Coffee, Salmon, and Geoduck at the RCA Annual Conference and Expo

Seattle hosts RCA’s Annual Conference and Expo.

By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

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.

Northwest cuisine
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.

Sessions with substance

Sessions offered great information. They included an analysis of the emerging mega trends, behavioral practices, attitude shifts, and fundamental issues that will have a sustainable impact on the foodservice business by Dr. Elizabeth A. Sloan, Sloan Trends Inc.; a distinguished panel featuring regional chefs Greg Atkinson, Tom Douglas, Thierry Rautureau, and Holly Smith, as well as regional food and beverage experts Martin Johnson, Jon Rowley, and David Schomer that focused on the regional cuisine of the Pacific Northwest, moderated by Food Arts magazine’s Jim Poris; and a session by Dr. Steven Witherly, Technical Products Inc., and author of the fascinating book, “Why Humans Like Junk Food,” on the topic of food pleasure and the culinary techniques that can maximize irresistible food products.

RCA luncheon menu raises the bar

The first course was sweet pea soup with Spot prawns and bacon. Manufacturing and ingredient partners were Campbell Soup Co., Kraft Foodservice, Ocean Beauty Seafood, and SupHerb Farms. That was followed by Beecher’s Flagship cheese and apple salad with hazelnuts and golden raisins.

Partners were California Raisin Marketing Board, Cargill, Chef John Folse & Co., Hazelnut Council and Roland. The entrée Washington Chardonnay- steamed salmon with butter sauce, garlic potatoes, grilled asparagus, and Wala Wala onions’, courtesy of Adams Marketing, Columbia Crest Wineries, Land O’Lakes, and Trident Seafood. And the delicious dessert butternut squash gingerbread with rhubarb sauce and whipped cream was made possible by Edlong Dairy Flavors, Haliburton, Park 100, TIC Gums, Two Chefs on a Roll and Z Trim. And Kendall –Jackson provided the wine.

Culinary pleasures

RCA’s opening reception focused on a taste of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. It was presided over by Chefs Eric Tanaka, Dahlia Lounge; Joseba Jimenez, Harvest Vine; Jonathan Sundstrom, Lark; Thierry Rautureau, Rovers Restaurant; Tamara Murphy, Brasa Restaurant; Holly Smith, Cafe Juanita; Tom Hurley, Coupage; Jason Wilson, Crush; and Jody Hall, Cupcake Royale.

Another culinary event Savory in Seattle, was held at Chef Tom Douglas’ Dahlia Lounge, where the flavor experts at Gilroy Foods and Spicetec hosted a tasting event featuring their flavors to explore savory trends. Beginning with wasabi lemongrass Hama Hama oyster shooters, some of the innovative small plates served were: coffee and spice slow-roasted brisket; Thai lime grilled salmon, mango lime chile-spiced chicken skewer, rubbed goat tagine, and pomegranate and smoky apple seared duck breast.

Awards galore

Jason Gronlund, McIlhenny Co./Tabasco brand products, Allison Rittman, Culinary Culture and Hans Schade, High Result Solutions. received the prestigious President’s Award. Stephen Giunta, Cargill, and Christopher Loss, The Culinary Institute of America, were bestowed with the Pioneer Award. Gene Gagliardi, Texas Hold’em was the Big Beef Innovation Contest Winner. And Robert Okura, The Cheesecake Factory Inc., was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

A record-breaking number of students attended many of the student-only events including a Culinology interviewing –a la speed dating – fun session with food companies. And a proud team from Johnson & Wales University-Providence took first place in the RCA Student Culinology Competition, earning a $5,000 grand prize.

What’s on the mind of research chefs?

These are the hot topics presented in the sessions at RCA’s Annual Conference:

  • Beef, Farm to Fork, presented by Stephen Giunta and Don Moss from Cargill, and Dave Zino and Kari Underly from the Beef Checkoff
  • Successful Product Development Using Statistical Experimental Design, presented by Nort Holschuh, from General Mills Inc.
  • Media Training 101, presented by Natalie Klein, broadcast director for The Kellen Co.
  • Tools and Tricks to Speeding up the Design and Development Process, presented by Judy Lindsey, vice president and general manager of Product Dynamics, a division of RQA Inc.
  • Meat Alternatives: Exploring your Options, presented by Jack Parker, president of Parker Development Inc. and Natural Chef Food LLC, and Larry Lepore, CRC, director of research and development for Sokol and Co. Inc.
  • Building the Case for a Healthy Menu, survey results from Clemson University and the Pennsylvania State University highlighting culinarians’ responses on the topic of portion sizes, nutrition on the menu, and healthy food items in foodservice, presented by Marge Condrasky, EdD, RD, CCE, and assistant professor for the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Culinary Science at Clemson University and Nick Spinelli, executive chef at Global Research and Development at Kraft Foods Inc.
  • A Taste of Australia, which incorporates native Aboriginal “bushfoods” and other quintessential ingredients with impressive nutritional and functional values, styled for modern use and innovative product development , presented by the Aussie chefs, Vic Cherikoff, managing director of Vic Cherikoff Food Services Pty. Ltd., author, and host of Dining Downunder on Joost, and Benjamin Christie, chef and co-host of Dining Downunder
  • Integrating Next Generation Oils for Flavor, Health, and Profit, presented by Charlie Baggs, president/executive chef of Charlie Baggs Inc., Patricia Kearney, president and CEO of PMK Associates, Inc. and Mark Jackson, market manager for Dow AgroSciences
  • Myth Busters: Molecular Gastronomy, presented by Grace Yek, CCC, MS, and assistant professor/chef instructor for Culinary Arts and Science at University of Cincinnati and the Midwest Culinary Institute, and Kurt Struwe, CEC, CCE, and assistant professor of Culinology/executive chef at Southwest Minnesota State University
  • Ice Cream: From Cow to Wow, a session moderated by Tom Aurand, senior director of R&D for Wells’ Dairy Inc. and John Kennedy, culinologist for Wells’ Dairy, who was joined by panelists Joe Ciminera from Taste This TV, Scott Galloway, senior manager of customer and consumer insights for Wells’ Dairy, John Namy, vice president of applications for Kerry Sweet Ingredients, Erin Kate O’Donnell, marketing manager for David Michael & Co, and Steven Young, principal of Steven Young Worldwide
  • What’s Old is New: Incorporating Whole Grains in Product Development, presented by Mark Furstenberg, consulting chef to ConAgra Mills, and Michael Holleman, corporate chef for Indian Harvest Specialtifoods
  • Wild Salmon Symposium, presented by Tom Sunderland, director of marketing for Ocean Beauty Seafoods, and Bret Lynch, Corporate Executive Chef/Partner for Charlie Baggs, Inc.
  • An Introduction to Sous Vide Cooking, (French for "under vacuum"), a panel moderated by Terry Van Winkle, vice president, TIC Gums Inc.
  • Functionality of Whey Protein Concentrates presented by Grande Custom Ingredients’ Technical Sales Manager Britta Campton and Senior Food Technologist Michelle Ludtke and by Park 100 Food’s Senior Research and Development Chef Thomas Beagle, CRC.

We’d like to thank the RCA and the Kellen Co. for their hospitality and for allowing us to video during the show. Next year the RCA conference will be held March 5-8, 2009 in Dallas, Texas.

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