Drexel’s 2016 Philly Chef Conference Tackles Hot Topics in Restaurant Industry

The conference’s line-up of world-renowned chefs, restaurateurs and food writers will participate in TED-talk style lectures, panel discussions and demonstrations. Photo credit: Brian Kinney.
The conference’s line-up of world-renowned chefs, restaurateurs and food writers will participate in TED-talk style lectures, panel discussions and demonstrations. Photo credit: Brian Kinney.

Being a chef is so much more than just cooking. On March 6 – 7, the 2016 Philly Chef Conference will bring together the biggest names and rising stars in the Philadelphia-area restaurant scene and beyond to delve deep into the real issues faced by restaurant industry professionals, from menu development to restaurant real estate and navigating legal pitfalls.

Called “a locus for networking and continuing education in the industry” by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the conference, hosted by Drexel University’s Center for Hospitality and Sport Management, is an annual forum designed to connect the regional food community, discuss key issues and showcase the latest food and beverage ideas and techniques through lectures, panel discussions and demonstrations. The first day of the conference is open to the public, while the second day is reserved for hospitality industry professionals.

Now in its third year, the conference originated from Drexel culinary arts alum Joshua Lawler (The Farm and Fisherman) and his wife Colleen, who conceptualized an annual forum for chefs following a Philadelphia StarChefs panel discussion at Drexel.

This year, the Philly Chef Conference has expanded to include major restaurant industry experts outside of Philadelphia to broaden the discussions and the scope of topics,” said professor and director of Drexel’s Hospitality Management Program Chef Michael Traud, formerly of Vetri and Zeppoli, who organized the conference. “The two-day event offers an opportunity for students, chefs and industry professionals to talk and network in an educational setting while helping to develop the next generation of industry professionals.”

This year's demonstrations will include creating spice blends, bread making, dessert making, designing a cheese plate and cooking with surplus food. Photo credit: Brian Kinney.

The conference’s line-up of world-renowned chefs, restaurateurs and food writers extends beyond the city to include top food scientist and author Harold McGee, best known for his essential kitchen handbook “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen;” the New York Times’ wine and food critic Eric Asimov; and restaurant hospitality expert Anthony Rudolf, who founded Journee and the Welcome Conference.

Also new this year is a series of beverage sessions in the Academic Bistro’s bar with Asimov, chief spirits advisor to the National Archives Derek Brown and beer author John Holl, as well as a dessert composition demonstration and tasting with Johnny Iuzzini, head judge of Bravo’s “Top Chef: Just Desserts.”

Other panelists include industry insiders such as Michael Solomonov (Zahav, Federal Donuts), Kevin Sbraga (Sbraga Dining), Greg Vernick (Vernick Food & Drink); Jeff Benjamin, partner and COO for Vetri Family Restaurants; and Rob Keddie, chief development officer of Garces Group.

Day one of the conference, Sunday, March 6 from 3 – 5 p.m., will be held in Mitchell Auditorium at Drexel's Bossone Research Center (3126 Market St.) and is open to the public. Tickets are $20 per person. Day two of the conference, Monday, March 7 from 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., will be held at Drexel's Paul Peck Problem Solving Center (101 N. 33rd St.) and is open to industry professionals only. Tickets are $100 per person. Tickets are available for purchase here. All students in Drexel’s culinary and hospitality management programs will be in attendance.

On Sunday, March 6, TED-talk-style presentations will include a discussion on modern kitchen science with McGee; food insecurity with Mariana Chilton, PhD, associate professor in the Dornsife School of Public Health and director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities; food waste with Solomon Katz, PhD, director of the Krogman Center for Research in Child Growth and Development at the University of Pennsylvania; cocktail history and culture with Brown; and empowering restaurant professionals by Rudolf.

New this year is a series of beverage sessions in the Academic Bistro’s bar. Photo credit: Brian Kinney.

From 5 – 7 p.m., a reception for conference sponsors will be hosted by rising chefs who represent the next wave of culinary all-stars on the Philadelphia dining scene. The event will feature food from Di Bruno Bros. and a special Flying Fish Chef Conference beer from Drexel alums Gene Muller and Mary Grace Hodge.

The second day of the conference will be dedicated to hospitality and restaurant professionals and will feature industry-specific discussions and demonstrations. Participants will learn about such topics as gluten and artisanal grains with Peter Reinhart, an internationally known expert on bread and bread making along with Easton, baker Claire Kopp McWilliams (Vetri), and Glenn Roberts (Anson Mills); kitchen science with McGee; a panel on collaborative hospitality with Rudolf, as well as the state of hospitality technology, restaurant real estate, navigating legal pitfalls, beverage law and menu development.

Demonstrations will include creating spice blends, bread making, dessert composition and designing a cheese plate. A demonstration on cooking with surplus food will feature a collaboration between Baldor Foods and the Drexel Food Lab followed by a surplus food lunch component featuring local chefs including Drexel culinary arts alum Natalie Maronski (Volver).

Breakfast, lunch, snacks and happy hour are included. Breakfast will be provided by La Colombe, Rival Bros., ReAnimator, RevolutionTacos, Kermits, Sip N Glo and 1732 Meats. Federal Donuts will provide special Philly Chef Conference donuts designed by culinary arts students. Lunch will be provided by HoneyGrow, Hai Street, Baldor Foods, South Philly Barbacoa and Caviar, providing food from some of Philadelphia’s best restaurants.

Ice cream and coffee breaks will be provided by The Bees Knees, Capogiro, Waekerly’s, and La Colombe. Happy hour will be provided by Origilio Beverage, Di Bruno Bros., Birchrun Hills Farm, 1732 Meats and local distillers and brewers. Chefs' Warehouse is a presenting sponsor.

For the full conference schedule, visit http://hsm.drexel.edu/du/phillychefconference/.

To learn more about sponsorship opportunities for the 2016 Philly Chef Conference, please contact Michael Traud at michael.j.traud@drexel.edu or 215.895.0922.