Umami Burger Secrets Revealed at StarChefs Summit

International Chefs Congress
Phil Speer, director of operations for the Austin, Texas-based Uchi Restaurant Group, center, explains ingredients used at his pastry pop-up restaurant during the International Chefs Congress. The annual meeting showcases the cooking of noted chefs from around the world. Photographer: Patrick Cole/Bloomberg

Oct. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Adam Fleischman took the main stage at the StarChefs.com International Chefs Congress Sunday to reveal the ingredients for his lamb burger.

“You mix ground lamb shoulder with some merguez sausage,” said Fleischman, owner of the Los Angeles-based Umami Burger. The restaurateurs and chefs who gathered at New York’s Pier 57 absorbed this arcana with smartphones.

The eighth annual meeting, where master cooks and bartenders exchange secrets and techniques, has become one of the largest culinary gatherings in the U.S. The industry-only conference, which continues through today, had about 3,000 registrants.

“Our mission is to help chefs and other people in the restaurant industry succeed,” said Will Blunt, managing editor of StarChefs, an industry publication. “We’d like this meeting to be a reliable place where chefs can get a shot in the arm and go back to their kitchen and have the latest ideas and tools to succeed.”

Appearances this year have included: Michael Solomonov, the chef-owner at Zahav in Philadelphia; Philip Speer, the director of culinary operations at the Austin-based Uchi Restaurant Group, who did a dessert pop-up onsite; and mixology experts Audrey Saunders of New York’s Pegu Club and Dale DeGroff, who showed the crowd how to punch up a shot of whiskey with some honey and bitters.

Dominique Crenn

Dominique Crenn, the first woman chef in the U.S. to run a two-Michelin-star restaurant, Atelier Crenn, will appear today with her pastry chef, Juan Contreras, to talk about their unique approach to desserts.

“Dominique doesn’t start with ingredients; she starts from a place and time,” said Antoinette Bruno, StarChefs’s chief executive officer and editor-in-chief. “She likes to transport her guests, and her presentation is really going to be important.”

Founded in 1995, the website has become a forum and clearinghouse for the latest cooking techniques. Its annual list of rising stars has become a career booster.

StarChefs also raises money for the Careers Through Culinary Arts Program, a nonprofit that helps disadvantaged youths enter the field. Some of the students get to peek over the shoulder of chefs preparing small plates for sampling at the conference.

Janice Wong

The summit showcases innovators such as Janice Wong, the pastry chef at 2am:dessertbar in Singapore. She stood by glossy abstract paintings she created with bubble-gum-flavored marshmallow cream while onlookers tasted pieces of them.

Wong said she blindfolded herself for three days about two years ago to help her brainstorm new approaches to dessert.

“No one said a cake has to be round or square,” she said in an interview. “By shutting my senses off, it helped me to push the imagination.”

Many chefs rushed to see Mission Chinese’s Danny Bowien, hoping he would reveal the secret to one of his wildly popular dishes. Instead, he presented a slide show documenting how he launched his restaurant in San Francisco with a surprising confession.

“We wanted to create a place for chefs to eat on their day off,” said Bowien, wearing a Nine Inch Nails T-shirt. “We didn’t know how to make Chinese food.”

Muse highlights include Greg Evans and Craig Seligman on movies, Philip Boroff on Broadway.

To contact the writer on this story: Patrick Cole in New York at pcole3@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.