The Sixth Sense of Dining: Inside the StarChefs Conference

October 03 2011 - 5:23 PM

IMG_1013Want to rub elbows with the nation's brightest culinary stars? The 6th annual StarChefs conference opened yesterday in New York with a star-studded roster of speakers.

The event is open only to industry professionals, however for culinary students and restaurant workers, this is a dazzling opportunity to ask questions and get your hands dirty with a workshop from your favorite kitchen god (or goddess). There is also opportunity to walk away with a dash of fame; 20 rising pastry chefs are in fierce competition to win the International Pastry Competition.

This year's theme was "The Sixth Sense: Intuition, Emotion and Experiential Evolution in Dining." Lots of fancy words, to be sure, but there is nothing pie-in-the-sky about Grant Achatz's determination to enter your psyche as a diner, as he spoke about the broadening role of food as entertainment.

The StarChefs conference is certainly smaller than other industry conferences (like the National Restaurant Association show), but the more intimate vibe allows you to dive in without feeling overwhelmed. There is a good smattering of equipment vendors, food suppliers and other merchandise to check out, but the real meat of the conference is not the Australian lamb, but the main stage presentations and workshops.

Want to hear about building a charcuterie empire? Daniel Boulud will enlighten you. Interested in making ethereally light macarons? Pierre Herme has traveled straight from Paris to guide you in an interactive seminar. Curious about the thought process that pushes a concept to a plate? Laurent Gras demonstrates visual storytelling through a fish eye and Picasso paintings.

More highlights and photos from the StarChefs conference after the jump:

Demarle makes a fashion statement with Silpat non-stick bakeware and pastry sheets.

Slicing a 24-month aged prosciutto di Parma ham with bone for a silky, melt-on-your-tongue treat

Matsumaeya is introducing a new umami shaker product, made from dehydrated bits of kombu seaweed and other seasonings. It comes in a spice blend, a salt-like powder and a spray bottle that can be used to spritz dishes as they are finished for an extra umami boost that won't cloy your original ingredients. The shakers come in five blends: original, yuzu, basil, shiso and curry. I sprinkled a bit of the plain blend in my palm for a sample. It certainly gives that savory boost, but without the chemical intensity of MSG. I'm curious as to how the liquid spray would taste on say, a green salad.