When The Culinary Institute of America began its Worlds of Flavor® International Conference and Festival in 1998, American chefs had little exposure—or ways to gain it—to authentic culinary cultures from as far afield as Tunisia, India, Peru, or Mexico.

CIA pit cookingMaori chef Monique Fiso of New Zealand and Native American chef Sean Sherman of the Lakota Sioux Nation (holding shovel) demonstrate traditional pit cooking during the 2018 Worlds of Flavor® International Conference and Festival at The Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, CA.

From April 18 to 20, the CIA at Greystone in St. Helena, CA celebrated 20 years of gathering village cooks and Michelin-starred chefs alike from around the world bringing techniques, dishes, and ingredients rarely seen outside of their home countries. The program's theme of Legends of Flavor: Worlds Cuisines, Immigrant Kitchens, and the Future of American Food looked at the elements that have been most influential in shaping the current generation of chefs, from heritage to technological innovations, and what will inspire American appetites for the next two decades.

Worlds of Flavor is regarded as the country's most influential professional forum on world cuisines, food cultures, and flavor trends. The conference drew more than 600 chefs, corporate menu decision-makers, foodservice executives, suppliers, and food media. From the opening global flavor discovery experience onwards, attendees shared insights, participated in cooking demonstrations, and tasted more than 400 recipes from chefs including Manoella Buffara from Brazil, Selassie Atadika from Ghana, Diego Rossi from Italy, Analiese Gregory from Tasmania, Ian Kittichai from Thailand, and Rick Bayless from the United States.

"We are proud to have helped shift the industry's attitude toward world cuisines over the last 20 years," said Greg Drescher, vice president of strategic initiatives and industry leadership at the CIA. "It was important for us, when we launched, that American chefs think beyond French cuisine and techniques and 'fusion' versions of what they still called ethnic cuisines. We wanted them to build their understanding of food by tasting ingredients and dishes from some of the most flavor-driven cooking traditions in the world."

In his opening keynote, sociologist Krishnendu Ray of New York University shared data that tracked the changing popularity and prices of various cuisines in American restaurants. Edward Lee, chef-owner of 610 Magnolia and other restaurants in Louisville, KY and Washington, DC, closed with a keynote focused on the contributions to American food made by immigrants, based on his new book, Buttermilk Graffiti. In between, Lakota Sioux chef Sean Sherman of Minnesota and Maori chef Monique Fiso of New Zealand demonstrated pit cooking using a traditional Maori pit; an in-depth session on Africa featured chefs from Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, Morocco, the United Kingdom, and the U.S., who also addressed African-American culinary traditions; and plant-forward cooking came to life through the culinary practices of Spain (with a special focus on seaweed), Mexico, Singapore, and Portland, OR. In total, the conference featured more than 80 chefs and 45 main stage sessions, seminars, and workshops.

"Year after year, what brings attendees back is the opportunity to exchange ideas, insights, and strategies for success with a network of peers from around the globe and return to their businesses with a fresh perspective and renewed creativity," Drescher added. "From incorporating indigenous ingredients and dishes into menus to the rise of social media and the ability to instantly share dining experiences, there has never been a more exciting time to be in the food industry."

The next Worlds of Flavor International Conference and Festival takes place at the CIA at Copia in Napa, CA, November 6–8, 2019. For more information, visit www.worldsofflavor.com.

Photo credit: Kristen Loken/CIA