Over the weekend, Warwick’s Crowne Plaza Hotel at the Crossings played host to the 2014 American Culinary Federation (ACF) Northeast Regional Conference, during which 500 professional chefs, culinary students and other food service professionals came together for industry meetings, demonstrations, seminars and networking events.
The theme of this year’s event, which lasted from Friday until yesterday, was sustainability and looking at how the culinary field can embrace the many different aspects of sustainability, from the environment and food to business strategies.
Fred Faria, educational chair of the convention and member of the Rhode Island chapter of ACF, said it is important to look at different aspects of sustainability.
“We tried to get presenters that could talk about sustainability in the workforce, sustainability for your retirement, sustainability for the food you serve, sustainability for your equipment,” he said.
Faria, a retired professor from Johnson & Wales University and principal trainer and consultant for Faria Associates, was especially proud of a presentation on Monday from Ernest Julian, Ph.D., chief of food protection from the Rhode Island Department of Health’s Office of Food Protection. Julian is internationally known for his work in food protection. His presentation would address food-borne illness threats in the Northeast and ways to prevent them.
“[Sustainability] is more encompassing that food and the environment,” said Faria.
The conference was jam-packed with seminars, demonstrations and more, including hands-on workshops at Johnson & Wales University, cooking competitions and more.
While on the surface this may have appeared to be a standard business convention for those in the culinary field, this convention has a large amount of educational components, something Faria said does make the event stand out.
“As a professional, you have to continually get better at your job skills expertise. Today, the world and the industry changes so fast,” said Faria.
Some of the educational opportunities the chefs and students took advantage of included Cooking Sustainability in a French Brasserie, Knife Construction, Modernist Cooking (which covered the use of liquid nitrogen in cooking) and Easy Vegan Desserts.
There were also a number of enjoyable demonstrations, including a cooking demonstration of meals from Parma, Italy, an olive oil tasting presented by Monini North America, and a Chocolate Lounge sponsored by Barry Callebaut, baking and pastry arts program chair at Central Piedmont Community College.
In addition to being excited about the educational opportunities presented by the convention, welcoming chefs from across the country to his home state of Rhode Island was another highlight of the convention for Faria.
As for the Crowne Plaza, Faria said it was a good location providing a number of small conference rooms and larger ballroom spaces for the different sessions; shuttle service was provided for the attendees who wished to see competitions or participate in hands-on workshops at Johnson & Wales.
Faria was especially pleased with the fantastic Chef Professionalism Lunch provided by Crowne Plaza staff on Saturday, with help from ACF volunteers.
“We are quite fortunate to have members and students here to help us,” added Faria.
Warwick is working to position itself as a destination for conventions and leisure. “We’re in the center of the state and we’re marketing that,” said Karen Jedson, director of Warwick’s Department of Tourism, Culture and Development.
On the leisure side, Jedson and her department have been working on the marketing campaign “Stay In Warwick, See Rhode Island.” Jedson explained the city is being positioned as an affordable, convenient and beautiful location to stay in while visiting the state.
“[A place] not just for holding meetings either, but to have your family come with you and stay,” said Jedson. “They’re looking at the State of Rhode Island and the entire package. To them, Rhode Island is the full deal.”
To promote Warwick for conventions, Jedson’s department has a collaborative marketing plan with the Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau, which has been in place for years. Together, they solicit groups to bring their conventions to the state; those looking for a smaller, more intimate setting will look at the Crowne Plaza.
“Sometimes they’re more apt to stay outside of the city,” said Jedson. She also pointed out that Warwick had the largest number of hotel rooms, is host to T.F. Green Airport, and has the state’s second largest convention-meeting space at the Crowne Plaza. “It’s the perfect match,” she said.
Convention attendees also had the chance to indulge in local fare during the Taste of Rhode Island Ice Breaker Reception on Friday night. In the Crowne Plaza’s Garden Pavilion, local vendors, spirits, beers and restaurants were on hand to show off the best of Rhode Island.
“We wanted them to see what Rhode Island has to offer,” said Faria.
The reception menu included mixed drinks with coffee milk, stuffies, wieners, clam cakes and three types of clam chowder.
In recent years, Rhode Island has been gaining a place in the growing “foodie” culture. Faria said to take advantage of that, the Rhode Island Chapter of ACF has been traveling to local specialized restaurants to try the unique cuisine and variety offered throughout the state. Local restaurants will host the ACF members for tastings of their most popular or iconic items.
“We’ve done a few of those and we do it because food is our passion,” said Faria.
Jedson pointed out that all regions throughout the state are playing on the culinary component; in fact, culinary tourism has become another partnership between Warwick’s Tourism, Culture and Development and the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.
“We’re doing a lot of food promotion on our Facebook page,” said Jedson. The page has nearly 7,800 likes. “That’s a lot of people talking about Warwick.”
The Tourism Department’s resident blogger Nate Greene has also been writing about the best places to eat in the city. “We’re getting a lot of people to talk about food,” said Jedson.
Faria added that the ACF Rhode Island Chapter is very active and always looking for new members and individuals interested in becoming knowledgeable about the culinary business. For more information contact Faria at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-5355.