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."
Hopefully ya' all will soon return New Orleans as soon as possible. Every bit of tourism will help it this great city uplift the spirits its people and revitalize its business and culinary communities. As Louisiana Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu emphasized to attendees, "New Orleans needs America's support right now unlike any time spanning our nation's history -- perhaps more than any American city has ever so needed our nation's attention."
So Laissez les bon temps roulez!, or let the good times roll for the RCA, its new president Stephen Kalil, CRC, CEC, director of culinary innovation, Brinker International, Chili's, and the entrepreneurial spirit of New Orleans.
Many of the sessions were more hands-on including: "Lipids: The Skinny on Dietary Fats," presented by Chef Brian Yager and Tom Tiffany, Archer Daniels Midland, Decatur, Ill., focused on the technical aspects of fats and oils, nutritional concerns and lipids substitutions in trans-free applications and "Food Pleasure Principles for Culinologists, or the eight basic tastes, presented by Dr. Steven Witherly, Technical Products Inc., Valencia, Cal.
Illustrating the power of Culinology, the Annual Luncheon featured guest chefs and manufacturers to create the menu together. Inspired by Chef Leah Chase, Dookey Chase, the first course, Gumbo des herbes, was prepared by Chef John Folse and Co. Manufacturing. Chef John Besh, Restaurant August, worked with Clear Springs Foods with Darifair Foods, Golden State Foods, Azar Nut Co., and Hydroblend to create almond-crusted trout with brown butter hollandaise and crawfish salad with lemon vinaigrette. Ed Miniat Inc. and Chef John Folse and Co. Manufacturing created tasso-cured pork loin with green beans, a recipe from chefs Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon. And the piece de resistance dessert -- creole bread pudding -- a favorite at Ella Brennan's Commander's Palace, was prepared by Menu Inspirations. Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates contributed the wine.
We had a grand time catching up at Memphis, Tenn.-based Kraft Food Ingredients Hospitality Suite, which served finely crafted seared beef tenderloin canapé with horseradish dill sauce, fire roasted shrimp with key lime-cilantro vinaigrette, buffalo chicken cheesette with spicy bacon ranch dip, Oreo cheesecake sticks with caramel sauces, nutter butter and jam mousse and caribbean mango tart.
Likewise at gala event hosted by Omaha-based Con Agra Foods' Gilroy Foods at Cochon Restaurant, where attendees tasted foods made with Gilroy's purees and seasonings and compared chili-inspired small plates that used different chile varietals -- Jalapeno, Serrano, Poblano, Pasilla, Cascabel -- and flavors to tempt and invigorate the palate. It's notable that U.S. chile pepper use has increased 37 percent in the past 10 years and there's been a 13 percent increase of chile-flavored desserts.
Walking the floor
Organic ingredients were de rigour on the trade show floor. Organic cheddar cheese powder from Commercial Creamery, Spokane, Wash., created lots of buzz, as did its entire line of organic powders, snack seasonings and sauce mixes. Summit Hill Flavors, Middlesex, N.J., showcased a line of organic savory flavors, and Christopher Ranch has a line of Organic garlic. In fact, it can customize its organic garlic into any shape you need.
Lisle, Ill.-based McCain Food's USA's Jon-Lin has a line of fire-roasted and smokehouse-roasted vegetables and fruits, a line of vegetable blends and glazed medleys and a line of caramelized and sautéed vegetables for use in a variety of entrees and sides. Chef Susan Spicer of Bayona and Herbsaint restaurants showcased innovative, healthful potato ideas at the Denver-based U.S. Potato Board booth.
Dave Zino, executive director of The Beef Checkoff Culinary Center, Chicago, Ill., presided over "Beef University: A Foodservice Guide to Beef." On the floor Mardi Gras Shredded Beef Poppers were served. Teresa Landis, chef at The National Food Laboratory, Dublin, Cal., prepared moroccan chicken salad dressing and marinade to showcase Kasbah-By-The-Bay Spice Blend. For dessert, we wolfed down D.D. Williamson's bite-sized cheesecake topped with the company's palette of natural colors.
It was time to energize, so we headed over the Dayton, N.J.-based International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF) booth for Sparkling Goji Passion Energy Water, which is so tasty it should be bottled just as it is. Fruit was the basis of many creations. Tree Top, Selah, Wash., developed a sensational Hearty Apple Soup, made of IQF Granny Smith Apple Slices and juice concentrates. Chiquita Ingredients, Cincinnati, Ohio, wins the prize for the best smoothie (Pineapple-Honey Mango) and its Pineapple/Mango White Sangria.
Los Angeles, Cal.-based Paramount Farms treated attendees to different forms of pistachios. And we found out that a combination of 20 percent meal and 80 percent diced large is a very competitive solution for foods containing pistachios. California Raisin Marketing Board, Fresno, Cal., served up yummy California Raisin and Beef-filled Peruvian Potato Empanditas with Aji Amarillo -- Golden Raisin Salsa and Aji Rocoto -- Raisin Vinaigrette.