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Drexel Hosts Philadelphia’s First-Ever Conference for Chefs, by Chefs

December 18, 2013

Chef Michael Solomonov
Chef Michael Solomonov of Zahav will be one of the panelists at Drexel's Philly Chef Conference

Drexel University’s new Center for Hospitality and Sport Management will host Philadelphia’s first-ever Philly Chef Conference, a conference for chefs, by chefs, on Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 13 – 14.

World-renowned chefs, restaurateurs and food writers from around the city, including such celebrity chefs as Michael Solomonov and Kevin Sbraga, along with Drexel’s distinguished hospitality and culinary arts alumni Josh Lawler, Brett Taylor, Brian Lofink and Nick Macri will come together at Drexel’s Academic Bistro (101 N. 33rd St., sixth floor) to discuss key issues facing the restaurant industry as well as new food trends, products and techniques.

The two-day event is geared toward students and working professionals who aspire to own their own restaurant. Lawler, chair of the conference, and his wife Colleen, came up with this concept of an annual forum for chefs, following the Philadelphia StarChefs panel discussion at Drexel in March.

Through panel discussions, question-and-answer sessions, demonstrations and networking opportunities, participants will learn about such topics as creating a business plan, marketing an establishment, owning and operating a successful BYO, obtaining a liquor license, working with local farmers, building a wine list, competing on reality TV, running a food truck, writing a restaurant review and understanding issues facing women in the industry.

A keynote address by Mitchell Davis, executive vice president of the James Beard Foundation and cookbook author, will focus on food trends and topics in the restaurant industry. Demonstrations will include pasta-making with pasta machine manufacturer Arcobaleno, coffee essentials, butchery, bread tasting and discussion and charcuterie tasting and discussion.

Chef Michael Traud, director of Drexel’s Hospitality Management Program, organized the conference“As a top culinary destination, Philadelphia is home to some of the most talented cooks and chefs in the country,” said professor and director of Drexel’s Hospitality Management Program Chef Michael Traud, formerly of Vetri and Zeppoli, who organized the conference. “The Philly Chef Conference – the first of this scope in the city – will provide the restaurant community with the opportunity for established chefs to mentor those who are up-and-coming, and to inspire the next generation of great chefs who will guide the future of the industry.”

Tickets are $195 and are only available to restaurant industry professionals. Breakfast and lunch are included both days. Tickets are extremely limited and are available for purchase from All students in Drexel’s culinary and hospitality management programs will be in attendance. Accepted students for the 2014-15 academic year also have been invited.


The schedule is as follows:

Monday, Jan. 13:

9 – 10 a.m.:
Breakfast and registration, with coffee sponsored by Rival Brothers

10 – 10:20 a.m.:
Greeting and introduction by Jonathan Deutsch, director of Drexel’s Center for Hospitality and Sport Management; Josh Lawler, conference chair; and Tamar Olitsky, presenting sponsor.

10:30 – 11:20 a.m.: (choose one)

  • “There’s No Such Thing as a Soft Opening: Getting from Concept to Opening Night” with Harris Eckstut of Eckstut Consulting; Greg Vernick of Vernick Food + Drink; and Melissa Scully, vice president of culture and development for the Garces Restaurant Group
  • “From the Mortarboard to the Toque: Putting Your Culinary Degree to Work” moderated by Paul O’Neill of Vetri with Joey Baldino of Zeppoli; Michael Solomonov of Zahav; Tim Spinner of La Calaca Feliz; and Brian Lofink of Kraftwork
  • Coffee tasting and discussion with Jon Adams of Rival Bros

11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.: (choose one)Chef Kevin Sbraga, winner of Bravo’s seventh season of “Top Chef,

  • “‘How Much Is That Liquor License in the Window?’ and Other Legal Quandaries” with David Helbraun, founder and managing partner of Helbraun, Levey & O’Donoghue, LLP; and Rob Keddie, general consul for the Garces Group
  • “‘You Get Paid for That?!’: Hospitality Jobs You’ve Never Heard Of (Until Now)” with Brett Taylor of Soutirage; Lily Cope of COOK; Vanessa Beahn of Sbraga Dining; forager Johanna Kolodny; and Michael Fiorello, culinary director for Garces Restaurant Group
  • Bread tasting and discussion with head baker Alex Bois of High Street on Market

12:30 – 1:30 p.m.:
Lunch provided in the Academic Bistro

1:30 – 2:20 p.m.: (choose one)

  • “BYO Backbone: Owning and Operating a Successful BYOB” with Josh Lawler of The Farm & Fisherman; Chris Kearse of Will; Jon Carl Lachman of Noord Restaurant; and Nicholas Elmi of Laurel
  • “Women in the Industry” with Clare Pelino of Profile Public Relations and ProLiterary Consultants; Erin O’Shea of Percy Street BBQ; Barbie Marshall of Green Meadow Farmsno; Audrey Claire Taichman; and Ellen Yin of Fork
  • Whole pig butchery demonstration and tasting by Dean Carlson of Wyebrook Farm and Andrew Wood of Russet

2:30 – 3:20 p.m.: (choose one)

  • “From Albariño to Zinfandel: Building Your Wine List” with Brett Taylor of Soutirage; Megan Storm of The Artisan’s Cellar; Brian Kane and Eilon Gigi of Zahav; and Jason Malumed of Chalkboard Wine and Spirits
  • “From the [Actual] Farm to the [Literal] Table: Working with Your Local Farmers” with Ian Brendle of Green Meadow Farm; Joe Cicala of Le Virtu; Josh Lawler of The Farm and Fisherman; Steve Eckerd formerly of Le Bec Fin; and Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Cheese
  • Charcuterie demonstration with Drexel culinary professor Bob Del Grosso; Andrew Wood of Russet; Nick Macri of Border Spring Farms; and Jeremy Nolen of Brauhaus Schmitz

3:30 – 4:30 p.m.:

  • “How #Hashtags Can Sell Hash Browns (and More): Hospitality, Public Relations and Social Media” with Clare Pelino of Profile Public Relations and ProLiterary Consultants and food photographer Jason Varney
  • “The Legacy of Julia Child: Food TV Today” with Kevin Sbraga of Sbraga (Top Chef); Barbie Marshall (Hell’s Kitchen); and Nicholas Elmi of Laurel (Top Chef)
  • “Now Pair This: Beer, the New Pairing” demonstration with Steve Wildy, beverage director at the Vetri Corporation; Don Russell, “Joe Sixpack” columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News; and Drexel culinary professor Lynn Hoffman

4:30 – 5:30 p.m.:
Cocktail demonstration and panel discussions TBA

6 – 7 p.m.:
Happy hour and networking opportunity

Tuesday, Jan. 14

8:30 – 9 a.m.:

9 – 10 a.m.: (choose one)

  • “‘Catch Me[al] If You Can’: The Moveable Feast of Food Trucks” with George Bieber of The Sunflower Truck Stop Mobile Café
  • “1,000 Synonyms for Delicious: Contemporary Food Writing” noted food writer Rick Nichols, Michael Klein of and The Daily NewsDrew Lazor

10 – 11 a.m: (choose one)

  • “Form and Function for Food Service: Principles of Restaurant Design” with Drexel culinary professor James Feustel; Tuval Shlomo of Star Painting and Contracting; Dave-Roger Grosvenor of VII Principles; and Ed Eimer of Eimer Design
  • “Something Old, Something New: The Journey from Le Bec Fin to Avance” with restaurateur Chris Scarduzio
  • “Oodles of Noodles: Working with Arcobaleno Pasta Machines” pasta-making demonstration and tasting with pasta-extruding company Arcobaleno; Eli Kulp of Fork Restaurant; and Joe Cicala of Le Virtu

11 a.m. – Noon: (choose one)

  • “We’re More than Just Cheesesteaks: Marketing Philly’s Food Scene to the Uninitiated” with Albert Lee of the Philadelphia Visitor Center; food writer Drew Lazor; and Drexel tourism professor Linda Forristal
  • “Fun with Foie: a D’Artagnan Demonstration” specialty foods demonstration by gourmet food company D’Artagnan with Pierre Camels of Bibou and Le Cherie; Dave Conn of Tinto; and Justin Bogle of Avance

Noon – 1 p.m.:
Food truck lunch (attendees will receive a voucher)

1 – 2 p.m.:
Keynote Speaker Mitchell Davis from the James Beard Foundation will discuss food trends and topics in the restaurant industry.

The event is sponsored by Olitsky Family Foundation, Garces Restaurant Group, Arcobaleno, Rival Bros, D’Artagnan, FarmArt Produce, Julius Silvert Inc, Wyebrook Farms, Samuels and Son Seafood, Uber, Profile Public Relations, and Foobooz.

Drexel announced the launch of its new Center for Hospitality and Sport Management in October. Formerly in the Goodwin College of Professional Studies, the freestanding Center includes programs in sport management, hospitality management, culinary arts and food science.

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Alex McKechnie