If the inaugural Bite Silicon Valley conference is any indication, as it claims to be, the future of food is in social responsibility, sustainability, and corn.
A running thread at the conference, held June 5-7 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA, was doing things that are generally good for the Earth and the people living on it. José Andrés, who gave a talk Friday and was in a panel Saturday, had a crew making tacos with his solar ovens at the front entrance to show the potential of this electricity-free cooking method.
The chef at one station demonstrated how it works, waving his hands around inside the reflective satellite dish focused on a central “burner.” While stirring chard and mushrooms for the tacos, he said it gets about medium-high and has no byproduct.
Andrés said he had been to Haiti dozens of times, and cautioned those who wish to “do good” to consider the consequences of giving versus supporting. “We try to impose our way on other people without asking them what would help,” a barefoot Andrés told the crowd during a panel discussion Saturday.
Kogi creator Roy Choi spoke Friday about L’ocol, his “fast food” venture with Daniel Patterson of Coi, which aims to transform the way people think about affordable food, especially in the inner city. L’ocol has two restaurants opening this year, one in San Francisco’s gritty Tenderloin neighborhood and one in Watts in Los Angeles. Their claim of a $2-$6 menu rivaling other burger chains—but with significantly healthier ingredients—could have a real impact if it catches on.
Dr. Tim Geistlinger spoke Saturday about creating a viable meat substitute with his company Beyond Meat. After working on fighting cancer and malaria, he took to fighting the United States’ leading cause of death: heart disease. The yellow pea-based Beast Burger is healthier in many ways than any meat burger, and tasted better than most Little League snack shack burgers. The ground beef taco meat was not quite as close, though it might fool the kids if given enough toppings.
Now, on to the tasting floor.
Turning the corner to the main entrance was a feeling only five very lucky chocolate-loving children could describe; the grand tasting room on the main floor of the stadium’s glass-walled mezzanine level truly seemed like a world of pure imagination. Some classic, some innovative and some completely new dishes were lined up on tables as far as the eye could see, interspersed with islands of wineries eager to pour their best vintage.
Trumpeting the adage of “everything old is new again” was corn, the 10,000-year-old dietary staple the Aztecs. Fresh off the kernel in an eloté taco from José Andrés; caramel corn pot de crème from Mayfield Bakery and Café; and the most intriguing, huitlacoche paletas from Spruce. The Mexican-style popsicle was made with corn, then dusted with Parmesan and huitlacoche, a Brettanomyces-fermented corn kernel also known as “Mexican truffle.”
The tech trophy must go to the obvious, though, as the 3D-printed desserts were as eye-catching as they were inspiring. I wasn’t sure whether to start a Dungeons and Dragons game or eat the dice-like geometric polygons. 3DS Culinary Labs says the machines will be available for kitchens by spring 2016.
Top Chef Boston winner Mei Lin had her own 3D-printed offering, a multicolored passion fruit star atop her passion fruit curd with bee pollen and toasted yogurt, which was so delicious it’s a wonder why passion fruit isn’t more common.
What a stunning venue Levi’s Stadium turned out to be for a food and tech conference. Assuming it stays put, there will be plenty of room to grow.
Nicolas Grizzle is a freelance writer in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @NicolasGrizzle.
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These 3D-printed desserts evoked both Willy Wonka and D&D.
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This trippy 3D-printed sculpture might be delicious...if you love fondant.
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3DS Culinary Labs showed off the potential of their food printers, which they aim to bring to the market in 2016.
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The gregarious and engaging José Andrés gave a talk on Friday. Note the bare feet.
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Corn wound up being a popular thread at this conference. San Francisco ice cream shop Humphrey Slocombe's famous Secret Breakfast flavor used corn two ways: Frosted Flakes and bourbon.
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Andrés' team set up solar ovens at the conference entrance.
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A chef stirring chard and mushrooms destined for tacos. The solar-powered "burner" gets about medium-high and has no byproduct (except tasty taco filling!).
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As far as appliances go, PicoBrew's Zymatic automated homebrewer could be the bread machine of the 2010s.
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Sous vide eggs in the making.
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SF patisserie Craftsman and Wolves' strawberry verrine with lime and elderflower was a standout dessert.