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2016 Philly Chef Conference Tackles Hot Topics in Restaurant Industry by Alex McKechnie
News Officer, Office of University Communications

Being a chef is so much more than just cooking. On March 6 – 7, the 2016 Philly Chef Conference brought 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 was open to the public, while the second day was 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 included creating spice blends, bread making, dessert making, designing a cheese plate and cooking with surplus food. Photo credit: Brian Kinney.
This year's demonstrations included creating spice blends, bread making, dessert making, designing a cheese plate and cooking with surplus food.

The conference’s line-up of world-renowned chefs, restaurateurs and food writers extended 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 was 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 included 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.