Defining the future of food was the theme, and a productive and delightful time was had by all in March at the Research Chef Assn.’s (RCA) 2008 Annual Conference and Culinology Expo, held in Seattle. An impressive lineup of speakers, breakout sessions and networking opportunities drew record attendance with nearly 1,600 attendees and a sold-out expo floor.
The only annual food industry event to focus on culinology – the blending of culinary arts and food science/technology – this year’s show attracted a diverse group of food product development professionals including research chefs, innovation directors, food scientists, marketers and sales professionals from across the U.S. and abroad.
RCA arranged for pre-conference culinary tours of Seattle, including coffee cupping at Starbucks headquarters, walkabouts at Pike Place Market (where fun-loving fishmongers wearing orange waders toss salmon to each other with nary a drop to entertain potential customers), Theo Chocolate Factory (the only roaster of organic cocoa beans in the U.S.), Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Eastside Wineries and Brewery.
Chef Kathy Casey served an interactive lunch at Kathy Casey Food Studio, with a menu of Local Oysters with Mignonette Ice; Geoduck Two Ways: Sashimi & Picatta Style; Winter Greens and Northwest Pear Salad with Yuzu Cranberry Vinaigrette and Toasted Hazelnuts; Pacific Rim Style Coconut and Lemon Grass Braised Black Cod with Local Mussels and Colorful Veggies; and Latte Land Mocha Panna Cotta Shot with Cotton Candy Steam. Incidentally, geoduck is a very large, edible clam (Panope generosa) of the Pacific coast.
Delivering the entertaining keynote session, Starbucks Coffee Co.’s Sr. Vice President of Global Food and Beverage Denny Marie Post discussed the company’s mission to craft healthy foods that sell. She noted that in 1982 the presence of a vegetable defined a healthy meal. She shared Starbucks success stories, samples of healthy upcoming breakfast prototypes and Starbucks coffee with attendees, who were inspired when she said, “A singular fantasy can transform a million realities.”
Speaking of irresistible food products, they were in abundance as suppliers provided tasty prototypes of their ingredients on the vibrant show floor.
Judson McLester, new corporate chef at Wixon Inc., St. Francis, Wis., served his signature dish "Floribbean" marinated beef tenderloin with Mandarin-orange chantilly sauce along with Jamaican pineapple-mango vegetable toss. We also sampled: Raisin-Achiote Glazed Shrimp served with Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa and Cucumber, Raisin, Jicama and Hoja Santa Salad from the California Raisin Marketing Board, Fresno, Calif. … Cucumber Lemonade from Belcamp, Md.-based TIC Gums … Idaho Potato Crusted Wheathervane Scallop with Roasted Piquillo Pepper and Herb Pistou from Eagle, Idaho-based Idaho Potato Commission … Lemon-Yuzu Martinis with Strawberry Mint Ice Cubes from the Watsonville, Calif.-based California Strawberry Commission … Yukon Gold Humbolt Fog Mashed Potatoes, locally caught pan-seared wild salmon, served with Romesco Beure Blanc and toasted almonds from Darifair, Jacksonville, Fla. ... Pistachio Lavender ice cream from Los Angeles-based Paramount Farms … Gruyere Cheese Puffs from Edlong Dairy Flavors, Elk Grove Village, Ill …Chocolate Cappuccino made from Pearl Organic Coffee Soymilk from San Francisco’s Kikkoman USA … Chilled coffee beverage with whipped cream made with Cocoa Butter Buds from Racine, Wis.-based Butter Buds … PB&J Shaker with Peanut Protein Powder made with Dryer’s/Edy’s drink mix and peanut protein powder from Atlanta-based National Peanut Board … Roasted Onion & Cheddar Bisque from Kraft Food Ingredients Memphis, Tenn. … Potato Pave with Golden Caviar Mousseline and Herb Sauce from the Denver’s United States Potato Board.
The Almond Board of California, Modesto, Calif., created two recipes – Moroccan Apricot Shortbread and Curry Chocolate Almond Bars -- with Seattle’s Sugar Bakery & Café. Not only did they taste divine, but they are right on-trend in foodservice. Bacon & Egg Cotton Candy (not as strange as it sounds) was devised by Wild Flavors, Cincinnati. Spiked Party Bark was a similarly savory and yummy treat from Parker Products and McIlhenny/Tabasco, Avery Island, La.
RCA’s Annual Luncheon (“A taste of the Northwest”) was a four-course meal inspired by Seattle celebrity Chef Tom Douglas, who presides over five highly touted restaurants, a bakery and catering company, writes cookbooks, has a food-product line and a weekly radio show. Glasses were raised to celebrate the life of the charming Chef Bill “Pops” Hahne, who passed away recently at 71. Hahne was corporate executive chef of First Choice Ingredients, a founding member of RCA and its president, treasurer and RCA Foundation director. He will be sorely missed.
By the way, we made several videotaped interviews at the show. See them here.
Chef Douglas told attendees at a panel on Northwest cuisine, that it was seafood expert Jon Rowley who turned Seattle chefs on to truly pristine seafood. He convinced native Yukon River fishermen that their fabulously fatty salmon could fetch fabulous prices — if they'd only ice them down immediately upon capture, something he showed them how to do. And he gave the salmon geographic names like Copper River king salmon and Yukon River king. Rowley echoed the sentiments of local chefs Thierry Rautureau, Holly Smith and Greg Atkinson, who noted that the bounty of Northwest seafood as well as locally procured meats, poultry, produce and foraged foodstuffs — plus a plethora of farmers markets, and customers willing to pay high prices for fresh, local foods — are what make living and cooking in the Pacific Northwest such a joy.