We spent last week at the StarChefs.com International Chefs Congress, the annual industry only conference which brings some of the world's most formidable culinary minds to New York City for four days of lectures, demos, cool new product displays and eating opportunities. The theme for the Seventh annual ICC was Origins and Frontiers: The Archaeology of Modern Cuisine. A few of our favorite things:
Author and food historian Mark Kurlansky kicked things off with a keynote about frozen food pioneer Clarence Birdseye and how “he completely changed the nature of food, in a way we are trying to change back.” Birdseye's innovations helped to move our society's relationship with food from hand-crafted to mass produced. While not advocating a return to frozen TV dinners for all, he worried about the inevitable expense and exclusivity of the artisanal food movement and ended his presentation with a simple question: “how do we do great food at low cost, for poor and working people?”
Chef Masaharu Morimoto spoke on the legacy of Japanese cuisine, but the Iron Chef was upstaged by Natasha, the 5 year old 227-pound Kindai bluefin tuna which was very nearly Morimoto-sized. While the demo was a dazzling display of the chef's knife skills as he broke down the fish onstage, the tuna's very existence was the star. Raised from an egg at a Japanese University fish farm, the “conservation-friendly” fish could represent a solution in supplying the culinary world with in-demand but environmentally unsound seafood. “For the future of Japanese cuisine, I better have tuna forever,” said Morimoto as he challenged the audience of chefs to think about conserving species for future generations, protecting the ocean environments and saving the future of fishermen and their families.
Urban Gothic: Exploring Cuisine through the Cityscape was the theme of Chef Elizabeth Falkner's talk and demo. With her recent move from San Francisco to Brooklyn, where she is planning to open up her new restaurant Krescendo. “I love the city, the noise, energy, sound ... the graphics and tension of the streets,” Falkner said. " What I like about the urban environment is that things are trying to survive. I love the subtlety of the food in Japan and the simplicity of pasta and pizza" she said referring to the planned menu at Krescendo "but I also like things LOUD" she explained showing off a round cake that she had cut apart and reconstructed as a graffitied chaotic cake landscape. After that nod to her origins as a pastry chef, she demoed a lamb dish — deftly butchering an Australian rack of lamb, making a Moroccan inspired sausage and serving it up with tomato-harrisa confit, fried panella, and what she called city sludge — a blend of breadcrumbs, capers, lemon, parsley, anchovies, sumac, chicory, and lamb jus.
Representing the new French Guard, Chef Alexandre Gauthier of La Grenouillère in Madelaine-sous-Montreuil, France, was determined to cook through as much of the heart, soul, and technique of his menu as possible in one half hour presentation. "My cooking is based where I am" he explained of La Grenouillère which has been a farm for 350 years. "it is the sea, it is the forest, it's hunting, it's fishing. It is the farmers market, it's growing our own." He considers his food to be " a physical, moral, mental photo of where I live." He celebrates the land while moving French cuisine forward. "In France we are are a little cliched in cooking certain ingredients. This pumpkin is usually only used to make soup or gratins" he said before serving it raw with the grated skin of a clementine. And he reinterpreted "one of the most tired, pathetic dishes in French cuisine, fagots de haricots verts." He blanched the green beans and bundled them around bunches of herbs before pan roasting. "The taste of each bean is now different" he explained "each touches a different herb, the ones on the outside are more roasted, the inside center ones are crispier." He finished the dish with almond puree and pan juices.
He also bucks French tradition when he serves duck. "I don't like the French tradition that says that you need to let game age. I like it fresh, when you let it age the taste is too strong, the taste of death does not interest me." he explained as he serves his duck tartar with sauteed Trumpet de mort, pearl onions and cornichons. He finished the meal with a celebration of hemp, which is one of France’s major agricultural exports. He built pastry squares with hemp flour and plated the puffs in an aromatic tangle of warm, damp hemp rope, an homage to the boat moorings of hi neighboring fishermen.