Kids in the Kitchen 2012

My third year attending the annual International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) conference has confirmed what the first two years had me suspecting. While the panels are informative and the socializing is good for business, it’s the active, hands-on activities that really charge me as an attendee. With IACP that means the annual event sponsored by The Culinary Trust (their philanthropic wing) and the Kids in the Kitchen committee.

Every year an event is planned in the conference’s home city to teach kids some valuable and basic cooking skills. For the last two years we’ve had the opportunity to work with the kids only once, during the conference. This year was different. The Culinary Trust planned the event to run for three weeks. We worked with the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger teaching weekly cooking classes to a fantastic group of kids, ages 8-18.


I know everyone who works with kids says this, but I have to write it anyway: The kids are fucking fantastic. They showed up week after week, ready to cook, ready to eat, and ready to play. We all had a great time. Who knew making smoothies could be so exciting? Seriously. Kids love a Vitamix.

The Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger is an organization that feeds 11,000 hungry people in Brooklyn every month.
Now read this:
You’re only allowed to shop at the pantry once a month.

So, where are families in need getting food the rest of the month? The neighborhood needs more support.

The Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger has been farming backyard plots for three years to supplement the food in their pantry. They teach cooking classes, pair kids with elderly community members to learn gardening and farming techniques, and provide clothes to those in need. This organization fights hard for their community.

And now it’s my turn to help out. There is a giant empty plot of land next to their headquarters. It’s been empty for 9 years. Dr. Samuels (the executive director of the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger) has tried everything she can think of to get that land for more urban farming. I called the city council member representing that district to inquire about the land. Will you join me in putting some pressure on the local government to help out? The community needs food. Farming engages everyone, from elementary school students to retirees. This is a win-win situation for the whole neighborhood.

Please call Darlene Mealy at 718-953-3097 or email her at darlene.mealy@council.nyc.gov. Ask her what the plan is for that land. It’s been sitting unused for 9 years. Let’s change that, let’s help the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger feed more people. Leave a comment and let me know when you call!


Keep kicking ass,


IACP 2012 Launch Party

Last week the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) put on a mini-skirt and some glitter and hit the streets. Yes, the venerable organization is shaking things up on the road to their next national conference and I’m all for it. The first conference I attended was in Portland two years ago. It had a spectacular taste, deeply woven into the city and amped with great chefs and funky events. And still, in between the parties and panels, I yearned for the board to adopt more technology into their planning. I was among the youngest attendees, a glaring hole in their facade.  Plancast, Twitter, Foursquare- if IACP wanted to attract more people my age, I suggested they jump into the deep end.So my hopes were high for the next conference in Austin.

And I was let down. The week felt sleepy, it lacked the urgency and spunk of Portland. Sure, I made some great contacts in the food world (that is, after all, the main focus of attending these things), but I didn’t leave feeling terribly energized. Knowing the next conference would be in NYC I decided that would be the make or break conference for me.

If NYC improves upon the Portland formula, then I’ll continue my IACP membership. If, on the other hand, it follows in the footsteps of Austin, then this will be my last year in the organization.

Bringing the event to NYC is important for so many obvious reasons. And for the less obvious? NYC is the place to weave IACP into a younger food culture. Time to pick up more digital entrepreneurs, time to change the game.

For too long IACP has been focused on presenting “the book deal” as the pinnacle of our work as food professionals. Yes, I love cookbooks. They are beautiful transcriptions of life lived around the world. And I almost never use them. I’d rather have my iPad in the kitchen with me, looking through my collection of recipes or searching for things online.

It seems to me that most attendees have websites and twitter handles at the urging of publishers and agents. IACP members are told, repeatedly, that having an online presence is key to building the audience necessary for that elusive book deal. But what about looking at digital projects as more than means to various ends?

Why don’t we examine the value of digital food interaction as an end in and of itself?

Now back to the glitter and heels:
IACP launched with a party at Santos Party House last week. I didn’t know what to expect, would it be Austin all over again or Portland-inflected?

I was not let down. It seems everyone is rallying around this conference, within and without. The planning committee has lined up some big-ticket speakers and peeled back the curtain around some of NYC’s most coveted food businesses. And to top it off, this year our awards show (usually a despairing evening) will be hosted by Mo Rocca. Watch the video above to hear more from the team in charge. I’m excited.

Will you be there?


Michel Nischan

When I get the opportunity to meet an incredible person I like to share some of that with you. Michel Nischan was recently given the Humanitarian award at IACP Austin 2011 and because he couldn’t be there in person to accept, I drove out to his brilliant restaurant in Westport, CT to interview him. Now, when I say “I drove,” what I really mean is Doug Duda, VP of IACP, picked me up and took me along for the ride.


I will admit to knowing little of Michel’s work before I was contacted to do this piece. Cursory research online bounced me to the website of his foundation, Wholesome Wave, and I liked what I saw. Michel started this program to get fresh, local produce in the hands of those needing it most. Among the many wonderful programs started by Wholesome Wave is the Double Value Coupon Program. To entice those living on SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) to shop at farmer’s markets this program doubles the value of every dollar spent from SNAP on local produce.


It was an honor and a pleasure to spend the afternoon talking with Michel, he is a most gracious man. Check out the interview above and if you find yourself in Westport, CT, make sure to stop by for a meal at The Dressing Room.

Video, Summer

IACP 2011

IACP 2011.

I was in Austin, TX for a week at the beginning of June with a collision of foodniks. The International Association of Culinary Professionals. We talked, we ate, we drank, there were some fantastic panels and there were reasons to play hooky. IACP is at an interesting crossroads (so say I). The organization has been around for over 30 years and acts to connect food professionals from all corners of this industry-photographers, chefs, food stylists, producers, bloggers, authors, eaters, etc. But in an ever more youthful food industry it seems that IACP struggles to bring in the under 35 demographic. Indeed, I was one of a handful of attendees under the age of 30. This was my second year as an IACP member. I joined because it put me in direct contact with people who knew more than me, plain and simple. I started this website in my imagination (honestly, I told people it existed but “was down for service” for a good 6 months before I even launched). It was an idea bubbling in my head and when the bubbles started to burst I found myself with questions questions questions. I needed to meet people (face-to-face, not pixel-to pixel) who had done this before, who had started a website on a whim and turned it into something more. For me, IACP is the place to get face time with peers you’ve known online for ages. It’s a deep resource and I’m happy to have it at my fingertips.

So why is it so hard to get us young folks in the door?

Face time is a hard sell. And with a $600-800 ticket price (not including travel expenses), we have to prove a return of equal or greater value. For people starting out in the food world, be they young chefs or baby bloggers, this is a major expense. Hell, for people not starting out in the food industry this is a major expense. And when I’m about to drop serious cash I look long and hard at the product before I write that check. At the relatively minor cost of $100 I decided not to attend the regional conference in NYC this year. What kept me away? A quick demographic breakdown of the speakers instantly deterred me. I believe that we are drawn to speakers for one of two reasons: 1) They are like us 2)We want to be like them. The average panelist at the regional conference was certainly not like me, late 40′s to early 50′s, but the real struggle I felt was that I didn’t see panelists I wanted to be. Sure there were fascinating speakers, and there were even some people talking about what’s happening in the digital world. But those people were not my people. These were not speakers I’d have picked to talk about food in the digital age. Let’s get the folks behind Foodzie on a panel. I want to hear from the Fork.ly team. I want to meet the people my age who are game changers in the online food world. And more than that, I want action. As someone under the age of 30 (and I know many over-30 year olds who’d agree) I don’t want to sit in a room while someone talks at me for 2 hours. Even if it’s a topic I’m enthused about, I lose interest when my participation isn’t necessary.

If we want to change the demographic of our attendees at the national conference we need to change the demographic of our speakers.

If we want to prove value to a younger generation we need to build active programming.

One place IACP really does it right? The Kids in the Kitchen committee hosts an event each year that is both active and youthful. This year we went to the excellent UT Elementary school and gardened with the kids. We then drove to Whole Foods and showed these funky eaters how to cook what they grew. I left with dirty hands, as sure a sign of value as anything. The best face time at IACP is there, working with culinary peers to educate a new generation. Second best face time? Eating and drinking with new-found friends and old-school cronies while you ditch a few panels and make connections that will last a lifetime. We have to find a way to showcase this value, this nebulous, unplanned, off-campus “networking” that changes your career.

I want IACP to grow, to change, to be the best it can be. It has played a major role in my professional development and I want it to do the same for my peers. I made a video highlighting the Kids in the Kitchen event this year, it encapsulates the energy, passion and integrity that I see in IACP members.

There is great value in knowing people who know more than you. Thank you IACP for another great conference.

Video, Summer

IACP White House Event

Did this really happen?

Just over a week ago I found an email in my inbox from the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) asking if I would be interested in attending an event at the White House. Michelle Obama wanted to launch the next phase of her Let’s Move campaign to end childhood obesity with a lawn packed full of chefs. I couldn’t (and still can’t) think of anything that would stop me from going, so I sent in the requested security information and hoped for the best. Would there be a selection process? Was I eligible? Could I bring my camera with me?

I bought a ticket on the excellent Bolt Bus (plugs at every seat and wifi on the bus, it’s like Virgin Airlines hijacked Greyhound) and tried to pack wisely. I knew we’d be required to wear our chef’s coats on the White House lawn, so that took care of the tricky part (I dread to think what I would have dared to wear without a requirement). And then I received another email, this one from our White House contact. We would be allowed to bring in phones, cameras, video cameras…technology! I was surprised at the time, but I shouldn’t have been: more press=more press

The morning of the event we were invited to a sponsored breakfast from Share Our Strength. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke about the challenges we face when it comes to overhauling the school lunch program, but more importantly, he focused on the danger of doing nothing. He said, “What keeps me up every single night is that we have a dropout rate in this country that is staggering. We have 1.2 million students leaving our schools for the streets each year. We have to do everything we can to reduce that dropout rate and increase the graduation rate. But we can’t do it if we don’t start to address their health. We can’t do it if we don’t improve the quality of the food they’re eating.” I couldn’t agree more. Food is powerful.

I love hearing politicians discuss the connection between academic achievement and our current food culture. The processed foods that have taken over school lunches (not to mention the general American diet) don’t set students up for success. I’d love to see more relationships between local farms and schools. Is there a financially feasible way we can get fresh and local produce into cafeterias? I know a number of schools have started gardening programs, not only as a way to bring in unprocessed foods, but also as a learning tool for the students. Science classes can teach plant-life biology in the garden; English classes can discuss the various ecological influences in some of our most famous works of literature (When all at once I saw a crowd, A host of golden daffodils). This weekend in D.C. showed me how badly our food system needs overhauling, but also how much our education system stands to gain from that change.

And then we walked to the White House, where we mingled in the garden until Michelle Obama’s speech. It was hot, I was wearing a black chef’s coat (poor choice of color), and I could not have been more excited. I didn’t know what to expect (my favorite state of being). Among the guests were a number of chefs from The Food Network (Anne Burrell, Aaron McCargo Jr.) and a few past Top Chefs (Carla Hall, Ron Duprat). Everyone in the crowd (celebs and civvies alike) was simply charming on camera and I thank you all for lending me your time and voices.

As the crowd started to move from the garden, I realized it was time for the speech. We made our way to the South Lawn and sat down in sweaty anticipation. Sam Kass (assistant executive chef at the White House) opened for the First Lady and then it was showtime. Michelle Obama spoke to us about the Let’s Move campaign and our collective opportunity to change the future. I could paraphrase her, but I’d rather quote:

“We are going to need your time and talent to solve the childhood obesity epidemic and I am calling on our nation’s chefs to get involved by adopting a school and working with teachers, parents, school nutritionists and administrators to help educate kids about food and nutrition. You have tremendous power as leaders on this issue because of your deep knowledge of food and nutrition and your ability to deliver these messages in a fun and delicious way and I want to thank you for joining the Chefs Move to Schools campaign.”

Thank you, First Lady Obama, for letting me be a part of this. I’m thrilled.

Of course, I also made a video:


IACP 2010 Portland, Kids in the Kitchen

Picnics are a wonderful way to uncork your mind when it feels bottled and buried in dust. Just this past Thursday I found myself called to revolt from my desk chair and join in a celebration of the last nice day of summery weather in Brooklyn. Kristen rallied the troops and planned an outdoor lunch at Fort Greene Park; those of us on the list fell into line with tasty provisions at our sides.

I needed the break. I’ve been spending obscene amounts of time in front of my computer lately, mostly in the pursuit of finely edited video files. I’ve got a new video today that has long been in the pipeline. You may have seen the Citrus, ginger, soy and some chili paste-click here for a sauce that will make a fiery marinade for chicken and a smashing simmering sauce for rice noodles.


IACP 2010, Portland Day 2 Video

Hopefully you watched the Day 1 IACP video.

If not, take a few minutes and catch up.
I don’t want to spoil anything.

As far as I’m concerned, day two officially started with the opening night ceremony on day one. Everyone had a chance to get their glam on, eat some food and sample some incredible LOCAL spirits. As a non-Portlander, I was wowed by the mashup of high end restaurants and out-of-control food trucks. The competition was fierce between the two, and I am not about to call a winner in that battle. If you made your way to the absinthe room, consider yourself lucky. Bathed in low light, it was the official IACP red light district of the night. Two great distillers, Marteau and Pacifique. Rock it out.

Of course, then there were all the events of day two. It started with a call to arms from Captain Reichl, asking us to vote with our dollars and change the food industry from the ground. More classes followed and of course, there was Ruhlman. You’ll have to wait for the next video to catch a glimpse of him. I’m a tease.


IACP 2010, Portland Day 1 Video

Ladies and Chickens, this is what you’ve been waiting for. At the end of April, Renegade Kitchen hit the road and took the show to IACP 2010. I spent a week in Portland with some of the hungriest culinary minds eating, drinking, laughing and learning. In between the edification I boogied around and filmed interviews with attendees, vendors, speakers and volunteers. Many thanks to everyone who spoke into my camera during the conference-your bravery is to be commended.

Here’s the first film (yes, this will be a series). Day 1 of IACP 2010-checking in, making some friends, celebrity sightings, the usual. It was a brilliantly full day of classes and handshaking. We left lunch with a charming little ceramic crock from Le Creuset (who didn’t covet another?). The first day was superb, everything kept in check by the IACP volunteers. If you were clothed in orange during the week, you have my heartfelt thanks. Music in this clip is courtesy of Purse Candy over at TheSixtyOne.com. Rock out.

IACP 2010, Portland

It’s a good sign that I’m exhausted.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of IACP 2010, mellow or wild? Attending one class last year in Denver gave me a teasing taste-enough to make sure I’d attend Portland top to bottom, but hardly the bite necessary to know the full flavor of the conference.

Let me say now that I’m in awe of Portland, excited about the future of IACP and anxious to get to Austin. I ate fresh fresh food (from line out the door bistro to parking lot food cart) and got some great R&R (Reichl and Ruhlman), but it was the hallway handshaking and late night babbling that proved IACP’s wealth and worth. On the first day Kat Flinn pointed out the importance of introducing yourself and meeting the other attendees, and during my last session Derek Richmond highlighted what draws us together: we are all entrepreneurs. Regardless of our focus, whether we write books or raise hens, what unites us at IACP is out commitment to change. I like my ideas to be as fresh as my food. IACP 2010 was the place to kick the processed and prepackaged habits and get back to truly creative thinking and eating.

It isn’t a new concept, but Captain Reichl’s call to “vote with our dollars” still has me thinking about my individual influence on the US food market. We all know that the bureaucratic roadblocks are high and wide when it comes to FDA reform, but I have the opportunity everyday to skirt those barriers with my wallet. I don’t have to wait for the laws to come down from the top to change Big Agro, let’s force the issue from the bottom-up. Sir Ruhlman’s exclamation that “it might be fundamental to our humanity that we take an hour and spend it with our family in the kitchen” could not be closer to my heart. We vote with our money and time, I choose fresh food and home cooking. You?

Not that eating out has to be a federal offense. With its spectacular farm-to-table restaurants, Portland was an AbFab host for IACP 2010. A late night dinner at Higgins showcased the excellence happening all over this city. Outstanding flavors, giant portions, reasonable prices and ethical eating. From the coffee shops (Coffee Plant, all gluten free!) to the hip restaurants (Pok Pok was a twitter darling this week), more than impressed I was proud. Proud to be a diner, proud to be voting with my dollars for local candidates.

And now that the conference is over, I’m already thinking about next year. One of the most rewarding sessions I attended was Kids in the Kitchen’s workshop directed by Michelle Stern on the last day of the conference. We spent the morning teaching kids to cook and then served the food to those in Portland who needed it most. During the conference we live a week of lavish eating and drinking, and it was this last workshop that really put my consumption into perspective. What better way to thank the host city that welcomed us so opulently than to give back to its most needy residents?

I challenge IACP to promote more socially engaged events like this next year in Austin. And while we’re on the topic of challenges, here are a few more: Let’s make the conference more tech savvy. Let’s add digital check-ins for the events to cut down on line-waiting. Let’s get an official IACP twitter account posting schedules and class locations. Let’s make the social media classes as useful for those who overtly use Twitter and Facebook as we’ve made it for those who are new to the tech scene. Let’s take IACP to the next level.

My thanks to all who organized the conference, it far outshone my expectations and I cannot wait to see what we can do together in Austin. It is with a lush green heart and a belly full of food and laughs that I’m leaving Portland. See y’all online, cheers!

Check back for the edited video of the conference, and thanks to everyone who let me shove a camera in their face.

Rock. Out.