Chef Net happened this past week, and it was amazing. Colleges from California to Canada came together this week to discuss the culinary trends of today. USC opened their doors to around 60 chefs for Chef Net. NACUFS, or the National Association of College & University Food Services, has been putting on Chef Net for a number of years in order to help chefs keep up with the growing trends of the culinary industry. Being the first time I had attended Chef Net, I was excited to get started.
This year the Radisson Hotel on the USC campus hosted all the chefs of Chef Net. We jumped right into the seminars, starting the conference off with Menus of Change. The idea behind “menus of change” is for people to start eating healthy and sustainable food. This can be implemented not only in restaurant menus, but also in your daily life. When you go to the grocery store, try keeping your frozen items to a low and having fresh fruits and vegetables be the main items you are bringing home. Even if you substitute one frozen item a week for a fresh one, it can start bringing a healthier attitude towards food to your dinner table!
If you read the L.A. Times, you might have heard them mention something called Beyond Meat. This company has started to look at other proteins to sustain a person, such as mushrooms. Instead of focusing on meat, they are focusing on plants. No matter if you are a professional chef or just cooking for two, it is a positive undertaking to change up the menu to healthier offerings! If we want to see healthy eating and a healthy world, we have to look beyond meat and find additional solutions for protein intake. This organization is bringing taste and flavor, nutritional awareness and environmental sustainability to the kitchen table. I hope you want to do the same. Check out their website for great recipes to help you get started.
To mark the end of our first night, we decided to dine at McKay’s. Here we were able to try exactly what we had been discussing, called the protein flip. McKay’s chefs served up 7 different types of sliders that were partially meat and partially mushroom, from bison to beef. We understand it’s hard to cut out meat entirely, but if you can just substitute a little of something else you are making a difference! As chefs, we are aiming for a relentless pursuit of deliciousness. As the “chef” in your house, I expect that’s what you’re aiming for as well. That is what we got at McKay’s; the chef even made mushroom fries that were mouth watering.
Starting out bright and early, a unique breakfast was served, from shrimp in a pickled sauce to ramen noodles with a poached egg. I know my taste buds were ready for the day that awaited me.
For all of you science fans out there, listen up. Science has been slowly making its way into every kitchen in America. One thing you might have grown up with is a vacuum sealer for leftovers. I have seen my aunt and uncle take theirs out after Christmas dinner. If you have one, you know how amazing they are, though one downside is you can’t seal liquids. I found out two things you can try to get around that. One, you can always freeze the liquid first then seal it. Two, you can try putting a few paper towels right in front of where you want the seal to go, and it should stop the liquid enough to give your machine time to seal. A little fun fact for you vacuum sealer fans is that the 1900 Hills Brother Coffee was the first vacuum-packed food!
Now if you have a vacuum sealer, you may even have a sous vide. We can thank George Pralus, a French chef, who brought sous vide to the culinary field. These machines are making their way into a lot of households today, two of the more popular brands being Anova or Joule. How sous vide works is it cooks your vacuum sealed item by distributing heat evenly into the water. With some of these newer products you literally just download the app and type in all the variations of food you’re cooking (for example, steak) and how you want it cooked (medium well), and your phone beeps when it is done. You can even drop in eggs for a quick way to make egg salad. If you have a vacuum sealer in your house and you aren’t sure what to do with all that leftover food, I suggest looking into sous vide.
USC has started a garden using Green City Farms. This company has a new way of farming. A few weeks ago I showed you how to grow lettuce. Well, Green City Farms takes it to the next level with a no-soil-necessary approach to farming. You might think, “Oh, that looks nice, but it’s not for me,” Well, think again. These sustainable farms come in different sizes, and can even go on the terrace of an apartment complex. I’m looking into getting one at my house! The idea behind this farming style is to convert small spaces into growing large quantities vertically by using a rich-in-nutrient water supply at the base. The water cycles up the tower giving the roots nutrients, enabling the plants to grow with no soil! Then once the food is ready to eat you can either trim off what you want for a single meal or harvest all of it for a large party.
The best part is you can grow practically anything from flowers to herbs. Even vegetables or berries.
After the garden tour we “dove” into the sea. If you are a fish fan, you may have been hearing a lot of talk about wild fish vs. farm-raised fish. Well, I have a great site for you. It’s called Seafood Watch. You type in the fish you want, and it will not only tell you a little about that fish, but give you a ranking of where to find the best one. This helps you as a consumer know if your fish was caught correctly. The best fish to buy is one that does not endanger the ecosystem by being harvested.
This Santa Monica Seafood worker has been butchering fish for over 20 years. It’s crazy how quick he works.
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I know by the end of the day I was getting hungry, so we loaded up the bus and headed to Koreatown down in L.A. Before Koreatown was founded, this restaurant had already made a name for itself. Guelaguetza is authentic food from Oaxaca. Check out their site – there is so much information on this unique food and cultural tradition!
Kortni’s Kitchen: Chef Net
Let me tell all you foodies out there, this should be your next stop. From succulent moles to traditional grasshoppers, everything I put in my mouth I loved.
The last day we headed to the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Bright and early, the market opens up at 8:30 with vendors from all over California ready to sell. The Santa Monica Farmers Market is one of the largest in California. It is also just for produce, so you won’t see any quilts at this market, though if you look hard enough you might find delicious jam. Everything sold here is fresh from a farm. If you live close to Santa Monica and haven’t tried it out, I would advise you to head on down next Wednesday!
Once the market was closing, we headed back to USC to finish out the day. We were met with a smorgasbord of items for lunch from some companies you may have heard of. Barilla served up some fresh pesto, Dannon made a refreshing parfait, and Sun Noodles composed a great dish too. These are just a few brands whose items can be found in your local grocery store as well.
Once lunch was over, we sat down for our last seminar. I know Food Network is turning the culinary field into something watched almost as much as sports. Chefs work hard at what they do, be it in a professional sense or even as a home cook. I know when I first started cooking I had to work longer at some things than at others. That’s why watching Food Network shows like “Chopped” is a benefit to both professionals and home chefs! If you are skeptical that a professional chef has mastered impressive skills, try checking out a chef competition show! The ACF or American Culinary Federation hosts multiple types of competitions that chefs participate in year round. Rankings such as “Gold” and “Silver” are awarded!
Speaking of ranking, did you know there was a culinary Olympics?
By the end of the three days I was stuffed with food and filled with knowledge. I hope you are able to take away some things you can try in your own kitchen! Below are some more pictures of the conference, including one of my father and me. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Originally Published: Jun 14, 2016 @ 06:07