I have to remember to send Kevin McKay my copy of Food in History by Reay Tannahill. Kevin, our guitar playing bourbon aficionado who sells ads for Nation’s Restaurant News in the Midwest, is something of a renaissance man, and he wants to expand his horizons with better knowledge of food culture.
Having read this blog, Kevin told me he’d be dead if he ate and drank as much as I do. I don’t think he intended it as a compliment, but I don’t think he meant it as an insult, either. I also don’t think it’s true, as Kevin has four kids all under the age of seven, which I think means he’s immortal.
I mean that as a compliment.
I hung out with Kevin, John Krueger (John’s a Cubs fan; feel sorry for him) and other NRN ad sales people over the weekend in Charlotte, N.C., during our annual Culinary R&D conference, and also with our event planning staff — mostly Jesse Parziale (who has three young kids — Dylan, Lauren and Ethan) and Adam Cardona, who I don't think has any kids.
But mostly I spent time with chain restaurant chefs, a fascinating group of people who basically feed America. I mean, wouldn’t you like to know the guy who developed the chicken Whopper? The genius who invented snack wraps? The man in charge of developing the latest iteration of the Rooty Tooty Fresh & Fruity breakfast?
Those are the types of people who come to this conference (although Burger King and McDonald’s were absent this year). Old hands at the conference, like Adam Baird of Mimi’s Café, Carron Harris of Buca di Beppo, Debra Olson of Golden Corral and David Groll of McAlister’s Deli, were joined by newbies, such as Trevor Wilson from Sonic and Pierluigi Trotta, who is in charge of R&D for the 296 restaurants of Rosinter, a company in Moscow that operates a bunch of different concepts, including TGI Friday’s for which it is the franchisee for Russia and Eastern Europe. Nice guy. Found out about the conference through Google.
I was actually in town a day early, because I was moderating a four-hour-long roundtable discussion on health and nutrition with half a dozen corporate R&D people. That might sound deadly-boring, but instead of thinking of it as being trapped in a room all afternoon, think of it as spending time in interesting conversation discussing relevant topics with people who know a lot about it. It's actually almost fun. It also meant that I had time the night before to sample local Charlotte cuisine, which I did at Mert's Heart and Soul, where I had pulled pork, Charleston rice, collard greens, corn bread and sweet potato cake.
The conference itself was awesome — put together by restaurant industry genius Nancy Kruse and our own event-planning maven Monique Monaco. Of course, what else am I going to write in my work blog but that the people I work with are terrific. But they really are. Nancy is great at condensing all of the data about the restaurant industry that she has at her fingertips, and Monique’s events always run like clockwork. I often feel kind of smug when I go to other organizations’ events as they veer off schedule or teeter on the brink of boringness (or fall right off the edge, and I could name names, believe me).
“That’s not how Monique does it,” I want to say.
One of the highlights was a presentation by cereal genius Shirley Corriher, who demonstrated how to make great biscuits while chatting away breezily about the challenges of gauging protein content in flour and other things.
Someone asked her about trans fats, and what would be a suitable fat to use in its place.
“Lard,” she said, without hesitation, pointing out that, apart from making delicious biscuits, it was high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats and was more healthful than butter. She also chuckled at people who were concerned about monoglycerides and diglycerides — naturally occurring substances that can be found in all sorts of nice things, including olive oil
“So get over it!” she said.
The discussion of lard continued that night at Arpa, a tapas place owned by the local Harper’s group, where a corporate chef at a southern chain was hoping to figure out a more consumer-friendly word for lard, which she would love to use in her biscuits. We couldn’t think of anything good. Later on, I thought up ”bacon shortening,“ but your suggestions are welcome.
We’ll be assembling our coverage of the conference soon, so stay tuned to nrn.com for more details. You might even consider subscribing if you don’t already.