The 17th annual Worlds of Flavor conference will take place April 22–24 at The Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus. It’s our flagship event for which we work with 70 to 80 chefs—about 30 from the U.S. and the others from around the world—and invite them to share their authentic cuisine with an overall industry crowd of about 700.
This year’s conference will focus greatly on how Asian cuisine has influenced the world. We’re already seeing it more in the U.S., and many of our U.S. attendees are chefs influenced by Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Thai, and Korean cuisines in their establishments. An example of a presenter whose cuisine reflects this is Chef Diego Oka in Miami. Chef Oka is from Peru and he’s doing Nikkei cuisine, which is Peruvian cuisine with Japanese influences, such as Peruvian ceviche with Asian ingredients like soy or ginger—elements you wouldn’t find in South American Latin cuisine.
Another chef gaining attention right now is Ivan Orkin—also known as Ivan Ramen—in New York City. He’s taking the flavor profiles, techniques, and ingredients of authentic Japanese ramen, but he’s riffing on it with local ingredients and different flavors and combinations.
Thus, it’s great timing for Worlds of Flavor to examine Asian cuisines further. On my end, I work with the presenting chefs, sourcing and even growing the ingredients they need, organizing their presentations, and coordinating all of the culinary aspects of the conference—which means handling more than 800 recipes by the time those of the presenters, sponsors, and our team are accounted for. Right now, I’m researching ingredients sent in by Korean chefs, and I can already tell we’ll be bringing in some unique and interesting foods. One of them is tteokbokki, a Korean street food based on long, thick rice noodles.
As we get down to three or four weeks before the event, I’m buying unique things through a variety of sources, including Amazon.com, and asking chefs to bring anything we can’t find in America. In general, I tell chefs that if they can get something through customs, they can present it.
Typically, when I can’t find an ingredient in the U.S., we search for alternatives. One year, for example, I had the world’s best chef coming from Spain, and he had whale barnacles in his recipe. It was buried within a seafood dish, and I said, No one can get whale barnacles here! What can we substitute? It turned out California abalone would work. So, I’ll look for something and if we can’t find it, I’ll suggest alternatives that are still true to the identity of the dish but work within our context. And that’s the same advice I’d offer to U.S. chefs sourcing ingredients that are tough to obtain.
Once in a while, that approach doesn’t work. In 2013, we had Chef Michelangelo Cestari come in, and he’s cooking amazing dishes with Amazonian ingredients in Bolivia. He had tree fruits you can only find in the Amazon in his recipes. I said, “Can we substitute dried cherry tomato from a certain kind of tree?” But he said no, because he wanted to present the authentic cuisine he serves in his restaurant. He knew Americans would not be able to recreate it, but his purpose was to inform them of what’s being cooked outside the U.S. So, not every dish presented is replicable by the American foodservice crowd; the conference is also meant to inspire.
In the end, we produce a 700-page recipe document to share with attendees. It’s a tool for them to say, “Wow, this is a great recipe, maybe it’s something we can incorporate into our restaurants.” Ultimately, Worlds of Flavor is a culinary adventure for me and everybody working here because each year, we learn about new ingredients and techniques, and it’s a treat to see all these trendy, authentic, and traditional dishes.