Research Chef’s Association Conference: A Family-Like Atmosphere

I just got back from my first time at the Research Chef’s Association Conference where I had two days of listening to really cool food trends, meet some smart, passionate people, and of course, eat some delicious food.

After being blitzed by Expo West, it felt refreshing to be in Lousiville Kentucky in a more intimate setting. I’m sure the people I saw at both shows will say the same.

The structure of the conference allows you to network pretty well. There’s an “opening act” every day, and then networking, then sessions that are really cool. I only went to two, one about fermentation and one about foodservice innovation. Both had some great tips.

The keynotes are really good. Edward Lee, a very popular chef local to Louisville had a great talk about authenticity, in which he disagrees with the word because it limits creativity.

Barb Stuckey, president of Mattson Inc, with whom I’ve had the pleasure of doing a moderation panel, with rocked the stage with a really insightful presentation about food trends. Among topics include things like CBD, clean meat, investing etc, but Barb really takes it to the next level by exploring concepts and executions (CBD beer for instance) and diving into implications for the future.

The RCA Conference is a show I definitively would like to check out again. The RCA Conference for 2020 is in San Diego, in which I feel is no excuse not to go.

Family Reunion Vibes

When you join the RCA Conference, it feels like you’ve been accepted to this new, elite club. The people with whom you’ve met in the past are so happy that you’ve joined and it feels like you’ve crossed the path from acquaintance to friend.

Many of the people with whom I’ve met during the years such as Kim Schaub, Phil Saneski, Rachel Zemser, Jessica Goldstein, Dan Follese and future guests that I can’t reveal yet, are very involved in the RCA and have been for a very long time. It was refreshing seeing my friends really shape what the RCA is. Phil lead the Student Food Waste Competition, Kim participated in the Cocktail competition, and Jessica is now vice president of the RCA.

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Not only that, but everyone there knew everyone! Though I usually say this when it comes to going to Expo, but the RCA really has a tight-knit community in which so many people help each other out. People will introduce people to each other, and be really transparent about the connection. I’ve met a lot of cool people there and ate a ton of interesting things.

On a small note, this conference was also one of the biggest hit rates on people who knew of me but never met me in person, I met someone who said my voice was familiar, and someone with whom my face was familiar. That’s kinda cool.

Chef Flavor

The Expo at RCA is pretty small, about the size of a supplier’s night. But the people at the booths are much more creative than the other trade shows I go to.  Most give you a meatball and leave, but these chefs play with flavor experiences. Some of the best things I’ve tried were layered in flavor and well-balanced, perfect for a complex palette.

Though I have never worked as a chef (I got fired my first day as a dishwasher in college) I learned that chefs have a certain artistic comrodery that is welcoming and respected as long as you fit the mold.

By fitting the mold, you have to either be referred by someone on the spot or talk passionately. Especially with a little bit of bourbon, the research chefs really open up and you get to have a really fun time with them. I had a blast with the people at Wendy’s corporate for instance. They have a great, dynamic R+D team.

If you’ve been in the food industry for a while, it’s best to connect with a friend before the show as they will give you guidance on who to meet and they will be happy to get you an introduction. I was fortunate to post a quick blurb on LinkedIn about me going and got some great responses and met some people I never knew were coming. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

New Things I Learned while in Kentucky

Louisville is pronounced way differently than read according to locals. Gotta thank Jess Hines from Tyson for the info. Here’s an example:

Eventually, us non-Loovool folks just made a joke to word vomit it.

Also, I learned how to appreciate Bourbon. If you’re not a fan of hard liquor, try this next time: Breath with your mouth open. What happens is the sharp alcohol sting gets dissipated and you unlock a way to smell different notes. It was a mind-blowing experience. You can also do the Kentucky Chew to get more flavor out of your spirit.

Kentucky had a crazy thunderstorm, it looked like someone threw a glass of water onto the city. Streetlights were dangling, and it was hard to see. It also lasted about 15 minutes.

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