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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Discussing The Future and Tasting The Present BITE Silicon Valley

Posted By on Tue, Jun 9, 2015 at 8:00 AM

José Andrés' Mushroom Tacos Cooked Via Solar Energy Enjoy The Levi's Stadium View - TREVOR FELCH
  • Trevor Felch
  • José Andrés' Mushroom Tacos Cooked Via Solar Energy Enjoy The Levi's Stadium View

The 49ers might not have enough players to field a full team at their current retirement rate, but at least Levi’s Stadium saw some winning action over the weekend during the heart of the football off-season. The extravagant stadium in the Great America parking lot played home to the first edition of the BITE Silicon Valley festival, exploring the future of food (for “foodies and techies.” You get the picture).

Football aside, the conference tackled major issues, from GMOs to bringing real ingredients at affordable prices to perpetual food deserts. Pioneers like Anya Fernald of Belcampo Meat Co. and Francisco Migoya, Nathan Myhrvold’s head chef for Modernist Cuisine, provided thoughtful demos and speeches a floor above the tasting frenzy, but really, it was about walking around with a half full wine glass hanging from the carrier around your neck and how many of the foie gras and bing cherry on hazelnut toasts from Epic Steak you could finish without looking greedy.

In his conference opening remarks Friday morning, José Andrés referred to the usual food conferences as full of “seals,” where the chefs and diners continually clap for each other like marine mammals. Andrés was a phenomenal catch for the conference, being an El Bulli alum and a co-founder of the appropriately named ThinkFoodGroup, which doesn’t hesitate to push modern cooking boundaries at its restaurants. 

Opening day was about the intersection of food and technology and, in particular, how that technology can solve global hunger problems. Danielle Nierenberg, the founder of Food Tank, mentioned the elephant in the room: How do we bring healthful, organic food to the global poor? Michiel Bakker, Google’s Director of Global Food Services, noted that there is no one magic solution and in solving global food problems that “done is better than perfect.” Keynote speaker Josh Tetrick, CEO of egg-less mayo creator Hampton Creek, mentioned that 92 percent of plants haven’t been fully explored yet. As primitive as it may sound to go back to plant-based everything, his thoughts on getting away from meat and dairy (along with soy and corn) didn't fall on deaf ears.

Friday’s pair of afternoon session without question yielded the two most eye-opening presentations.

Richie Farina's Edible Garden - TREVOR FELCH
  • Trevor Felch
  • Richie Farina's Edible Garden

Loco’l, the incredibly ambitious project of Los Angeles’ Roy Choi (Kogi Korean BBQ taco trucks) and Daniel Patterson (Coi, et al.), is fresh off a record breaking Indiegogo campaign that tried to attack fast food at its heart in low income areas. The Tenderloin and L.A.'s Watts will be the first two markets. After a few f-bombs and an an explanation of the company’s cartoon characters, Choi was shy about Loco’l’s menu details, rattling off fast food and street favorite classics like burgers, tacos, and arepas as the type of dishes to expect. The price point will be between 99 cents and $6. Sodas? Come on, this will be an agua fresca kind of place. After an hour of hearing Choi’s talk, not one person in the room couldn’t feel what an important subject combating junk fast food is to him. 

GMOs were the subject up for debate between Dr. Robert Fraley (CTO of Monsanto) and Michael Chiarello (Coqueta), who put on his theatrical Italian side. Ultimately, the discussion frosty and forced, with Fraley putting on his spin doctor best, basically saying "shame on you" for opposing science and innovation if you want GMOs labeled. Chiarello casually countered with semi-random rebuttals in favor of organic farming but spent more time saying Fraley doesn’t have devil horns. Nothing much emerged from the discussion.

Fortunately, the likes of Charlie Parker from Haven in Oakland, Charles Phan and a small Slanted Door team, and Parke Ulrich of Waterbar knew what they were doing with one bite smash hits. Silicon Valley and the South Bay’s chefs also proved that not all is lost for eating below the Excelsior with raw and smoked fish highlights from Bourbon Steak at Levi’s Stadium, and Palo Alto’s Calafia and Lure + Till. Campbell’s International Culinary Center scored twin victories for a decked out version of fish tacos with salmon and salsa verde on a corn cookie, and a massive edible garden complete with “soil” similar to what the aforementioned Redzepi gives each diner at Noma in Copenhagen on a much smaller scale. 

Kite Hill's Almond Milk Cheese - TREVOR FELCH
  • Trevor Felch
  • Kite Hill's Almond Milk Cheese

The four premier bites at BITE, you ask? First was the almond milk cheeses from Kite Hill, a project of chef Tal Ronnen, who is best known either for catering Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi’s vegan wedding or for his all-vegan restaurant Crossroads Kitchen in Los Angeles. From a recent dinner there I can personally vouch that it’s a restaurant we sorely could use in SF. And more vegan cheese, too. Vegan cheese! You’d never know with the Camembert evoking the soft-ripened, aged version.

Atelier Crenn's Foie Gras - TREVOR FELCH
  • Trevor Felch
  • Atelier Crenn's Foie Gras

Second was foie gras from Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn, poached and topped with a raspberry and a preserved ramp sliver. ‘Nuff said.

Nomiku's Sous Vide Egg on Rye Crisps - TREVOR FELCH
  • Trevor Felch
  • Nomiku's Sous Vide Egg on Rye Crisps

is the first immersion circulator (sous-vide cooker) designed for your apartment in the Haight, not Gary Danko’s kitchen. And you can control it from an app on your phone because there is an app for everything. I wish there were an app to present me each morning with the rye crisps topped with a dot each of chèvre, bacon- strawberry jam, and sous-vide egg yolk. 

Beyond Meat's Sliders - TREVOR FELCH
  • Trevor Felch
  • Beyond Meat's Sliders

Is it a burger? Is it not? Beyond Meat promises “The Future of Protein,” with its gluten-free, soy-free, cholesterol-free, non-GMO plant protein burgers that aren’t taste-free either. This slider’s meat wasn’t sublimely juicy like a Kronner Burger but did have a wonderful steak- like texture. The glaring problem with the slider had nothing to do with meat, either. The wheat buns were way too tall for such a thin patty. If I was faced with this at Nopa or Rickybobby, I’d still be going the meat route with those world class beef burgers. Sorry. But I’m excited about these becoming an option.

The best compliment I can give BITE is that it's as good as, if not superior to, the food festival behemoths in San Francisco, Carmel, Pebble Beach, and Los Angeles. Everyone kept asking if I agreed with them on that notion nd I said yes every time. Lines were limited, interactions with chefs and vintners were plentiful, and tough questions were asked and answered. It mostly clicked, a shocker for a rookie festival. Now let’s hope this technology and the minds behind these ideas can head to the real world and make the profound changes they’re aspiring for. 

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Trevor Felch


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