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Q-and-A: Reflecting on this year’s Worlds of Flavor

4 min read


Last week, we published an interview with Anne McBride, culinary program and editorial director for strategic initiatives at the Culinary Institute of America, where she discussed the upcoming Worlds of Flavor conference and what attendees could look forward to. In this follow-up, I talked to McBride about conference highlights, historic firsts and how social media influences the way we think about food.

Worlds of Flavor attendee Martha Holmberg tweeted, “Sri Lankan chef cooking for first time at Worlds of Flavor,” and Twitter user Real Carly Fisher tweeted, “First female Emirates chef Khulood Atiq demoing for first time in the States.” What other “firsts” took place at this year’s Worlds of Flavor?

Not only was it Chef Atiq’s first demo in the U.S., it was the first time that the United Arab Emirates was part of Worlds of Flavor. Iceland, represented by Gunnar Karl Gíslason, was another country making its first appearance at the conference. Chef Koluu and Skiz Fernando gave us our first Sri Lankan participation. I think it’s safe to say that Ángel León, of Aponiente in southern Spain, was the first presenter to talk about plankton as a culinary ingredient — while talking about his use of lesser-known varieties of fish and seafood to address seafood sustainability issues, embedded in a region that is a hot spot of the arc of flavor. Close to half of our presenters were here for the first time in the conference’s 15-year history, which is always exciting for the program. And between tastings at the seminars and workshops and the meals, it is certain that attendees tried several dozens of ingredients and dishes for the first time.

Attendees and presenters alike had plenty to share on social media during Worlds of Flavor, and pictures proved especially popular. How has the popularity of foodie photography and social media changed the way we eat, cook and think about food?

In this particular context, social media and food photography extend culinary experiences. By sharing what they are doing in the kitchen or what they are hearing on stage, presenters and attendees alike broaden the reach of learning opportunities, showcase behind-the-scene perspectives, offer immediate feedback and continue conversations long after a presentation is finished. The same effect applies when talking generally. We know about more foods from more places than ever before because experts and friends share pictures and information as they work and travel around the world. This will of course make us cook, eat and think differently since we have a much wider pantry, both literally and figuratively, to choose from when creating a new dish or picking a restaurant. It’s made us more knowledgeable and curious, but also always looking for “what’s next?” Chefs can find inspiration everywhere — but have learned, I think, to carefully consider what makes sense on the plate and know how to filter all the information that comes through social media to select what is most true to their creative process and cuisine.

Even after the conference concluded, some attendees continued to use the #ciawof hashtag to share ways that Worlds of Flavor educated or inspired them. What is the most important lesson the CIA hopes attendees will take home from Worlds of Flavor?

The idea that cuisines are not bounded by borders, religion and politics and that they are in constant motion. The arc of flavor we talked about for three days is by no means only historical — ingredients, techniques and ideas are moving faster than ever and continue to permeate other cuisines near and far their points of origin. That movement used to take decades, if not centuries; the pace is now much faster but no less significant in its impact on what we cook and eat. A better understanding of this makes it easier to incorporate new flavors onto one’s menu.

What can we look forward to for the 2013 Worlds of Flavor?

Kitchens Connected: Linking Emerging Appetites and Culinary Innovation in an Era of Global Flavor Discovery will cover four thematic areas: information technology, creativity, culinary science and millennial appetites. We will explore strategies to attract millennial diners, whose appetites are absolutely global since they grew up eating Japanese food one night, Spanish the next and a burger after that; this makes it challenging for businesses, especially in trying economic times, to retain their loyalty. We will look at the new ways of thinking about how we cook and where and how we dine that culinary science and information technology offer. We will discover the secrets behind the creative process of some of the world’s best chefs, to inspire our own creativity. And we will continue to showcase world flavors attendees will never have tasted before!