It’s been two weeks since the 2018 Worlds of Flavor international conference was held in Napa Valley at The Culinary Institute of America. Being an alum from the school and having worked the event the past two years, you could imagine I was pretty thrilled to jump on a plane and head out west.
I’ve been thinking ever since on how to capture the essence of what transpired over those three days… a building full of world-renown chefs, new and invigorating information, and an incredible diversity of food.
Nothing can compare to being there, experiencing it, listening and discussing, eating and tasting. But hopefully I can give you a glimpse into this absolutely inspiring conference and share some valuable takeaways from those three days.
Walking up the stairs to the front entrance of the historic CIA Greystone “castle”, you’re immediately hit with the smells and sounds of the gathering in the herb terrace just outside the main door. A bustling reception for attendees to gather and meet, with food being prepared by some of the conference’s presenting chefs, drinks being passed, and an outdoor live fire kitchen bustling with action… not a bad opening scene for the start of this exciting culinary adventure.
Right away you’re introduced to some of the vastly unique dishes that embody what Worlds of Flavor is all about – tasting something that you’ve never tasted before and learning about just how deliciously intriguing other cuisines can be. You’re welcomed with a sunchoke parfait with trout roe, lemon, and burnt onion. You then taste the Aegean stuffed zucchini flowers, grilled scallops with nam jim talay, striped bass with mole amarillo, jollof curry with sticky rice, and nopal cactus salad with pickled jalapenos and queso fresco.
It’s an abrupt hit to your senses. The flavors make you curious. They start a conversation. They excite an entire crowd of industry professionals for the events to come.
The keynote speaker was Krishnendu Ray, who opened the first session with a profound statement, “American cuisine changes every 40 years.” That thought really set the stage for the following myriad of worldly chefs to come, who would be representing countries as far as Brazil, Thailand, Italy, Ghana, Philippines, Japan, and more. Each chef bringing their own cuisine to the table, sharing the rich history and traditions of their culture and showing how cultural influences, techniques, and flavors are continuing to shape cuisine not only in America, but around the world.
Leading off the first group of chefs was Christopher Kostow of the local Napa three Michelin-starred Restaurant at Meadowood, who delivered one of my favorite speeches. He really focused in on the theme of this year’s conference: legends of flavor. And what it really means to create a legacy in this industry. And how creating a legacy today is far different than what it used to be. His words were compelling and emotional.
He pointed out that with a “focus on all things new” and in a world where messages in media are curated, manipulated, and perfected, it’s difficult to distinguish the origins of a new idea or concept. It’s hard to know who did the “heavy lifting” to get that idea or concept to where it is today. Nowadays, it’s really just all about who can manipulate the message the best. He continued that there’s simply no memory space in an industry that’s become so fast-paced, so focused on the next thing. When it takes an eternity to build a meaningful body of work, it’s almost impossible to make a true lasting impression.
After letting the audience ponder his somewhat sad, yet thought-provoking, words, Kostow offered a bright takeaway.
“All we can do is be the legend we want to be; the work itself has to be rewarding enough.”
The rest of the day was filled with bustling conversation, exciting demonstrations, and a sampling of dishes during the various breaks between sessions. You could truly just feel so much energy in the space on this first day, as if everyone hopped off their plane and was ready to go, ready to explore with all of their senses – what they were hearing, what they were seeing, what they were tasting.
Monique Fiso, chef-owner of Hiakai, shared a powerful message on embracing your culture and not being afraid of it. This theme of going back to your roots and celebrating where you came from popped up throughout the entire conference. This self-expression was showcased in many of the dishes that the chefs demonstrated. Foie gras ice cream donuts with amaretto cherries, watercress soup with coconut and daikon noodles, deep fried tripe with crushed rosemary, and Fiso’s taro leaves filled with a roasted duck and coconut cream mixture.
Foods that embrace progressing a cuisine forward by honoring the traditions of the past.
It was a day to remember. Chefs and industry professionals coming together to collaborate and embrace the vast knowledge of the world being presented to them. And of course, the night concluded with everyone’s favorite part, the conference’s first World Marketplace. Bold, vibrant decorations flooding a huge, dimly-lit room that’s been lined with food stands, and chefs from all over the world cooking from their hearts and their homes. The buzz of the room immediately sets a “festival” mood, and as you enter you become immersed in sights, sounds, smells, and tastes that truly transport you to another world.
Stay tuned for a look into Worlds of Flavor Day 2! I’ll be going a bit deeper into the food and discussing more topics that were covered during this remarkable event.