Home from St. Louis

A good conference challenges you to learn new things, re-evaluate what you know and recharge with fresh ideas. And that was exactly how I felt, returning yesterday after four days in St. Louis at the annual Les Dames d'Escoffier (LDEI) conference.

As our website states: "Les Dames d’Escoffier is the only organization of its kind: a worldwide philanthropic society of professional women leaders in the fields of food, fine beverage and hospitality. The invitation-only membership, composed of 28 individual chapters across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, is highly diversified and reflects the multifaceted fields of contemporary gastronomy and hospitality.”

Having served as LDEI president last year and as immediate past president this year, part of my time was involved in board meetings and the rest was in sessions and workshops. While there wasn't much free time to explore the city and its restaurants, the St. Louis chapter brought the eateries to us, with a private food truck party one night, with trucks lined up on a quiet street, ready for us to sample their wares. On another night, A Farmers’ Fete in Forest Park brought St. Louis’ nationally recognized chefs and their favorite local farmers together to give us a taste of the culinary scene.

Meals play a big part in a conference such as this and the headquarters hotel is selected not only for the quality of its accommodations, but for the quality of its food and the ability to work with LDEI partner products. The Ritz-Carlton, under the direction of Executive Chef Melissa Lee, didn’t disappoint.

Still tired after a fairly long flight, it’ll take me a while to process everything I’ve learned, seen and tasted. But here are some initial random thoughts, for starters:

  • In the rarified world of designer cakes, there’s no room for mistakes. Keynote speaker Sylvia Weinstock, the Leonardo Da Vinci of Cakes, presented a slide show of some of her creations for the rich and famous. The stunning beauty and complexity of these completely edible cakes rely on many supporting players, including carpenters who work in the company’s own carpentry shop, a team of sculptors and painters, and nine people who work on sugar flowers five days a week. The stress in the business is high: “It’s couture work; it has to be perfect. You never get a second chance,” she said.
  • We need to approach all global cuisines without bias. Greg Drescher, creator of the Culinary Institute of America’s acclaimed Worlds of Flavor International Conference & Festival, now in its 15th year, has been on a mission since 1995 to research, find and present gold standards of world cuisine. He’s focused on creating a level playing field that respects all food cultures and appreciates all chefs who are best of class – whether a refined and revered sushi chef or a street food chef.
  • Figs are more versatile than you may think. A fig tasting and creative ideation session, hosted by the California Fig Advisory Board, enabled a small group of us to taste a variety of delicious and diverse fig varieties, articulate flavor descriptors, then brainstorm what ingredients might be compatible with each variety, giving us all heaps of inspiration for our own recipe development.
  • Soy sauce is a flavor enhancer for dishes beyond Asian. The recipe below, developed by luncheon host Kikkoman and served at the Legacy Awards, demonstrates how soy sauce (in this case, soy-citrus ponzu sauce) can enhance the flavor of Mexican dishes.

To get the recipe and shopping list on your smartphone (iPhone, BlackBerry, Android device) or PC, click here.

Lime Ponzu Shrimp and Corn Salsa
Makes 4 servings

1 pound large size shrimp (about 21 per pound), shelled and deveined
2/3 cup Kikkoman Lime Ponzu sauce, divided
1 can (11 ounces) Mexican style corn, drained
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 avocado, cut in small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Vegetable oil
4 lime slices and 4 cilantro sprigs, for garnish (optional)

  1. Put shrimp in shallow bowl. Pour 1/3 cup of the ponzu sauce over the shrimp, toss to combine and set aside. In medium bowl combine remaining 1/3 cup ponzu sauce, corn, onion, avocado, garlic, chili powder and cilantro. Mix well and refrigerate at least 20 minutes.
  2. Heat oil in large skillet. Drain shrimp. When oil is hot, add shrimp to the pan, searing on both sides until shrimp turn pink and are done.
  3. To serve, spoon corn mixture on each of 4 plates, dividing equally. Top with shrimp. Garnish with lime slices and cilantro sprigs, if desired.

Note: ponzu is a traditional Japanese citrus-soy sauce available in many supermarkets and Asian groceries.

Recipe adapted from Kikkoman Sales USA

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Posted: Oct 14th by Sandy_Hu