The 19th Worlds of Flavor® International Conference and Festival, World Flavors: Casual by Design, set out to showcase the casual world that we see at the forefront of dining. The more than 80 guest chefs and other presenters who came from throughout the US, Asia, Latin America, and Europe run fine dining restaurants, fine casual restaurant groups, food halls, hawker stalls, food trucks, neighborhood hot spots, university dining concepts, delivery concepts, and more. What they have in common, and what they demonstrated for three days, is a chef-driven approach and a sense of hospitality that means that no matter how formal or casual the setting, diners will always feel at ease, enjoy themselves, and want to come back. Amanda Cohen from Dirt Candy
Other concepts and sectors of the foodservice industry--from the inventive, modern cuisines of Michelin-starred and "world's best" kitchens to tried-and-true QSRs, legacy family dining, traditional corporate and institutional foodservice, and more--will continue to win the hearts and minds of Americans. But viewed from the perspective of the entire industry, there's just something special in the action around what we could call "next-generation casual."
As Americans have become more food savvy and adventurous, and more exposed to a wider world of food through television and digital media (and trained on what to like by our most accomplished chefs), this has driven a democratization of food quality the likes of which we have never seen before.
In many cases, the best of these new, modern, fresh casual concepts are being launched by the very same chefs who have already distinguished themselves with award-winning, upscale restaurants. For many of today's chefs, especially the young disruptors, accessibility and scale are replacing exclusivity and acclaim from the elite food critics as business strategies. JJ Johnson of Minton’s
However, high-quality food in more casual settings usually means lower price points and new challenges, as well as opportunities, with budgets. Design becomes critical: from the menu, food experience, and brand promise around value (and values) to back-of-the-house operations, including supplier networks. Success leverages the intersection of design thinking, culinary insight, and, increasingly, a deep understanding of the right-now aspirations of Millennials and other generations.
Our 19th annual Worlds of Flavor International Conference and Festival took an in-depth look at this rapidly changing landscape shaped by the public's embrace of world cuisines from Asia to the Mediterranean and Latin America; lifestyles that balance indulgence with commitments to health and sustainability; and a driving interest in connectivity and community--all wrapped up in a relaxed, fun, and casual ethos. We explored these themes with general sessions that included translating fine dining concepts into casual experiences, what the market wants now of multi-model operators, creating vegetable dishes that push the boundaries of flavor and excitement, how to be an integral part of your neighborhood---and much more! Presenters (see the full list here) were from all sectors of dining, from across the country and around the world; these extraordinarily talented people included Niklas Ekstedt from Sweden, Jaime Pesaque from Peru, Digby Stridiron from St. Croix, Elizabeth Blau from Las Vegas, Asha Gomez and Eli Kirshtein from Atlanta, Amanda Cohen and Erik Ramirez from New York, Francisco Migoya from the kitchens of Modernist Cuisine in Seattle, Abraham Conlon and Matthias Merges from Chicago, Maneet Chauhan from Nashville, and many, many more!