Each year, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) hosts an annual conference that is likened to the Oscar’s of the culinary world. It brings together international chefs, exotic ingredients, native cooking techniques and, as the name suggests, Worlds of Flavor. It’s quite simply a chef’s Nirvana. Two of Rich’s professional culinary team members were invited to California to support the event by working in the CIA kitchens alongside the guest chefs preparing unique local cuisine. The chefs bring back a rare culinary experience that ignites the senses and stocks the pantry with new ideas and cooking methods.
Chefs Jake Brach and Brian Heidbrink were invited to the conference by CIA chef Tucker Bunch after visiting the CIA Greystone Campus in St. Helena, CA, this fall for a continuing education session with Rich’s contingent of chefs. The CIA alumni were honored by the opportunity to attend and be a part of this prestigious event for the first time in their culinary careers.
“It was an extraordinary experience,” said Brach. “Just to attend the event is a privilege but to be behind the scenes, to the see the planning and to work with these phenomenal chefs from around the world is an experience very few in our field get to boast.”
The CIA’s Worlds of Flavor® International Conference & Festival is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential professional forums on world cuisines, food cultures, and flavor trends. More than 60 guest chefs and culinary experts from around the world explore the best of world cuisines that are reshaping American palates and the foodservice industry. The “must attend” event is limited to just 700 leading chefs, corporate menu decision-makers, foodservice management executives, suppliers, and media.
The event was themed, ‘Arc of Flavor’ – Re-Imagining Culinary Exchange, from the Mediterranean and Middle East to Asia, and featured demonstrations, presentations, and tastings by leading chefs and culinary experts from more than 20 cultures and cuisines, including Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Spain, Morocco, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Iceland, the United Arab Emirates, and many more.
Rich’s chefs were each assigned to a guest chef’s team and worked closely with them throughout the week to prepare their exquisite menu items.
Brach worked primarily with a Sicilian pastry chef, Corrado Assenza, who has a café and ice cream shop in Noto, Sicily. Assenza is known for using all-natural, local ingredients in his dishes.
“Chef Assenza introduced me to some of his unique cooking techniques and local ingredients like nuts and honey,” said Brach. “We made a delicious, paste-like slurry using a native technique to blend walnuts and water.”
“I learned many cooking methods that I would have never thought of if I hadn’t seen them for myself,” said Brach. “I could think of immediate applications for our customers and Rich’s products.”
Heidbrink worked closely with two Turkish chefs; Semsa Denizsel, the chef-owner of Kantin Restaurant in Istanbul where she is known as the Alice Waters (farm to table) of Turkey; and Somer Sivrioglu, chef-owner of Efendy in Balmain, Australia. Sivrioglu spent 25 years in his native Istanbul before moving to Australia and opening Efendy.
“There were no celebrity chefs at this event, just hardworking international chefs who are in their kitchens each day, perfecting their native cuisine,” said Heidbrink. “Many of them brought their own equipment and rare ingredients with them. It was remarkable to see.”
Sivrioglu taught Heidbrink to make his signature Turkish Wedding Soup, which is a traditional dish using shredded chicken but he thickens the soup with yogurt rather than cream.
There was a bit of gesturing and working through the slight language barriers with the visiting chefs, but both of Rich’s culinarians agreed that when so many extraordinary chefs gather from around the world and work together so effortlessly it’s obvious that food indeed is a universal language.
“There’s no such thing as a language barrier when you’re talking food,” said Heidbrink. “A pepper is a pepper all over the world. It didn’t take long to understand each other and develop a rhythm in the kitchen.”
Each day at the conference began early and ended late in the evening, and while the chefs worked tirelessly in the kitchens alongside the talented international chefs, they took in a visual array of culinary sites to behold.
“There were bamboo steamers piled-up and flames jumping out of the woks of the Chinese contingent, and mountains of mint leaves being picked, and artichokes being cleaned at the Istanbul Turkey station,” said Brach. “Meanwhile, I was busy with Chef Assenza grinding pistachios, and walnuts, and making saffron pasta for the desserts we were preparing.”
“The chefs I worked with and the experience I gained are amazing stories to take back and share with my fellow culinarians and our customers,” said Heidbrink. “My mind is always thinking about food and I am always looking for ways to grow and learn. This was a great way to advance my skills.”
Both chefs credited the support of Rich’s Senior Leadership, particularly Mark Eister and Paul Rich, for making the experience possible.
“We immersed ourselves in the experience and took advantage of every learning opportunity,” said Brach. “We were honored to be invited and to be seen as adding value to the conference. We’re hoping to attend again next year.”
After four grueling days, Rich’s chefs bring back a world of flavor, international inspirations and insights, a host of new techniques and an extraordinary culinary experience to share with their customers and peers.