Much like Las Vegas itself springs up in a dazzling spectacle in the desert, this year's FM Ideas Conference was an oasis of exciting new innovations, perspectives and thoughtful conversations shared among all who attended.
The big event began during the last week of October at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas, NV, with an opening gala where the energetic group snacked, sipped and embarked on the networking that would make the event all the richer.
Food Management publisher Jerry White invited everyone to “explore, learn and make new friends.”
In the following day and a half, attendees were treated to a full schedule devoted to the conference theme: Food Matters: Adding Value & Creativity to Onsite Menus.
The FM Ideas Conference also featured case studies from several foodservice segments, including a closer look with Rick Johnson at how Virginia Tech has designed a dining program that has launched it to the top of the Princeton Review's list for best campus food three years running. In other presentations, David Binkle and Mark Baida described how the Los Angeles Unified School District is making menu and service upgrades in the midst of immense financial, nutritional and culinary challenges. And Walter Thurnhofer, RD, of the University of Washington Medical Center, explained how that facility has transformed the patient meal experience and the retail offerings of its program. (For more on the case studies and keynote speakers, see pages 24 and 26.)
The conference's three keynote speakers treated attendees to their expertise in areas that matter most in the world of foodservice. Technomic's restaurant trends guru Kevin Higar provided answers and solid advice in the face of today's changing economic climate. “Right now, the consumer is saying, ‘I'm going to be very careful about how I spend my foodservice dollar,’” Higar said. “That's why it's so important to get that ‘front of mind’ positioning.”
Certified Master Chef Dr. Victor Gielisse, associate vice president of the Culinary Institute of America, spoke about what's coming next for the global palate, examining how the indigenous “street foods” of many countries are influencing today's onsite menus.
Sustainability was the focus for the next speaker, Arlin Wasserman, vice president of corporate citizenship for Sodexo. Wasserman explored the often complex relationships between food's production, distribution and preparation, offering advice on those areas operators could focus on when seeking to improve the sustainability of their foodservice programs.
Breaks between speakers allowed attendees to not only take time to digest all the great information, but also to check out some new products.“Learning and inspiration comes not just from our speakers, but from our sponsors,” White said, referring to the opportunities for attendees to sample products and meet with sponsors throughout the conference.
Great local flavor was provided by White's one-on-one stage conversation with prominent chef/restauranteur Michael Kornick from the award-winning mk restaurant in Chicago. Kornick described how he went about transferring a Chicago sensibility to the ephemeral Las Vegas.
In roundtable brainstorming sessions, groups of attendees tackled multiple operational topics, looking to share ideas and strategies.
Moving on to the topic of career trajectories, a panel of three accomplished onsite professionals offered Lessons from the Trenches. The panel included: Mary Niven, vice president, Disneyland Parks, Anaheim, CA; Debi Benedetti, principal and coach, Beyond the Possible, Santa Rosa, CA; and Michael DeRousse, owner, The Palace Grill, Santa Barbara, CA. They candidly shared with the audience their choices, influences, successes and failures, and what they learned along the way.
Benedetti described her move from SAGA Foods to Marriott to Bon Appetit as having elements of “risk and fear.” She said looking back, her moves were right-on, but at the time it was hard to know. “Brilliant is only seen in the rearview mirror,” she said.
DeRousse, who described making the decision to leave a job where he was about to be promoted to a position he didn't want, agreed with Benedetti's take on hindsight. “The things you thought were a disaster usually end up being the best things that ever happened,” De Rousse said.
An onsite chefs panel offered free-form discussion on the best practices of modern onsite kitchens. The panel included Stanley Walker of Rush University Medical Center, Jackie Baldwin of Sodexo Campus Services and Mark Dyball of Culinary Distinctions.
A sweet treat was in store for those who discovered the art of fine pastry preparation and service in an exciting session with Dimitri Fayard, an instructor from The French Pastry School in Chicago.
His techniques and prep methods dazzled the crowd, and added a drizzle of delicious imagination to top off the conference.
Read about the
Read about the
| Kevin Higar |
Dr. Victor Gielisse, CMS
| Rick Johnson |
David Binkle/Mark Baida