The first Chicago edition of Taste Talks took place over the weekend at several venues around the city. The event, which originated in Brooklyn in 2013, featured a series of symposiums discussing various topics on the state of the culinary world. Some of the biggest names in the local industry were on hand including festival curator Paul Kahan (One-Off Hospitality), Rick Bayless (Frontera Restaurants), Matthias Merges (Yusho), Paul Virant (Vie) and more. Speakers touched on a wide variety of subjects ranging from the Evolution of the Farm Dinner in City Dining to Building Restaurants that Last.
In addition to talking about food, there was also plenty of good fare to chow down on. "Mother of Pearl" at Kinmont kicked off the weekend's festivities on Friday night with a seafood feast. Guests enjoyed Island Creek oysters and Champagne during cocktail hour before Chicago chefs including Jason Vincent and Abraham Conlon (Fat Rice) wowed them with dishes such as shellfish chowder with clams, blue crab and mussels; fried smelt with achaar aioli and pickled peppers; and an enormous tableside seafood boil. On Sunday, an All-Star Chef BBQ capped things off with lots of tasty smoked meats creations. To recap, here are a sampling of the best quotes from some of the panels.
1) Marc Vetri (Vetri Family) on the importance of farmers: "You're just not going to be relevant, I think, in this restaurant world without utilizing the local guys."
2) Paul Kahan (One-Off Hospitality) on how the industry has changed: "There were no chefs at the [farmers] market 25 years ago."
3) Marc Vetri on how diners' palates have expanded to vegetables: "They're looking for things that are in season now. I think whereas they were always sort of looked at as the side, now they're looked at as the main dish. I think that's all because of this whole vegetable revolution."
4) Dave Cleverdon (Kinnikinnick Farm) on how pre-packaged foods have taken over: "The kitchens aren't where the food is cooked, it's where meals are assembled."
5) Rick Bayless (Frontera Restaurants) on Xoco: "When I die, there will be a thing on my tombstone that says—only one thing—it'll say, ‘Make good food in an airport.' "
6) Rick Bayless on what he tells new culinary school graduates: "When you've cooked that steak a thousand times, it will tell you what you need to know. You have to listen to it. You have to listen to that food a thousand times before you'll be able to understand what it wants. And that's mastering the craft."
7) Rick Bayless on Topolobampo's constantly-changing menus: "Any cuisine that is not evolving is dying."
8) Donnie Madia (One-Off Hospitality) on longevity and trusting your business partner: "The one thing that's constant is that: self-other instead of selfish."
9) Paul Virant (Vie) on advice he was given: "The one thing that Paul [Kahan] always said to me was, ‘The last thing you want to do is open up a restaurant.' I didn't listen to him."
10) Donnie Madia on what separates Chicago from the rest of the country: "I think that the Midwest, Chicago, carries a hardworking thoughtfulness that other cities don't and I think we show that in how we take care of our staffs as well as how we take care of our guests."