Culinology on the Rise was the theme at the 2007 RCA Annual Conference and Tradeshow, of the Atlanta-based Research Chefs Association (RCA), the first major food group to return to New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. It celebrated in spectacular style the Crescent City, which is on the road to recovery, explored the natural resources, flavors, cooking styles and confluence of cultures, which created its uniquely American cuisine.
Some 1,400 attendees (chefs, food scientists, Culinologists and sponsors of the show) were treated to the warm hospitality of the city's residents and had an opportunity to celebrate the growth and success of Culinology, the blending of culinary arts and food science/technology.
Annual Conference Planning Committee co-chairs, Catherine Proper, CEC, CCS; Culinary Innovation and Design; Target Corp.; and outgoing President John Folse, CEC, AAC, John Folse and Co. -- an inspiration during his two-year term creating buzz, increasing certification and growing the RCA brand -- outdid themselves from opening night festivities.
The festivities were held at Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World, where attendees wandered among thousands of sensational sculptured props used during Mardi Gras festivities and tasted specialties from some of the city's greatest restaurants -- Andrea's, Bayona, Broussard's, Café Adelaide, Cochon, Dooky Chase, Dominique's, Emeril's, Garbrielle, Galatoire's, Jacques-Imo's Café, K-Paul's Louisiania Kitchen, La Provence, Muriel's and Restaurant August -- to a program that provided something for everyone.
Keynote speaker Douglas H. Brooks, president and CEO of Brinker International, Dallas, a self-described foodie, discussed trends in the $535 billion foodservice industry. Consumers eat four meals a week in foodservice, and want speed and convenience, an experience which makes them feel valued, choices for healthier meals, and incorporation of authentic multicultural ingredients. "Opportunities exist for suppliers who can reduce preparation time in the kitchen," he noted.
"A chef in the Buck Rogers tradition, blazing a trail to a space age culinary frontier," according to The New York Times, Chef Homaro Cantu, Moto Restaurant, Chicago, a proponent of molecular gastronomy wowed the audience with the methods he and his chefs use to get food to take on a new architectural form. Chef Cantu also created a unique almond creation served at the Modesto, Cal.-based Almond Board of California's booth.
A sense of place
Attendees were enchanted when outgoing RCA President Chef John Folse, owner and executive chef of Gonzales, La.-based John Folse and Co., assisted by Chef Jay Kimball, director of R&D, covered the fascinating culinary past of New Orleans and surrounding area from the earliest Native American Indians, explorers and fur trappers, fight for the city's bounty by the Spanish, French and British, and contributions of the Dutch, Germans, Italians and African slaves. Folse describes these influences as a layering effect culminating in a cultural terroir, a sense of place. His new book "Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine" a four-year labor of love, is a must read for historians and the recipes a must try for culinarians. www.jfolse.com/encyclopedia.htm.
Sponsored by the USA Rice Federation, Washington, D.C., and moderated by Michael Batterberry, editor-in-chief, Food Arts magazine, "The Evolution of Cajun and Creole Cuisine," joined panelists Andrea Apuzzo, Andrea's Restaurant; Ray Berthelot, Louisiana Office of State Parks; Anne Butler, Butler-Greenwood Plantation; Leah Chase, Dooky Chase Restaurant (which will reopen soon); Janie Luster, Louisiana's Houma Nation; Henryk Orlik, Heinerbrau German Brewery; and Chef Paul Prudhomme, K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen.
When asked what foods have been most successful in their restaurants, Chef Apuzzo said crawfish ravioli, speckled trout and tiramisou; Chef Chase listed gumbo, oyster stuffing and lemon pie, and Chef Prudhomme divulged gumbo, blackened foods and sweet potato pecan pie are most requested.
A taste of Africa
Rochelle Schätzl, group product development manager, for Johannesburg, South Africa-based Nandos Chickenland, and culinary guru for Nandos, which manufactures Peri-Peri Hot Sauces, Rubs, Marinades and Stir-fry Simmer Sauces throughout the world, discussed the continent's cuisine. Africa is comprised of 52 independent countries, and "In Africa, nothing is wasted. Food is always shared, and extra food is prepared for an uninvited guest," she says.
Peri-Peri is the African Birds Eye Chile, blended with fresh lemons and an exotic mix of herbs and spices, a combination originally brought to South Africa by Portuguese explorers in the 15th century. Regional spices vary, so we were treated to spice blend samples -- Peri-Peri, Raas Al-Hanout and Berbere accompanied by Rooibos tea, a favorite beverage choice. South Africa alone has 11 official languages. Incidentally, butter is added to coffee in Kenya to trap the volatiles.
Incorporating health and wellness in product development is one of the biggest challenges facing R&D professionals, according to a panel moderated by Craig "Skip" Julius, CEC, CRC, CCS, Gordon Food Service, Grand Rapids, Mich. Superfoods, like acai, and tea and juice-based beverages for kids and females are on the horizon.
Another challenge is flavor authenticity. Chef Robert Danhi, Chef Danhi Inc., moderated a session "Asian Flavors: Translating Genuine Flavor Profiles. Panelists Susana Foo, Susana Foo Gourmet Kitchen; Ross Kamens, Noodles and Co.; and Grace Yek, University of Cincinnati, Culinary Arts and Science, did an outstanding job of taking authentic Asian dishes through a Culinary Evolution process and bringing them mainstream. "Stick to your vision," advised Kamen, "the dish must have consumer appeal, be craveable, relevant and compelling."