For years, I only attended the IFT because that was the place where all food scientists would meet and talk about ingredients and attend grad student seminars and poster board sessions. We had our parties and our events and it was very scientific and academic and technical! But then I went to culinary school and joined the RCA so now I had two shows to attend: the strictly scientific one (IFT) and the one that blended science with culinary arts (RCA).
Something was missing though. I mingled with the Ph.D.s at IFT and with the CCSs and CRCs at RCA, but it was time to start mingling with the with those at the other end of the food scale: the CCs CSCs, CCCs, CECs, CMCs PCCs PCECs ,CPCs, CWPCs, CEPCs, CMPCs CCAs, CSCEs and CCEs! (Did I miss any? I don’t think so…) But where do all these people gather and network? Where do the chefs go? I really had no idea where the hardcore strict culinary conferences took place until RCA was kind enough to send out a mass email telling me all about this year’s 59th ACF conference and letting me know that registration discounts were available to all RCA members! Now that I knew, I was determined to attend! This was my missing link, the final piece of the puzzle that I needed to tie the knot and pull everything together.
This year the ACF conference took place in steamy Orlando, FL, 7/11 through 7/14—one of those big Marriott Convention hotels where it takes about 30 minutes just to walk from your room to the convention area. The first thing I noticed when I arrived: Almost everyone was wearing a chef coat. Suppliers, sponsors, students, attendees … everyone—except me … but since I wore the press pass badge, no one commented…
I dug through the program guide automatically searching for familiar scientific seminars on starch degradation or how to pick the right xanthan gum for salad dressing. And while I did find a technical seminar on oil science (coincidently, conducted by a fellow food scientist that I went to graduate school with at the University of Illinois, Carrie Abrassart, R&D manager at Bunge Oils), most events fell in the more strict culinary category, which was great because I always feel like there are never quite enough of those at the IFT or RCA events. This show had seminars on global flavors, restaurant trends, heirloom grains, creative ways to serve lamb, and sustainable seafood. Creative, fun and very culinary-like!
The trade show floor was packed with over 100 exhibitors. Instead of the usual crew of flavor suppliers, commodity brokers and starch manufacturers, this show had more “finished product” exhibitors like RC Fine Foods that make bases and sauces. I also got to sample American wagyu from Snake River Farms and delicious wild cherrywood-smoked bacon from Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Meats. There were quite a few items that brought me back to my food science world, like National Pasteurized Eggs, shell eggs that are pasteurized to destroy all viable Salmonella. Another scary food made safe were the Ameripure Oysters that go through a warm and cold water temperature process that reduces the potentially harmful Vibrio vulnificus and Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacteria to non-detectable levels. Lastly, I sampled concentrated maple syrup, a product designed to help manufacturers save money (ship less water, use less of the ingredient and get the same amount of flavor!).
The expo floor was a bit like a food circus. The exhibitors were in the middle, but all around the room were culinary competitions, the culinary knowledge bowl, ice carvings, fruit carvings and Iron Chef–like events. It was quite a challenge to take it all in and see it all!
I was a bit lonely at this show, not surrounded by all the familiar people that I have been bumping into for years at IFT and RCA. I did see a few fellow RCA members though: Tim Kline was there, manning the RCA booth; Tim Rosendahl, the CEC at Butterball Farms; Alan McDonald from Heinz; Heinz Lehman from Unilever Foodsolutions; Dianna Fricke from Simplot; Anthony Todaro from RC Fine Foods; and Kit Kiefer from Schwan’s. A long time attending the event for them, but a first time for me. I was happy to see them there, reminding me that while I came from the science world, they all started here with the chefs—but we still have met in the middle, and are working together to make better food for everyone!