I just got back from the annual conference of the International Foodservice Editorial Council, which sounds like a much more serious and frightening organization than it is. IFEC brings together foodservice trade publication editors and publicists who want our attention for a series of what essentially are speed dates. The editors sit at separate tables and the publicists stop by and throw 10-minute pitches at us. It's kind of exhausting, but a lot of work gets done quickly and pretty much everyone is really nice about it. Not only do competitors get together and act friendly toward one another, but we actually have fun, go out together, eat and drink, hold seminars, raise money for our scholarship fund and generally have a good time. IFEC's board members are elected for low-key three-year terms and officers are selected annually by the board, generally by consensus, or a sort of combination of consensus and well-intended cronyism. This year's president, an absolute prince named Alexei Rudolf, from Edelman Public Relations, was "elected" last year in Savannah at an early morning board meeting despite the fact that he was late to it. He might have been late because he was out late the night before, but I can't really say because my recollection of that evening is extremely limited. I think tequila shots were involved. I know we went to a really great bar called The Jinx — gay friendly, racially integrated, with breakdancing young women and great music. If it had been in New York they wouldn't have let me in because I'm not cool enough.
I was president last year and miraculously opened my eyes at 7:26 for the 8 a.m. board meeting. Or maybe it was 8:26 for a 9 a.m. meeting, I don't know. I do know that I was alert and lucid and waited in vain for a truly appalling hangover that never materialized. Perhaps I was running on some sort of special presidential adrenaline.
Anyway, this year the conference was in Chicago, where I finally got to sample Susan Goss's food at West Town Tavern, thanks to hosts from the National Pork Board. I also ate at David Burke's Prime House, but I've had his food before, and I got to meet Moto's chef and pastry chef, Homaru Cantu and Ben Roche, who entertained IFEC attendees with a DVD version of a molecular gastronomy tasting menu.
At West Town Tavern I learned that the state secretary of agriculture is an elected office in Iowa.
I also learned that pork producers are anticipating an increase in the price of pork and a decrease in beef prices as federal mandates require more and more corn to be used in the production of ethanol. DDG, the dried, distilled grain that's left over from the ethanol-production process, is a perfectly suitable cattle feed, but pigs can't digest it. So ethanol producers will give the stuff away to cattle ranchers while hog farmers are going to have to spend more money on feed as corn prices rise (due to demand for ethanol).
Here are some other things I learned at IFEC:
Black Angus restaurants are planning to switch to all-natural beef
Big bowl is working on rolling out free-range chicken nationwide and is now serving Hutachino beers for $9 apiece.
There are eight USDA grades of beef: Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Canner, Utility and Cutter (some beef is not graded at all and is called "unrolled").
Umami comes not only from free glutamate, but also from glutamites and nucleotides.
Josh DeChellis isn't going to open Kobe Club for Jeffrey Chodorow after all.
Cook's Magazine (now Cook's Illustrated) founder Chris Kimball is in the same Grateful Dead cover band as former Research Chefs Association president Steve Schimoler.
Bill Yosses is doing some work at the White House. I'll have to look into that further.
The 0-grams trans fat oil that Taco Bell has started using is canola-based.
I also collected a couple of restaurant recommendations:
Colorado chain with the best green chile: Santiago's
Best Italian beef sandwiches in Chicago: Johnny's on North Avenue between Harlem and Thatcher streets.
Best place to have chile relleno tacos (yes, there is such a thing) after going to a Tahiti 80 concert at some club on Milwaukee: Flash Tacos (that recommendation's from me).
And here's something I learned post-IFEC when publicist Bill Schreiber of Jones Dairy Farm, a provider of pork products, followed up on a joke question I had about pig milk, quoting Pork Quality Assurance intern Bradley Wolter (edited by me for clarity and to remove typos):
“Pork is delicious and very healthy as many physicians recognize it as a very important source of protein. But the opportunity they present to the dairy industry is very limited.
... [P]igs will on average produce 13 lbs of milk in a day as compared to cows that produce 65 lbs of milk on average per day. Pigs unlike cows cannot become pregnant while lactating and therefore pose a severe economic problem to producers. while pigs consume less feed per day, economics does not allow pigs to be a viable source of dairy products.
The biggest challenge facing the porcine dairy industry is collecting the product. Pigs on average have fourteen teats as opposed to cows that have four teats. Pigs also differ from cows in their milk ejection time, a cow's milk ejection is stimulated by the hormone oxytocin and can last ten minutes, whereas a pig's milk ejection time only lasts fifteen seconds as the suckling pigs stimulate the release of oxytocin. The technology of a 14 cupped mechanized milking machine that can milk a pig in 15 seconds is not available to pork producers."