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Chefs will discuss food from fine dining to quickserve at Sirha World Cuisine Summit

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Since 1983 chefs, winemakers and other foodservice professionals have gathered in Lyon, France for Sirha, the biennial international hospitality and foodservice conference that also encompasses two of the world’s most prestigious cooking competitions: the Bocuse d’Or and the Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie, or World Pastry Cup. While these events — often referred to as the culinary Olympic Games — have been drawing chefs to Sirha for decades, this year will mark the debut of an event at the conference. On Jan. 28, Sirha will host the inaugural World Cuisine Summit, which will bring together culinary professionals from all levels of the foodservice industry, from fine dining to quickservice.

The World Cuisine Summit will focus on international culinary trends, sustainability and the growing diversity of global menus, and will include notable keynote speakers such as chefs Magnus Nilsson, Alain Ducasse and founder of the Bocuse d’Or, Paul Bocuse. Rather than simply being a place for chefs to compete or discuss culinary trends one-on-one, the summit aims to study the international food scene in hopes of achieving “better food service for a better life,” said Frederic Loeb, executive director of the Sirha World Cuisine Summit.

Loeb said organizers polled 600 international experts for their views on the future of foodservice to find the trends that will be discussed at the summit. Among the top trends are: raised global awareness of the need for sustainability, eating healthy on a budget and the need for “invisible” marketing, which revolves around selling consumers an experience, not just a product.

“Foodservice experts highlight the need for differentiation based on themes and ‘event-making’ in the foodservice offering. Furthermore, entertainment has become a constant need and society seeks the theatrical,” Loeb said. Experts predicted an increase in theme-based foodservices and a greater interest in offerings that let customers interact with their dining experience, such as chef’s tables and customer loyalty programs.

While most of the events at Sirha have focused on fine dining and haute cuisine, the World Cuisine Summit will pay equal attention to the fast casual and quickservice sectors. While France has a long-standing reputation as the culinary capital of the world, Loeb said these more casual segments have increasingly become a presence in the country than many people realize. “In France, the time spent on lunch has halved during last 20 years. Traditional French bakeries, and even supermarkets, have developed a wide range of take-away food,” he said, noting that quickservice meals account for 40% of restaurant meals sold in France.

“The big difference with the USA or Great Britain is the lack of fast casual concepts in France. Chipotle for example, is trying to establish … but is succeeding slowly. McDonald’s considers France a market of reference for creativity and quality. McDonald’s in France is now experimenting with waiter-led table service as in fast casual eateries. Fast casual ‘informal’ is also becoming the rule for the French young generation eateries,” Loeb said.

Just as France has transitioned into a country where fine dining and grab-and-go can operate successfully side by side, many countries are challenging the rules that once defined their cuisine and experimenting with new ways of cooking , eating and looking at food.

“Throughout the world, foodservice concepts that originate in the U.S., for the most part, succeed. They are very accessible (in terms of price, taste and format), organized in chains and have an offer that is fairly well adapted to local tastes and customs.

“The dawn of the 21st century saw a planet globalized thanks to new ways to transport people and merchandise, as well as information and communication technologies. The world has become a village, in which consumption, which has become global, cohabits with cultures and customs, which, for their part, are local. For fine cuisine, new food dreams are diffusing around the world: essential Japanese, Spanish molecular cuisine, Scandinavian raw cook, Peruvian fusion … In all regions of the world, we see a slow, progressive trend towards ‘international,’ if not ‘global,’ tastes,” Loeb said.

Some experts, particularly those from Italy and Spain, have expressed concern that this age of global cuisine may threaten national and local heritage, Loeb said, noting that “this globalization of cultures creates a fear of a standardization of tastes, a loss of tradition criticized by professionals, and an aggravation of the irremediable degradation of the planet.”

However, many chefs are hopeful for the new era of diversity and innovation that will be ushered in by this global approach to cuisine. “The trend toward a globalization of cultures is aspirational, as it fosters creativity: Being open to the world and travel favors an introduction to new types of cuisine; technological advances facilitate the accessibility of restaurant offers.”

As for French chefs, Loeb said most take a point of view somewhere in the middle.

“The future of French cuisine should be built with a new food philosophy that balances heritage and modesty; tradition and modernity; global and local; health and pleasure. We aim, at our summit, to develop this point of view.”