SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA
- Worlds of Flavor from the Culinary Institute of America - Greystone campus in St. Helena, CA in April.
- This is our favorite conference of the year. The CIA brings in chefs, academics and industry leaders from all over the world who give presentations, demonstrations and workshops. There are discussions on culinary trends from influential marketing leaders, chefs and restauranteurs. They also organize a number of tastings throughout the conference which are delicious and inspiring. The calibre of the chefs and presenters at this conference, the food that is on offer, and the high level of organization and execution of the conference make it one of the best each year. If you have to choose one conference each year, this is the one. There is an expectation that you are affiliated with the culinary industry in some way, so keep this in mind before registering.
- reThink Food - The Culinary Institute of America and the MIT Media Lab, Greystone campus in St. Helena, CA in November
- "Innovation at the intersection of technology, behavior, design and food." This conference really does focus on topics at the intersection of all of these. The conference agenda contains academic talks, innovation talks, interesting new ideas from Ideo about design, all centered on food. The topics tend to be focused on sustainability, the future of food, new ingredients or methods of production and food policy. There are many more academic and industry presenters here, and not many chefs. It can be a bit preachy at times, but as a CIA conference it is extremely well run. The calibre of the food is lower than Worlds of Flavor given that the focus is not on chefs, but it's much better than the standard non-culinary conference.
- The Fancy Food Show - San Francisco, CA in January, and New York, NY in June
- The Fancy Food Show is an endless trade show where every new and established food purveyor gives samples and make deals with distributors and grocery stores. The space is huge and one can walk around for hours and try anything under the sun. There are a million new things to discover. Pace yourself! They often hold very comprehensive and high quality courses during the show on many topics like starting an artisanal food business or how to market your new product. There is an expectation that you are affiliated with the culinary industry in some way, so keep this in mind before registering.
- Bites SV - Santa Clara, CA in June
- This is a food and technology conference, with a lot of wine thrown in. It's a small conference, but the tastings were very good and they attracted high calibre chefs. It's small and manageable. The gallery tastings can be covered in an hour or two, and some of the talks were very interesting. New food and technology companies were showing their products, making it a good place to learn more about the next sous vide set up or the next vegan mayo. It is a high quality conference given its size and the fact that 2015 was the first year.
BEYOND THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA
- Star Chefs International Chefs Conference - Brooklyn, NY in October
- The ICC is a chef's conference. It has hands on workshops that may not be available anywhere else. The quality is entirely dependent on the presenter and can be a bit haphazard. The best part of the conference is the hands on workshops on topics like CVaps for desserts, fermentation, and advanced sous vide cooking. There is a medium sized trade show with industry tables with the latest cooking tools and fun pop ups and snacks provided by excellent chefs. The presentations are often given by very good chefs who may or may not be experienced presenters. The conference could benefit from an increased focus on the content that will be provided and a bit more organization and professionalism, but there are things here that are worth the headaches because they are not found anywhere else.
- SXSW SouthBites - Austin, TX in March
- SXSW is extremely well known as a top tier music and film conference. It is a meeting place for entrepreneurs and the capital and companies that support them. It's an exciting place to be and the Austin food scene is amazing. SouthBites itself is a bit of an afterthought. Some of the talks were wonderful because they can attract big name speakers (Danny Meyer, Anthony Bourdain), but the smaller talks were often of much lower calibre. In a few years it may improve if they focus on it. For now, if you are going to go, make sure you get a badge that will let you into all the talks (gold of platinum) and go because you are interested in the whole thing (or Austin) but not just for SouthBites.
- MAD - Copenhagen, Denmark in August
- This is a very exclusive conference put on by Noma. In 2016 they are taking only 300 people. The conference is very focused on restaurants and chefs, but often from varying and refreshing perspectives. They look at the culture of professional kitchens, what it means to be a chef, sustainability, localization and many other important topics in the culinary world. Applications are usually due in April, and while the conference is focused on professionals, they do welcome all different types of perspectives.