Culinary Tour Operator of the Year went to Copita chef Joanne Weir, who shared that as a child, she told her father that she wanted to be a bus driver, so that she could drive a bus on every road in the world. Her confession seemed to scare him a little. Weir dedicated her prize to him because he passed away last year. Food blogger Irvin Lin won the Best in Show prize for his photography, and he asked the IACP crowd to “hire me, I'm available," a sentiment which was echoed by the next winner.
The conference itself is that rare chance to possibly figure out how to eke out a living doing things in the culinary field--it can be exciting but also daunting in the number of possibilities it presents. There were various declarations for members to support each other and that each one "stands on the shoulders" of those who have come before and after them. That may sound hokey and like general conference speak yet three people we spoke with found these pronouncements to be inspiring.
Many attendees shared with Bay Area Bites that the chance of learning from so many different people doing interesting things is one of the main draws of shelling out $750 to $950 to register for the full conference—that’s on top of the $280 it costs to initially join IACP. Off the record, we were told that IACP is in the midst of something of a revamp and that costs and programming issues have been noted if not yet changed. These folks said that they attend as much for the learning sessions on, say, the meaning of restaurant reviews in the era of Yelp to getting a lowdown on sourdough or video content strategy. The coffee breaks are also highly valued and networking even happens in the bathrooms. Yes, really.
Kale salad and eating local may remain a big trend, but IACP attendees see much, much more at play in the food world. We asked some notable thought leaders to answer a few questions in person:
- What is this conference about for you?
- The theme of the conference is Dirt to Digital; what does it mean to you?
- How does the theme translate to the food industry?
- What did you learn about in the workshops and what are the clear trends that emerged from the conference?
Here are insights from Corby Kummer, Danielle Gould, Sandor Katz, Joanne Weir and Sarah Copeland. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Corby Kummer is a senior editor at The Atlantic magazine. Known as “the dean of food writing,” Kummer’s 1990 Atlantic series about coffee is a benchmark for excellence in long-form food writing. He is the author of “The Joy of Coffee,” based on his Atlantic series, and the recently published “The Pleasures of Slow Food.” Kummer is the recipient of three James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.
Kummer: This conference is about seeing people who are following food issues on the level of the home cook. It’s about how the things that we in the media are interested in and write about play out in real life and the home of a consumer.
IACP has always been the most connected to the real world of any group because it’s people making their living as culinary professionals. They are in touch with sustainability, farming and local issues. I thought the conference was brilliantly named "Dirt to Digital" because online is where all of the IACP members need to be marketing themselves and their products.
With social media, no one yet knows how to master it but everyone’s trying to learn. IACP has always been at the forefront of practical and real world applications. That’s a unique role because being so smartly focused attracts the most interesting, lively and active people in the food world. And I’ll take any opportunity to connect with them.
Danielle Gould is the Founder and CEO of Food+Tech Connect, a media company and network for innovators transforming the business of food. Through news and analysis, events, and custom research, Gould helps companies of all sizes drive innovation and understand how information and technology are changing the way food is produced, distributed, and consumed. She is also a founding member of the Culinary Institute of America’s Sustainable Business Leadership Council and is a regular contributor to Forbes.
Gould: This is my first time at IACP and they invited me to talk about food and tech trends and hackathons as a model for food innovation. Our panel touched on the opportunity and the medium, as well as how to demystify technology. It is also about helping people understand the knowledge and the challenges that are out there. We’re trying to empower people to put that knowledge out there where they’re collaborating with designers and developers to solve that problem. I travel the whole country and spread the gospel and learn about how people are thinking. It’s about using technology to help solve problems, spread messages and improve business models and just accelerate innovation that’s happening on a small scale.
In the past, a book would take you two years and a product would take 18 months. For a food producer or chef, that means that it takes awhile to market things. Technology offers opportunities: now you can self-publish that cookbook in close to real time, and get feedback on your product.
"Dirt to Digital" is at the heart of what food technology is. You’re looking across the supply chain, and food is interconnected. It is a system, and that goes to the consumer. A lot of times when people think of digital, they think of consumers. Emerging trends and what role technology is for each trend is a part of that. Technology is very broad and means so much to so many different people.
I just love learning how people respond to technology and food and how they use it. The other major takeaway was a lot of the panels weren't very popular or not as sexy but were about funding. Everyone’s having trouble making money in the food space.
Sandor Ellix Katz, “one of the unlikely rock stars of the American food scene” according to The New York Times, is a self-taught fermentation experimentalist. His books “The Art of Fermentation” and “Wild Fermentation,” and the fermentation workshops he has taught across North America and beyond, have helped to catalyze a broad revival of the fermentation arts.
Katz: I’ve never been to IACP before. I don’t think of myself as a culinary professional. The work that I do is demystifying and sharing skills with people who aren’t necessarily culinary professionals. The highlight for me has been to meet people whose books are influential. [Katz was sitting with Bruce Aidells when we caught up with him and Aidells shared the table with us while we caught up.]
Aidells: What’s good sauerkraut without good sausages?
Katz: A kraut -- quesadilla is my fast food, and I make it with Pepper Jack. That’s one of my standard meals.
The theme of the conference is significant. What does "Dirt to Digital" mean? I was just on this panel that was high tech versus low tech yet I don’t necessarily see things that way. I’m interested in understanding these processes in their simplicity. So that doesn’t mean you can’t use technology to have more control over the processes. It’s very empowering to see how the underlying principles don't need equipment. If you get involved in sausage making, you can use a funnel for the casing. You can also just be there with you hands, pushing the meat through to the casing.
For cheese, you can buy nice molds, perhaps. There are elegant crocks to make things but you can also do it with a jar that’s already in your pantry. I appreciate the conference and there’s much information spreading by digital means but it may be telling people how to use their hands.
Joanne Weir is a James Beard award-winning cookbook author, cooking teacher, host and executive producer for the award-winning television series Joanne Weir’s Cooking Confidence. She is the chef-owner of Copita, a tequileria and restaurant in Sausalito. The author of 17 cookbooks, including the newly released “Cooking Confidence,” Joanne is the Culinary Editor at Large at Fine Cooking! magazine. She travels and teaches extensively around the world as well as in her studio kitchen.
Weir: This conference was so interesting because I’ve approached it differently as a restaurateur this year. I usually approach it as “I write for magazines” or my cookbooks or how to fill your cooking classes. This time I’m taking in things that are really different. I want to sit in on the reviewing and Yelping session.
I still love to see all the people I know when I come to IACP. And I love that it’s in SF and I get to share Copita--they’re going over by ferry. I did a tour on Saturday and people loved it. I’ve shared in a different way and am still excited about my restaurant.
For me with "Dirt to Digital," I don’t know if I put the two together. Yet every single thing I do is fresh. I have an organic farm -- and my next series is called "Fresh" for TV. I am always interested in digital media. The market has changed and the whole landscape is changing. My hope is it that it goes back to dirt and less digital. Is that so 'Chez Panisse' of me? (laughs) I do digital but food is still my passion. Perhaps next year the IACP theme should be "Back to Passion."
IACP is pretty current on things. What they’ve done this year is now bloggers have been integrated. I left feeling in past years that I had to do so much on my own blog. I’ve always done food that is following my passion and on what brings about major possibilities for me. I attended a book session that talked about book advance spending and how book tours are back and rely on the digital medium.
My trend is always Mexican, and that comes with owning Copita. I saw the trendologist Kara Nielsen here and she said, "You couldn’t be in a more trendy thing, with Mexican food and tequila."
I do modern Mexican food.
We used to think of Italian red tablecloths and Chianti -- yet now Italian food has come a long way. One of the trends here is taking cuisines and elevating and educating around the cuisine. Thomas Keller was talking about that and I have seen that in this conference.
Sarah Copeland is the Food Director at Real Simple and author of “The Newlywed Cookbook: Fresh Ideas and Modern Recipes for Cooking With and For Each Other.” Her book, “Feast” will be published in December this year and she has authored numerous articles and recipes for Real Simple, Saveur, Food & Wine, Health, Martha Stewart Living, Better Homes & Gardens and Food Network Magazine. She has appeared as a guest on The Martha Stewart Show, Good Morning America and ABC News Now.
Copeland: A lot of the conference is about relationships. I see faces from every different facet of my career and have been reconnecting and catching up on what people are doing that is new and exciting. There’s a chance to celebrate successes while hopefully helping a few people too.
On "Dirt to Digital," one of the most challenging things of this industry from my perspective is that I started in print. That part has changed so dramatically in ten years or even five years. For most food people who are in love with food, it is very tactile how we communicate yet that is changing so much. The dirt part communicates place, smell, and touch, which are all the good things. It includes the agriculture, and the farmer. There are so many layers and it is complex with dirt. That’s how food is to me: we touch humanity and civilization, nutrition and wellness. In the digital sphere, how do you capture that? I think we are all figuring that out.
I did a panel on recipes and copyright for the conference. There were folks from Pillsbury there who were trying to figure out their contest. We also had teachers, bakery owners and bloggers. As Food Director at Real Simple, I have to be savvy and think about those aspects.