The 2014 Roger Smith Food+Tech Conference From Flint Knives to Cloned Meat: Our Ambiguous Love, Hate, and Fear of Food Technologies, will be held April 3-5 at the Roger Smith hotel in midtown Manhattan.
Besides boasting what has to be the longest title ever, this is a unique three-day confab, featuring provocative, talks, interactive discussions and plenty of time to interact and network with thought leaders in a congenial, professional ambiance surrounded by what else? Good food and drink – ingredients that are usually in short supply at most events, even food-focused ones.
Elevated food aficionados who admit to even a smidge of passion about the subjects refracted in the prism of food (cooking, community, wellness, religion, urban farming, genetics, chocolate, cookbooks, to technologies including 3-D Printing, knives, crowdfunding, milling, molecular gastronomy, and Apps – to name a smattering of issues that will be addressed) need to attend this unique event.
Besides, just think of all the cocktail party chats or conversations around the BBQ, on the beach, or in the office, where food and drink drive the narrative – then recognize that the insights and forecasts previewed at the Food+Tech Conference are what’s are going to set the agenda for the year ahead.
Think of it as getting a jump on the food culture narrative – this is what people will be talking about.
You can bet your homegrown or Top Chef on it.
Technology as Evil Twin?
According to Andy Smith, one of the Food+Tech Conference co-founders, “We are in the golden age of food tech.”
With corporate food and factory farms poised squarely across from artisanal makers and homegrown sustainable fishing and agriculture, the table is set for one doozy of a discussion that promises to rival the in-laws at Thanksgiving.
Learn here how the opposite of homegrown, natural, sustainable food is perhaps Not technology…
When one thinks of the culinary sprites and James Beard winners like Wylie Dufresne or Ferran Adrià one doesn’t see evil, bratty Veronica Salt from the Willy Wonka tales.
On the contrary.
Food, fun and technology are the holy trinity for the irrepressible and much-heralded culinary artists Adrià and the Willa Wonkish Wylie Dufresne who work more than a bit of magic and theater into award-winning dishes.
So who better than Dufresne to headline at this year’s Food+Tech Conference?
At both his wd~50 and Alder NYC restaurants he’s a recognized leader who embraces technology as a bionic tool not as something to be shunned or a genie to be stuffed back into the bottle – even if it is a bottle filled with meat-glue or foam and powder!
The program says, “Wylie Dufresne, chef and owner of wd~50 restaurant in Manhattan and is a leader of the movement to integrate science into food preparation and presentation.”
And sticking with the Willy Wonka reference, just got word that a Chocolate Workshop is a must-attend addition to the lineup, Thursday, April 3, 1-3 pm.
Chocolate’s Exciting Journey Through Time: What It Meant To Early Americans And How It Is Made Today
Chocolate History Research Director Rodney Snyder (contributing author to Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage) will uncover chocolate’s early beginnings in Meso-America and explain how this precious treat made its way from South America to the 13 original colonies and onto colonial American’s tables. The bean-to-beverage presentation will feature authentic colonial tools including cocoa beans and nibs, winnowing baskets, a hot stone metate, chocolate drink pots and stirrers.
The presentation will continue with a detailed narrative of modern-day chocolate making with the origin of the cocoa pod - the source of cocoa beans and all things chocolate. Guests will have the opportunity to taste the individual ingredients of chocolate, including the ground cocoa beans, cocoa butter and milk and a finished solid chocolate.
The Devil’s in the Details
Unlike other industry conferences, fairs, or events where the organizers more or less provide a nexus or hub for culinary celebrities – all good in their own way – but a different presentation altogether from what’s served at the Food+Tech Conference.
Here, the program is fueled by curiosity and a passion to learn about new things – things you don’t know anything or much about.
The process is driven by the presenters.
They provide the “intersection.” The show itself is an intersection of food, technology and culture.
According to Smith, there are topics that attendees would like to know more about. “People have their own expertise but they can find out about other areas and other experts. Here, the program is content driven. There is an energy.”
The conference is balanced with new, raw content.
Smith says he and his team – Bruce Shaw, Cathy Kaufman and Nancy Seldon - think about what people will want to hear about – and send out notices to a broad audience, inviting them to submit topics.
“It’s a totally open invitation,” explained Smith. “We’ve never met half of the speakers!” he adds with excitement, while pointing out there are academics, and non-academics and technologists and food and farm experts.
The Food+Tech team then read the papers, put them in the conference’s Dropbox so attendees and others could readily react.”
“What came back were truly groundbreaking proposals,” said Smith.
In response to a question of whether their conferences are similar in format and impact to TED, Smith pivoted.
This is an academic social – punctuated by stimulating talks that provide the “food for thought” for food talks.
The final lineup features not more than 32 panels the maximum that the schedule and space can accommodate. And to maintain the intimate atmosphere that is their hallmark, attendance is capped at 250.
It always sells out.
The list of 100 Presenters is a veritable who’s who bracing food thought leaders:
Program & Schedule
The subject of food has only gotten more controversial of late. Smith notes so many groups now have a bias – which only promises to deliver the match to the content keg and further fanning the flames is the attendees’ opportunity to engage – to ask questions and challenge the experts and their agenda.
The Industrial Farming GMOs talk promises to be controversial. Smith notes that the four panelists are evenly divided on the subject: two supportive of their use and two who “strongly oppose” the use of GMO. What side of raw and pasteurized milk do you come down on?
Preview the thought-provoking, ground-breaking issues and topics – plum the workshops and panels at this conference.
Smith says he can’t pick a favorite panel - but does lean in when it comes to the “Cultural Ferment” panel that he is moderating, as well as “The Technology of Cake.”
Smith says he was especially drawn to the Cake panel because of a key ingredient: sugar.
For him; it’s personal.
Turns out that sugar is what attracted Smith to the culinary world and food history.
The lure of the sweet stuff intoxicated Smith – in the 1980’s.
It was to have been his first book – he now has penned and/or contributed to more than 24 books and 1,000 articles. (Smith is also a lecturer, teaches Food Studies at The New School University, NYC)
Sugar, it turns out is a complex and fascinating subject -- so his first love kept him on a string, so to speak, for nearly 30 years.
He just finished the manuscript and produced the illustrations for the book about the world history of sugar.
With a reverent chuckle, Smith notes the Roger Smith Hotel is not the Hilton – “Its elevators are very slow.”
This makes for journeys filled with a rich soupcon of conversation.
Last year, this Examiner wrote that the building itself seems to have been architecturally structured with a “Shoots & Ladders” template. (http://www.examiner.com/article/roger-smith-cookbook-conference-launches)
Hallways are narrow making for, ahem, intimate exchanges. All good.
The Roger Smith Hotel is rather, a charming, handsome, art-filled beacon of hospitality. The staff is gracious. Plus it’s centrally located in midtown – and therefore close to all major transportation hubs for easy access.
Smith points out that the hotel doesn’t really make any money on the conference.
The Smith family-run hotel – no relation to Andy or his Smith family – supports the conference as a community kindness and one assumes a shared passion for the conference’s subject and pursuits.
The “Extreme Networking” is a decided benefit that Smith and the Conference nurture and showcase. “Most conferences don’t allow for so much one-on-one time, but we built it half hour coffee breaks and the after-conference Opening Reception cocktail party.” This is a food and drink fueled elbow-to-elbow social swirl where introductions are made and deals are struck with the food writers, publishers, and culinary historians there.
Overall, Smith says he’s learned of cookbook contracts that resulted from the networking here. He described how quite a few attendees and author wannna-be’s secured a book contract. This Examiner shared a personal benefit in this networking arena: having been approached at last year’s Food Conference by the talent who will produce The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook App.
Noting they’ve never had such a variety of registrants, Smith says there will be attendees from seven different countries and from 25 different US states.
Smith explained they recognize the fact that attendees can’t make it to all the sessions – and there are those who just can’t make it to the conference – therefore they will provide the program’s content on line and available for FREE.
Workshop Schedule Highlights: April 3, 2014
#1 Reading Cookbooks for Technology with Barbara Ketcham Wheaton
#2 The Truth About Olive Oil: A Workshop and Tasting with Nancy Harmon Jenkins
#3 Creating Dynamic Recipes
#4 The Changing Food Web (social media workshop for food writers)
#5 How To Use Crowdfunding To Start Or Grow Your Food Business
#6 Culinary Video Production – organized by Jamie Tiempo
#7 Chocolate's Exciting Journey Through Time
April 4, 2014 Panel Highlight Schedule:
There are 31 Panels scheduled for the conference.
Ones to look for include, “What Happens When Food is Free?” “Cooks, Books and Much More,” “Cooking on Air: The impact of Radio and TV Cooking Programs,” and a personal favorite, “The Urban Rice Paddy Project: Food for Thought, Food to Eat.”
See more and register at: http://thefoodconference.com/#sthash.yEm5SHQ1.dpuf
American Heritage Historic Chocolate
The Harvard Common Press
The Julia Child Foundation