by Dinavie Salazar
Spring is the season for food conferences, and there are quite a few of them! With myriad opportunities to put your finger on the pulse, you could find yourself in food nerd heaven. There are SO MANY events, some spanning multiple days, and trying to attend them all might leave you in a gastronomic haze. So, we’re rounding up this season’s hit list and breaking down each gathering’s takeaways, outstanding moments, and lasting impressions. Read our recaps below for: Charleston Wine & Food Festival, Food & Enterprise Summit, Cherry Bombe Jubilee, Chef’s Collaborative, and The Food Book Fair.
Charleston Wine & Food Festival (March 2-6)
First up was the Charleston Wine & Food Festival, a five-day showcase and celebration of the region’s many distinct flavors. Comprised of 100+ individually-ticketed events, the festival is complete with dinners, music, excursions, workshops, and parties centered around the Culinary Village and spread out all over downtown Charleston. CHSWFF is all about the tactile experience, says chairman Randall Goldman. “The majority of people have mud on their shoes, they have some blue jeans, and they’re comfortable.” CHSFF is about engaging the senses in the narratives, in culinary storytelling.
“We want to let the chefs tell their stories—and other hospitality spheres. Whether it’s winemakers telling the story, we all have a story to tell. So, this is what that’s supposed to be, to create little vignettes,” Goldman continues.
Take for example, he says, the teepee CHSWFF built to house Heritage Radio’s talks and panel discussions: They decorated the interior with a boar’s head and metal wall, recreating the feel of HRN’s home studio, which is housed inside two repurposed shipping containers. Such a setting elicits rich, candid storytelling – such as quail farm owner Brittney Miller’s talk, “Bitch, Don’t Quail my Vibe.”
The festival is, as it sounds, a raucous good time. (Just see Knife Fight judge Alon Shaya’s squirrel-meat selfie.) “You can’t make up the fun that happens at CHSWFF. And that’s the true flavor of CHSWFF – gather that many talented folks together in one small city for a full weekend, and it’s one delicious surprise after another,” says Marketing and Communications Director Laura Kate Whitney.
Food + Enterprise Summit (April 8-9)
The Food + Enterprise Summit is a conference with far-reaching ambition. Presented by Slow Money NYC, it brings food entrepreneurs and investors together in effort to reshape the way money is invested to bring about a better food system. Here, you’ll find serious conversations about, as Executive Director Derek Denckla put it, how to economically support “businesses that are taking a different set of risks about privileging quality and sustainable stewardship over the usual profiteering motive.”
This year’s summit, themed Finding Food Value: Balancing Purpose And Profit, aimed to help these agents navigate their goals with practical, highly informative talks and workshops. But, most impressing was the way speakers challenged attendees to delve deeper and more mindfully into how food business shapes the world and what can be done to improve it.
Urban revitalization strategy consultant and Peabody-winning broadcaster Majora Carter dismissed the notion of the food desert and posed that of a demand desert, asking, “Are we creating a demand for healthy food?” and “How do we do that in ways that economically make sense?” Our low status communities, she says, “don’t need more clinics to deal with the health-related problems, or more and more community centers, or even more food justice and food education…[but] jobs related to those things.” By creating attractive and accessible experiences in those areas, food business can inspire the communities’ bright young minds to stay – “a more palatable self-gentrification model,” as Carter put it.
Cherry Bombe Jubilee (April 10)
Believe the hype. The pre-event coverage of Cherry Bombe Jubilee reads like a too-good-to-be-true exercise in name-dropping, but accounts of the event testify that it is not all for show. Jubilee effectively brings to life the pages of Cherry Bombe’s beautiful magazine, which celebrates women in food. With picturesque morsels and the hip High Line Hotel as its venue, the whole ordeal is Instagram-ready. But it accomplishes more than that. While there is certainly glamour associated with the way Jubilee brings together food’s leading ladies, it simultaneously gives these women ground to talk about the things that aren’t so pretty—harsh realities that in the public often go unmentioned (e.g. balancing work and motherhood, sexism in the kitchen).
This year, writer and editor Kat Kinsman talked about anxiety and depression in the food profession. “It’s not something you hear discussed at conferences, but it’s something we should all discuss more,” says Cherry Bombe co-founder Kerry Diamond. Such is the spirit of Cherry Bombe Jubilee. “I think the whole day is a reminder how we need to support each other, whether it’s individually, as Kat reminded us, or supporting each other’s businesses. Go support a female-owned restaurant or cafe, buy a product from a female-owned business, ask your co-worker how she’s really doing. Things like that really do make a difference.” Listen to the audio here:
Chefs Collaborative Summit (April 10-12)
The industry-only Chefs Collaborative Summit took on the theme, Good Food is Smart Business, to draw focus on “[helping] chefs address issues at the forefront for them, such as the future of wages and tipping in the restaurant industry, defining sustainable seafood, and the staffing crisis in the restaurant industry,” says Programs Director Alisha Fowler. Organized by chefs for chefs, the annual conference serves as a space to learn, connect, and get inspired. This year, cards and wristbands everywhere proclaimed, “Change Menus, Change Lives!”
Talks and panels feature star chefs, restaurateurs, and other industry pioneers pushing the boundaries of what culinary business can accomplish. Decisions regarding how and from where food is sourced can change the lives of suppliers, consumers, and beyond. Menus can change food systems, push sustainability. In his colorful, rousing keynote, renowned chef José Andrés declared, “Vegetables are sexy!” and spoke of their status as the “new rockstars.” He went on to speak about the flat organization model implemented in his restaurants, fair wage, what informs his decisions about sourcing, and his involvement in social entrepreneurship projects such as the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. He urged chefs to do more and spoke of his unrelenting desire to go further. Quoting Winston Churchill, he proclaimed, “Success is moving from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm—and I have enthusiasm!” Applause seemed to echo the chef’s sentiments.
Listen to the audio here:
Food Book Fair (May 1-2)
The Food Book Fair is, yes, a book fair, but not the kind you remember from your days in grade school. No one is merely selling books. Instead, you’ll find panels discussing all things food media: from the making of food trends to cookbook recipe-testing to the challenges of publishing. “Food is the entry point to being present,” declared one author at the enthralling Food + Fiction panel. That sentiment resonated with the audience, and seemed to be true of the books as well—an unexpected undercurrent of the event. The fair itself is an ode to, as co-director Kimberly Chou put it, “technology that has proven, over millennia, to have the most huggability (to quote JJ Goode): books and printed matter!”
And yes, books are sold. Cookbooks, indie food periodicals, food-centric novels, chef memoirs—pages waxing poetic on food and beautiful imagery begging you to slow down and appreciate the precious thing you’re holding in your hands. For four hours, attendees poured over rows of food magazines at Foodieodicals, Food Book Fair’s most popular event. It is a prime setting to discover new food publications and meet the people who produce them.
Chou and fellow co-director Amanda Dell manage, fittingly, to make the experience feel intimate. “There’s something really special about it with our community of folks who are often the creators of passion projects…our goal is for FBF to be a platform to showcase this great independent talent side by side with bigger names,” states Chou. The sincere love of the work is palpable, allowing attendees to mingle together with minimal pretense. At Food Book Fair, the books take center stage.
Listen to a special bonus episode of The Food Seen, with an exclusive panel discussion from the Food Book Fair here: