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World Casual: the Future of American Menus

food2_dec11The CIA’s recent Worlds of Flavor® International Conference & Festival examined the casualization of fine dining.

Dozens of leading chefs from all over the world shared their expertise about the growing role of casual food in different world cuisines at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone in St. Helena, Calif., November 3-5. “World Casual: The Future of American Menus” was the topic of the 14th-annual Worlds of Flavor® International Conference & Festival held at the college’s Napa Valley campus.

Jose Garces, the James Beard Award-winning Ecuadorian-American chef who owns eight restaurants in Philadelphia and Chicago, provided examples of how to successfully translate world-casual concepts onto American menus. The Food Network Iron Chef led a workshop on the signature casual flavors of Mexico, Ecuador and Peru and gave a presentation about the next generation of Latin casual at a session moderated by Chef Rick Bayless, with CIA chef-instructor Iliana de la Vega as a fellow presenter.

But the conference focused on much more than Latin America, delving into myriad regional food cultures and ethnic cuisines over the course of three days. Presenters covered Spain and the Basque region; Italy, Greece, Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean; Lebanon, Syria, the Middle East and North Africa; Senegal and West Africa; China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and India in Asia; Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil in Latin America; Jamaica, Cuba and the Caribbean; and the United States.

The combination of a slow economic recovery, continued excitement about celebrity chefs and all things food-related, and technology putting the world at our fingertips has created the “perfect storm,” making now the time for casual foods from around the world to find their way onto menus in the United States. Food trucks serving quality fare for good value are becoming more common, and the Michelin Guide for Hong Kong this year bestowed stars on several noodle and curry shops serving Asian street foods for as little as $4! World-casual embraces these traditions, turning what used to be exotic into the classics-in-the-making comfort foods of tomorrow.

One of many highlights of the conference was the “World Marketplace,” which gave participants an immersion into the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of world-casual cuisine through market stalls, cultural music and dance performances, book signings and food and wine tastings.

More than 750 foodservice and hospitality leaders attended the conference, including chefs, corporate menu decision-makers, foodservice-management executives, suppliers and food journalists. Through numerous general sessions, breakout seminars and kitchen workshops, they learned how to create authentic flavors from the casual foods of different cultures that will appeal to the increasingly adventurous American palate.

Looking at how these cuisines will affect the menus in the United States in the years to come, CIA President Tim Ryan, CMC, wrapped up the conference by addressing the future of world-casual cuisine. “The world-casual juggernaut is changing everything, from menu formats to our concept of what a restaurant is. Never before have we seen so much culinary talent reaching into the casual dining space and innovating across such a broad diversity of flavors and culinary ideas from around the globe. The movement was led by chefs who make great food and want to do so in a setting that is more economically viable for them and their guests. World-casual creates opportunities for more chefs to open restaurants or food businesses. Ultimately, this means the industry will continue to grow and evolve in a world marketplace of ideas.”

For more information about the sessions, presenters and foods explored at the conference, visit www.worldsofflavor.com. For select recipes from the conference, click here.


Photo: Chef Jose Garces, of the Philadelphia-based Garces Restaurant Group, prepares for a tasting with kitchen workshop participants during the CIA's 14th annual Worlds of Flavor® Conference. Courtesy of CIA/Terrence McCarthy.

Additional Info

  • topics: Food Trends
  • Chef Name: Jose Garces

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