Every profession has professional associations, and most professional associations have get-togethers. Meet and mingle, network, see the latest gadgets and raw materials, learn the trends and how to exploit them; in short, become better at what you do – that’s the aim of a professional conference or symposium.
And that was the scene at the American Culinary Federation’s Chef Connect: Baltimore last month. A sea of white jackets engulfed the meeting areas at the Marriott as hundreds of chefs and culinary students met to talk, eat, and learn from each other, speakers, and vendors. We were there, too.
How did we know we were in the right place? Why, by the ice sculpture sign at the hotel entrance, of course!
In the general sessions, the chefs listened to a motivational speaker
and saw a demo of Indonesian cooking by Steve Jilleba, from Unilever Food Solutions of Chicago. Chef Steve gave a tutorial in the ingredients and cooking methods of this exotic cuisine, together with tips on how to adapt them to the modern restaurant kitchen.
After the demo, chefs and students alike crowded around to take pictures of the plated dishes.
Gordon Food Service presented Chef Gerry Ludwig, their corporate consulting chef, speaking about menu trends for 2015. But first, he spoke in tribute to one of his favorite places in Chicago, Hot Doug’s, which recently closed. And there was one of my favorite chefs, Tony Bourdain! Alas, not in person.
And what are the trends, you ask? Here they are: Lamb “scrumpet” (deep-fried lamb breast fingers, a la April Bloomfield; burrata, especially domestic; kohlrabi, cold – raw or pickled; craft sodas (even Starbucks is pushing them!); and, sharing plates on wheels, aka “American dim sum.”
On the way out, we passed a table where one of the attendees had spread out her booty so far. Knives, notes and nibbles, among other swag.
Outside the ballroom, there was a small exhibition set up. There were chef’s tools and clothing vendors, product purveyors, and services for sale.
And an amazing coffee bar with every type of brew: ready-made for those who couldn’t wait for the pour-overs, French-press or espresso drinks; also tea – three types of brewed iced and many kinds of hot, courtesy of Royal Cup.
The afternoon sessions were educations in beer and food pairings, beef and wine pairings, cooking veal and, my favorite, pairing Wisconsin blue cheese and port. Sponsored by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Sara Hill led us through a tasting of five different blue cheeses paired with two ports. She directed us to take sips of port, tastes of the cheese, and augment those with dried fruit or chocolate. Very shortly I perceived a great big umami party going on in my mouth.
Who knew there were so many kinds of blue cheese made in Wisconsin, and that they were so good?
Then there was the oyster-shucking contest. A chef from Johnson and Wales University won. The trophy? A gold-plated oyster mounted in a box, and bragging rights.
There was a reception where those oysters, provided by the True Chesapeake Oyster Company, an oyster farm in Maryland, were enjoyed by all. Oh, there was other food, as well. Chefs do generally like to eat!
There was another day of program to the conference (as well as workshops the day before, and a chef’s Knowledge Bowl competition, and awards galas), but we only managed the trip on Monday. We did get the flavor of the event, though (no, I couldn’t resist the pun). For professional chefs and students, attendance at Chef Connect would be an excellent way to advance one’s career.