Food is a mirror of who we are, Zester Daily contributor Clifford A. Wright told the more than 700 food professionals attending the 15th annual Culinary Institute of America Worlds of Flavor conference last week. Rather than a single reflection, “food is a constantly changing picture of where we came from and where we are going.”
And with these words, Wright opened CIA’s annual international festival at its Napa Valley campus last week, a three-day event jam-packed with lectures, demonstrations and cooking lessons featuring more than 70 of the world’s leading food authorities, each illustrating a different aspect of the Eurasian migration of flavor.
Wright was one of many speakers with a Zester connection. Zester contributor Jody Eddy moderated a cooking demonstration. Michael Krondl, Naomi Duguid, Joan Nathan, Skiz Fernando, Diane Kochilas and Hiroko Shimbo were among the guest authors who have written a Soapbox for Zester. (Shimbo’s Soapbox will appear later this month.)
A charming and gregarious raconteur, Wright spoke several times during the conference, entertained the crowd with his “Cliff’s notes” version of the history of the spice trade — a 1,000-year tale of rich people scouring the world for ways to improve the quality of their dining experience. The more wealth there was, the fiercer the trade in spices and other foods that could survive long journeys. One cuisine borrowed from another in a chain that continues today.
The highlight of the CIA event, however, was the dazzling collection of international chefs who rolled up their sleeves and share their kitchen secrets with the crowd.
- Italy’s Corrado Assenza, chef/owner of Caffé Sicilia, a cutting edge pastry-coffee-ice cream bar in the baroque town of Noto in southeastern Sicily.
- China’s Yu Bo, considered the Ferran Adrià of China, is the chef/owner of Yu’s Family Kitchen in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province.
- Turkey’s Musa Dagdeviren, chef/owner of Ciya Sofrasi in Istanbul celebrating traditional Anatolian cuisine.
- Spain’s Ángel León, chef/owner of Aponiente in Puerto de Santa Maria in Cádiz developing plankton cuisine.
- England’s Yotam Ottolenghi, chef/owner of five London restaurants whose cookbook “Jerusalem” has been a smash hit around the world.
- San Francisco’s Mourad Lahlou, chef/owner of Aziza in San Francisco, known for modern interpretations of traditional Moroccan cuisine.
- American Maxime Bilet, co-author with Nathan Myhrvold of “Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking,” a technologist pushing the limits of kitchen science.
Iceland was represented by Gunnar Karl Gíslason, a young chef whose extraordinary take on his country’s local flavors has made Dill in the Nordic House in Reykjavik a leading light in a country searching for its culinary soul. Zester’s Eddy, co-author of the chef’s upcoming book, told the story of Iceland’s culinary struggles after the devastating economic crisis in 2008. Long dependent on imported food, the cold country has been forced to become self-sufficient for the first time in generations. Gíslason’s hyper-local cuisine using native sea salts, seaweed, livestock and root vegetables took off, creating a first-ever potential to export distinctive Icelandic flavors to other countries.
A satellite in the world of flavor
Malaysia-based Zester contributor Robyn Eckhardt wasn’t able to attend CIA’s event. She’s busy with a new assignment: writing a twice-a-month column on street food for Wall Street Journal Asia. Check it out at Wall Steet Journal Asia.
Clifford Wright leads a cooking demonstration at CIA’s Worlds of Flavor with Corrado Assenza, a leading Italian pastry chef and owner of Caffé Sicilia in Noto, Italy. Credit: Corie Brown