11 Big Takeaways From This Year’s New York Culinary Experience

Alain Sailhac's still got it.
Alain Sailhac’s still got it. Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Over the weekend, guests and world-caliber chefs mingled over stove tops and stockpots for the seventh annual New York Culinary Experience. Hosted by New York Magazine and the International Culinary Center, the event featured a roster of chefs both legendary and of-the-moment, including André Soltner, Ken Oringer, Jamie Bissonnette, and David Bouley. Here are 11 of the most interesting things we learned during the two-day event.

1. With seafood, fresh isn’t necessarily better.
“One of the amazing things about Spain,” Toro’s Jamie Bissonnette said during his demonstration, “is that they can seafood at the peak of flavor.” The pressure from canning forces the oil into the seafood, infusing it with that flavor (which is why you should always buy preserved seafood that’s packed in oil, not water). Bissonnette even prefers canned clams to fresh ones for their texture and concentrated taste.

2. Seaweed salt > sea salt.
Chef Kerry Heffernan thinks there might be a reason to improve sea salt. “It doesn’t give you the full taste of the ocean,” he says, which is a problem since that’s exactly what he wants when he’s making crudo. To get it, he has turned to seaweed, which he says produces the powerful, salty aroma that’s familiar to anyone who’s spent time on a beach. At home, use a food processor to blend a little into salt next time you’re looking for some added flavor.

3. The farm industry is ready to be disrupted.
To solve the problem of feeding the world’s growing population, ICC founder Dorothy Cann Hamilton says we’re going to have to reach for the sky. “Vertical farming is the farming of the future,” she said. It will be especially important in dense urban areas like the Northeast, but it’s not all. In Montana, the farm is already being delivered straight to consumers. “We’re going to disrupt how we harvest and package food. You take the tube the vegetables are growing in, put it in a truck, take it to the market, and people harvest their own food,” Hamilton said.

4. “Fine dining” will evolve into something very different, too.
“My sense is that the idea of a ‘gourmet’ meal will in 20 years be radically different from what we think now,” New York critic Adam Platt argued during a panel. “The food that is the luxury food of the time, it seems to me, inevitably becomes endangered.”

5. We’re in the golden age of the veggie burger.
An avowed “meat-and-potato-lover of the old school,” Platt also had praise for some newfangled meat impostors. “I hate to say it, but we’re in the golden age of the veggie burger,” the critic relayed. With ace chefs like Dan Barber and Brooks Headley engineering delicious vegetarian patties, gone are the days of dry, sad bean pucks.

6. You want François Payard next to you when you’re making chocolate.
When a young chef-in-training had a little trouble with his molded chocolate during François Payard’s demo, the pastry chef himself came to the rescue:

7. The next great ingredient: coconut sugar?
At his restaurants, David Bouley has subbed out white sugar in favor of coconut palm sugar. It’s got tons of flavor and, he says, nutrients including vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. The only downside, he says, is that it’ll make a traditionally white dish like a meringue look brown. “But you’ll get a beautiful meringue,” Bouley says.

8. The hottest new cooking technique: freezing.
While experimenting with a French fry recipe at Recette, chef Jesse Schenker’s team discovered that freezing the fries after blanching them actually made them taste better. (He thinks this is the secret to McDonald’s famously delicious fries, which are always frozen after par-blanching.) Meanwhile, over at All’onda, chef Chris Jaeckle, who trained under renowned pasta whisperer Michael White, has his kitchen freeze all of their pastas before they get cooked. “I believe it improves elasticity,” he said.

All'onda's Chris Jaeckle, a pasta ace.
All’onda’s Chris Jaeckle, a pasta ace. Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

9. Sometimes the most interesting dishes are the least “harmonious.”
Chefs often talk about creating dishes with perfectly unified, balanced flavors, but for Upland’s Justin Smillie that’s not always the goal. “Too many people make too much of harmony in food,” Smillie said. “Sometimes dissonance is interesting. Like in the juxtaposition of texture and flavor.”

10. Pat LaFrieda might be heading to the West Coast.
During a panel, meat-industry titan (and steak supplier to basically every big-name chef in New York) Pat LaFrieda let slip that his company is considering heading west. After moving to a 35,000-square-foot facility in New Jersey last year, they’re already looking to upgrade to a 100,000-square-foot space and are exploring the idea of opening up a California distribution center. This would allow the company to make daily meat deliveries to that state.

11. There’s yet another reason to stop hating on MSG.
The movement to reclaim MSG as a fine ingredient to use is steadily gaining steam, but some people remain afraid of naturally occurring ingredients with opaque names (like xantham gum). Yet if there’s anything to convince critics that MSG is all good it’s kombu, the edible kelp used to make dashi. That’s because, as chef Jaeckle points out, it’s one place where you’ll find MSG in the natural world. “You see this white film on the kombu? This is naturally occurring MSG. As it dehydrates it naturally crystallizes like salt,” he said. (And that might be one more reason why Heffernan is all in on seaweed salt these days.)

11 Big Takeaways From This Year’s New York Culinary Experience