Watching chefs perform and learn

A preview of the 17th annual Culinary Conference.

I’m up in Amherst all this week attending the 17th annual Culinary Conference hosted by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. More than 120 chefs, almost all from colleges and universities, gather to learn from restaurant chefs and from each other new ideas for bringing more flavor and value to their customers.

For the fourth year, I am the master of ceremonies for the event, which gives me a great opportunity to talk with chefs about what’s happening on their campuses, as well as improve my own knowledge of culinary techniques trends. In addition, it’s great exposure for FoodService Director as a supporter of the efforts that the University of Massachusetts is making to elevate the skills and the prestige of chefs in the education markets.

The theme for the year’s conference is “Simple Foods, Healthy Eating.” The event kicked off with a demonstration of what can be done with local foods and a few simple ingredients. In a one-hour version of Iron Chef, four restaurant chefs were given the task of coming up with a dish using Maine lobsters and asparagus. (Hadley, the town adjacent to Amherst, is one of the nation’s largest growers of asparagus.)

The four chefs—Chai Siriyarn, Neela Paniz, Alexander Ong and Joanne Weir—presented four different treatments, each based on their cultural experience and heritage. Thai, Indian, Malaysian and Mediterranean all were represented in dishes that the chefs in attendance could then sample during the reception that followed. It was an interesting and practical way to assert the theme early on.

I’ll report on more of what the chefs experience over the next few days and be sure to look for our photos after the event, both on Facebook and in the pages of FSD.



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