Every year the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) hosts a culinary conference like no other. The Worlds of Flavor has been going on since 1999 and next year is their 20th anniversary event! Every year the show hosts about 600 like-minded flavor seeking culinary pioneers- including restaurant chain executive chefs, Food scientists, R&D professionals, food writers and educators. For three days we mingle, watch demonstrations, participate in workshops and then wander the CIA barrel room that is filled with sponsors demonstrating and serving food as it relates to the culinary topic of that year.

Past shows typically cover a category of food like “street food” or “comfort food”- but there have also been a few years that focused specifically on one countries cuisine like Worlds of Flavor Japan (2010) and my favorite Worlds of Flavor- Spain (2006). Spain was a very special Worlds of Flavor event because I lived in Barcelona back in 1987-so the foods demonstrated at that CIA event brought me back to those days—the days when romesco, gazpacho and paella was the typical and common culinary fare of the day.

More often than not though, the CIA tends to group together food categories that fall into multiple countries. This allows them to demonstrate the culinary diversity within a specific food space. This year the theme was “Casual By Design” Fast casual, upscale casual, street food, food hall casual, world casual, quality casual in food trucks, supermarkets and home delivery services. This allowed the guests to experience world class food from across the world that was diverse in its origins but all shared a common theme of casual.

I have now attended almost every World of Flavors conference since 2006- so I am pretty familiar with the general process of how this conference works and how to get the most out of the sessions and live cooking events! The 3-day conference always starts off with the registration and opening global flavor discovery reception on the herb terrace. This year the reception featured dishes the guests chefs like Chris Consentino, Asha Gomez, Jody Eddy and Cara Mangini. The opening tasting session doesn’t last long though (so don’t arrive late!) and the next part of the conference is the general session with keynote speakers and culinary demonstrations. This year we got to hear the keynote speaker K.F. Seetoh, the founder of Makansutra, a company dedicated to the celebration of Asian food, culture and lifestyles. A former photojournalist, he publishes food guides, a television series, and has built a 15,000 square food Asian Food Village in Manila, Philippines. K.F. Seetoh amused the crowd with stories about casual food, what it means and how it all started. The general sessions continued on till 7 pm with demonstrations on “Upscale Roots-Leveraging Lessons from Fine Dining for Casual Restaurants” by chef Erik Ramirez from the famed Llama Inn in Brooklyn, Niklas Ekstedt, Jonathan Wu, Chris Cosentino and then more demonstrations on “What the Market Wants Now- Business and Culinary Strategies for a Multi Model Restaurant”. The entire general session can be viewed online here– so you can experience it almost as well as we did (minus the eating samples)

After all that food demo watching, the hunger kicks in and we all go to the World Marketplace for the tasting/dinner in the Vintners Hall of Fame Barrel Room. This is the 1.5 hours of walking around, visiting all the chefs at their sponsored demo stalls, tasting big and small bites and drinking delicious wine. I take lots of photos during this tasting, you can view my photos of the opening barrel night here:

Day two of the conference was a full day of watching, eating and learning, starting with the breakfast sponsored by Minors (I am sorry to say I overslept and missed the breakfast but I did have a wonderful bacon and egg croissant sandwich in St. Helena-check it out!

I made it back in time for sessions on Building Dishes Around Great broths- Techniques From French to Asian Cuisines for Maximum Flavor Layering— with demonstrations by Michael Gulotta, Maxime Bilet and Einav Gefen.

After our selected workshops (there were multiple to choose from both in the kitchen as demo’s and as seminars) There were then more general sessions and then.. my favorite.. back to the barrel room for lunch. The World Marketplace event on Thursday used to take place in the evening but the CIA understands that we don’t want to miss out on all the great restaurants in the PM so now we have the marketplace at noon. I ate like it was dinner though! Check out my Thursday afternoon photos here:

Right after lunch- we had the dessert back in the general session room. I had to try at least one of each!

So many desserts….

I was so full that I myself did not go out to dinner. Later that night though I did get to snack on mini bags of almonds and pistachios that the sponsor Pom Wonderful provided.

Day Three- the last day! The early breakfast featured recipes by Chef Ina Pinkey- we ate that as we watched General Session X Fresh Approaches for Casual-Flavor seekers in the Asian kitchen. We then had our breakout sessions and of course back to the barrel room for our third big feeding! My photos of day three are here: https://goo.gl/photos/MzKY2m69nM1EzcEG7

And then it was over. A big takeaway was that casual can be whatever you want it to be and all countries have casual. Fine dining is out, casual dining is in—but don’t confuse casual with simple—from what I experienced- the casual dishes are just as complex as the fine dining ones- from their flavor layering to presentation! Casual dining is derived not only from traditional cuisine but the younger generation of up and coming chefs bring their innovative versions of casual to the table.

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