Reflections from UMass Culinary Conference

After two days, one comment stands out from all the rest.

During the first two days of the 18th annual Chefs Culinary Conference at the University of Massachusetts, I heard presentations from a number of well-known chefs, researchers and academics. There were talks on street food, world cuisine and healthy dining. Panelists discussed sustainability, health and wellness and customer service. And there was food, plenty of food, from all around the globe being prepared and sampled.

And through all of this culinary cacaphony, one comment stood out from everything else, at least in my mind. One simple sentence resonated with me, perhaps because it can apply to just about any endeavor. It certainly is as true for publishing as it is for foodservice.

The comment came from Victor Gielisse, director of advancement and business development for the Culinary Institute of America. He told the more than 100 chefs assembled in the Marriott Room of the UMass Conference Center that there are but two choices in business:

"You can either be distinct, or extinct."

Now, extinction might seem to be a harsh word to use in front of a group of chefs working in the college environment. After all, very few institutions of higher education appear ready to go belly-up. But if you substitute the word "irrevelant" for extinct, the meaning is essentially the same. Stand out from the crowd, be a standard-setter or an innovator, or find your operation ignored, lumped together with a host of institutions that are "adequate", "satisfactory" or just "all right." In other words, boring and unnoticed. 

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