around the globe, and is slowly gaining traction in the U.S. for health and flavor benefits.


Panelists at IACP are often on the cutting edge of what’s to come and one suggested considering insects as the next protein to hit the plate with some detail on the Queen Termite.



Rise of the Beverage Culture

There is no better city for a beverage tour than Portland, Oregon with the vibrant craft beverage culture.  Coffee is revered with a religious devotion, yet it is also home to one the finest tea makers in the country where a tea tasting can easily last over an hour guided by an expert.  Craft beers have their own cult following and are often paired with sophisticated menu offerings.  Mixologists or “bar chefs” have taken center stage attention in the craft cocktail culture and they are gaining new respect for imaginative use of ingredients and thoughtful recipes and techniques.



Food Halls are the new Food Court

Concepts like Eataly were discussed as the next generation of the food court that has the ability to fascinate the consumer with a total food experience as opposed to simply a fueling experience in high traffic locations.  Food halls are generally large, theme driven venues in high traffic areas, and there is talk the trend will last longer than “eatertainment” did.



Gen Next – Understanding Tomorrow’s Tastemakers

A 360˚ view of young consumers’ desires and impressions of restaurant dining today was featured in this session.  New consumer research from Y-Pulse and a panel of expert women chefs shared their experiences and insight on the subject of what kids really want.  The experts agreed that sometimes what parents think their children want couldn’t be farther from reality.  The overarching theme discussed was:  don’t underestimate kids; they are resilient and open to trying new foods.


The research showed that kids have a taste for restaurant dining, listing casual dining and quick service as their favorite places to eat away from home.  The research showed that kids are interested in foods that are higher in quality and are healthier for them.  Food is the driver for kids and the ability to customize it is what captures their loyalty in restaurants.  For a copy of the research presentation, send a request to






Multi-media artist, Douglas Gayeton introduced several new buzz words from his project The Lexicon of Sustainability.


–        Traceability:  knowing the origin of food all the way from the farm, sea, or forest back to the plate. This movement is becoming big in the seafood industry, tracing fish from the sea all the way to the consumer, in order to help combat seafood fraud.


–        Farm Fairies:  the idea of Farm Fairies encourages people to take their money out of Wall Street and start investing in farms and particularly young farmers.


–        Mobile Slaughterhouse:  it takes the expense of transporting livestock several miles out of the equation and helps make meat local.


–        Pastured Poultry:  the next breakthrough in the humane raising of chickens beyond cage free or free range.  Pastured poultry are truly free to roam the farm and live in spacious quarters.



Fighting Hunger

Altruistic discussions of hunger and food deserts make for heated discussions among journalists, chefs, activists and lobbyists.  The issue of obesity is now coupled with conversations of under nourishment which results from consumers who simply do not understand healthy eating.  At the end of the day, there was consensus that consumers empowered with a basic knowledge of cooking may be the greatest weapon against obesity and hunger.



Ferran Feeds our Minds

Ferran Adria’s opening session at IACP challenged the way a room full of culinary professionals think about food. Everything from the ease of cooking being a lie, to the role of the diner as chef, technique vs technology, and consumers ignorant of what is modern or traditional are just a few of the subjects that put his ebullient passion and creativity on display, and had the conference buzzing about these new notions.



Breaking Free of the Coupon Quagmire

The daily deal in restaurants has become the equivalent of a permanent price cut in many restaurant chains where coupons have created a culture of dependency that has done nothing to increase loyalty, but has served well to permanently lower prices.  Lots of menu ideas were shared to offer daily value with healthful and delicious foods that consumers cannot resist, to break the cycle.



Taste Talk Tweet

Twitter captured messages from the conference about local food systems, finding inspiration through exotic ethnic, healthy eating and sustainability.  In addition, a flurry

of tweets about chefs moving toward whole animal and stem to root preparation

flooded the feed; tweets regarding health and balance, boutique vegetables, under utilized protein, and creating value for all consumers were also expressed.
If you want to follow our observations in real time go to  The next conference we will cover is the Pizza Expo Show March 24-27, 2014.



Implications for Food Manufacturers:

  • Trend chasing does not equal customer satisfaction – although customers

crave variety and great taste, not every trend belongs in every restaurant or in every product category.


  • Doing some things incredibly well can be a much more successful menu and product strategy than innovation that comes with such velocity and frequency

that it leaves the consumer confused and out of sync with a brand.


  • Consumers don’t read science – nutrition information is important for

consumers but their minds are numbed by ubiquitous claims and they crave credible simplicity in the way information is presented.


  • Chefs in the board room is considered an imperative for leading chain

operations that understand their customers come for the food, and having

supply chain in the kitchen might not be the best long term strategy for menu success.


  • Traditional is the new progressive – old fashioned and handcrafted products

are attracting attention.  Embracing terroir and seasonality is more important to some buyers than consistency.

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