2008 Convention Testimonials

American Culinary Federation’s (ACF) National Convention is far and away the biggest gathering of chefs in a single U.S. venue. 2008’s annual meeting was held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, July 14–17, playing host to upwards of 2,500 cooks, students and allied foodservice professionals. While there, chefs representing a range of industry segments and customer profiles were asked questions to get their takes on the value of the meeting and to glean their insights on the state of U.S. foodservice today.

Building a Better Chef

The ACF National Convention is all about continuing-education and professional-development opportunities for chefs. An ambitious educational program offered workshops, seminars and cooking demonstrations encompassing a broad range of topics. We asked chefs to identify what they benefited from most.

“The sushi demo by Tracy Griffith. I am not knowledgeable about sushi, and it is something my customers want.”
—Chef Thomas J. Macrina, CEC, CCA, AAC, Desmond Great Valley Hotel and Conference Center, Malvern, Pa.; chair, American Academy of Chefs

“The ‘World of Flavors’ presentation, which focused on the foods of Vietnam and Sicily, was outstanding. While those two places are worlds apart, the seminar demonstrated that so many other cuisines and cultures around the world have much to offer, influencing the way we cook in the U.S.A. It’s not all about classical European cuisine.”
—Chef Jill Bosich, CEC, CCE, AAC, Southern California Gas Company, Downey, Calif.; manager, 2008 AAC Culinary Regional Team USA

“Of great interest to me was the ‘green’ seminar, on taking steps to reduce restaurants’ impact on the environment, presented by Kendall College."
—Chef Philip DeMaiolo, CEC, AAC, Pier Sixty/Lighthouse, Abigail Kirsch Catering, New York City

The Trade Show: Inspiration and Discovery

ACF’s annual Trade Show is a tremendous draw to chefs seeking new products and services. In 2008, Joseph McGarry of Bon Appétit Management Company was pleased to see greater variety of energy-efficient kitchen equipment. What else did chefs discover with potential impact on their businesses?

“As our conference center is Georgia’s only ‘Green Seal’ certified property, we are very focused on local, organic and sustainable products to keep up with the demands of our clientele. One company featured a vegetable-based chicken breast replacement with an amazingly meaty mouthfeel, excellent flavor and close resemblance to the structure of a real chicken breast.”
—Chef Michael Klein, CEC, CCA, Emory Conference Center Hotel and Emory Inn, Atlanta

“To identify one product that stood out from all those presented is very hard to pin down. From cookbooks to educational materials, uniforms, soups, sauces, dressings, appetizers, meats, seafood, cheeses, coffee and beverages, condiments, rolls and pastries, the list goes on. That an attendee can come away with new ideas, new products and new contacts for sourcing products is of huge value to any chef.”
—Chef Michael Garbin, CEC, AAC, Union League Club, Chicago

Fresh, Local and Sustainable

ACF chefs have their collective finger on the pulse of diner demands, which are as varied as the diners themselves. Teresa Robertson of Oleanders Off-premise Catering Service, for instance, says her customers want “anything diet”; Dean Thomas of Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino notes increasing interest in smaller portions. Meanwhile, Joe McGarry of Bon Appétit Management Company echoes an observation of most chefs we queried: demand for more local and sustainable foods.

“Fresh, seasonal and local ingredients are in the forefront of the culinary world today. Diners are looking for simple flavors and more natural ingredients.”
—Chef Philip DeMaiolo, CEC, AAC, Pier Sixty/Lighthouse, Abigail Kirsch Catering, New York City

“Local and sustainable foods are at the top of my list. In Atlanta, most food served in restaurants travels an average of 1,200 miles to make it to the table. That’s why so many of our town’s top chefs are falling in line with the Slow Food movement, sourcing local product and partnering with farmers, food artisans and producers in the region to develop their menus in a way that respects the concept of terroir.”
—Chef Michael Klein, CEC, AAC, Emory Conference Center Hotel and Emory Inn, Atlanta

“The new types of cuisine that, in reality, have been around for years: sous vide, slow cooking, science in cooking and more fusion of flavors. Competition is tough, and chefs are looking for what is new and will bring in the customer. So new techniques and flavor combinations, whether understood or not, make it to the menu. The customer today expects more when dining out.”
—Chef Edward G. Leonard, CMC, AAC, Westchester Country Club, Rye, N.Y.; manager, 2008 ACF Culinary Team USA

Delivering on Diner Demands

ACF chefs have noted marked changes in their customers’ expectations in just the last few years. “Value” and authentic eating have new meaning today.

“I see a tremendous return to authenticity in cooking, eating and the way we serve. Asian cuisine, for example, isn’t just this broad-stroke category of generic flavors such as ginger, garlic and scallions any longer. It’s the specificity of Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino, Malaysian or Korean cuisine, and operators are looking closer at what makes specific cuisines beautifully delicious.”
—Chef Jill Bosich, CEC, CCE, AAC, Southern California Gas Company, Downey, Calif., and manager, 2008 AAC Culinary Regional Team USA

“Our clientele is growing more adventurous each year. They are learning more about foods of the world from television and magazines, and have grown curious about many of the flavors they have been exposed to, including Middle Eastern, Latin and Asian. At the center of it is their demand that food be of value—not necessarily a matter of price. They expect to walk away feeling greatly satisfied about their dining experience.”
—Chef Michael Klein, CEC, AAC, Emory Conference Center Hotel and Emory Inn, Atlanta

“To me the most important aspect facing Americans today is freshness, flavor and quality all going hand in hand. Providing that special and unique flavor with freshness and quality with the first and every forkful will spark a true sense of enjoyment for the guest.”
—Chef Michael Garbin, CEC, AAC, Union League Club, Chicago

Parting Thoughts

We asked chefs to identify the most important take-away from their attendance at the ACF National Convention in 2008.

“I left with a sense of optimism for our industry based on the incredible people I met and spoke with over the five days I was in Las Vegas. Among conventions I have attended, this particular one seemed to attract a majority of very positive-thinking chefs and professionals who obviously love what they do and, even in a time of uncertain economics and harsh politics, are focused on making things better for all. What an affirmation of the kinds of people who make up our industry.”
—Chef Michael Klein, CEC, AAC, Emory Conference Center Hotel and Emory Inn, Atlanta

“As Charlie Trotter said in his speech, ‘Take care of the customer.’ It cannot be said too many times.”
—Chef Thomas J. Macrina, CEC, CCA, AAC, Desmond Great Valley Hotel and Conference Center, Malvern, Pa.; chair, American Academy of Chefs