Imbibe and Inspire Founder Stephen Torres Chats About Partnering with Christopher Kostow for the Second Annual “Roots of American Food” Conference (September 7 and 8, 2014; Chicago, Illinois)
Do you know the website Imbibe and Inspire? I didn’t, until its founder, Stephen Torres, asked me to do an interview on it a few years ago. It’s a fun project, and more or less what the name promises: videos in which culinary figures sip on a beverage and talk about what inspires them.
Last September, Stephen took things to a new level bringing food folk and interested observers together in a live situation by kicking off the Imbibe and Inspire: Roots of American Food Conference in Chicago. This year’s conference will take place September 7 and 8 at the Wyndham Grand Hotel in Chicago, and Stephen promises bigger and better things, thanks in part to a new collaborator: Christopher Kostow, three-Michelin-starred toque of The Restaurant at Meadowood, has signed on as co-curator for the 2014 conference, bringing not only his marquee name, but also his team’s organizational prowess (they produce a 12 Days of Christmas series of visiting chefs each December) to the endeavor.
“I interviewed Christopher for Imbibe and Inspire,” Stephen says. “He’s very inspiring and focused and very eloquent when he speaks about his team and what he wants to do. I wanted him to be a part of it the first year, but he had another commitment. Late in 2013, we agreed we’d do the next one together.”
“I am looking forward to turning our attention inward and exploring all that makes up what is, in my opinion, some of the most exciting cooking in the world,” says Kostow. “I am excited to examine the historical roots of cooking in modern-day America.”
According to Stephen, the conference “grew organically from my website. I started meeting different people in the culinary world. At the same time, I saw what was happening at MAD [the René Redzepi-founded symposium in Copenhagen], which was more international; I thought it would be cool to focus on what’s happening in the United States and what chefs are doing here.”
Stephen collaborated with the marketing director of the Wyndam Hotel in downtown Chicago to put together his modest inaugural event, and as with his site, managed to lure some big fish into his pond: Among the presenters were Hugh Acheson, Alex Stupak, John Shields, Matt Lightner, Will Guidara, Ed Lee, Rosio Sanchez, Melanie Dunea, and Francis Lam. For two days, they spoke on food-related topics, and the chefs collaborated on a dinner each night.
A bit of trivia: Last year’s conference took place in the same suite that served as Bruce Wayne’s apartment in The Dark Knight. This year’s, says Stephen, will be bigger. (And, sight unseen, I’m sure it’ll be better than The Dark Knight‘s sequel, and with better acoustics.) Last year, the conference hosted about one hundred people for talks, and about fifty for the dinners. This year, with the symposiums being held in the hotel’s ballroom, it has the capacity to welcome two-hundred fifty guests for the talks.
“Last year was my first rodeo,” says Stephen. “This year, everything will be more developed. There will be more sponsors, different topics, more support. It will be a better experience for chefs and attendees.” On the sponsor front, a release for the conference names Steelite International, Breville, and Goose Island as partners. Stephen also says that the conference will, in part, benefit Pilot Light, a Chicago-based charity devoted to helping children learn how to make healthy food choices.
This year’s conference will address the question, “What is American Food?” (As many readers know, it’s a topic near and dear to my heart.) Among the lectures and panel discussions will be a Kostow-led roundtable talk with a trio of seminal figures of American cuisine–Frank Stitt, Larry Forgione, and Jeremiah Tower. Tower will be an honoree at this year’s conference for, according to a press release, “his contribution to American cuisine.”
As in 2013, there will be dinners on both nights of the conference. Kostow will participate in both, along with chef-presenters including David Kinch, Kyle Connaughton, and Paul Kahan–each will cook a course for one dinner and speak at the conference as well.
Alas, I was attending a wedding in New Mexico last September, so couldn’t make it. This year’s conference will be the same days as the US Open finals, which is another excruciating conflict, but I may just get there.
Tickets go on sale May 2. Purchasing information and a sporadic stream of further details (additional speakers and participating chefs) will be released between now and then and are best monitored via Stephen’s Twitter feed, @Imbibe_Inspire and #americanfood2014.
In addition, Stephen is organizing a dinner in support of the conference to be held at Grace Restaurant in Chicago on June 15. Dubbed “The Future of American Cuisine,” the dinner will be prepared by chefs de cuisine from more than ten restaurants including The Restaurant at Meadowood, Atelier Crenn, Estela, and, of course, Grace. Reservations will be available via the restaurant’s website in the coming weeks.