Have you ever tasted food so flavorful and delicious that you couldn’t stop eating it? All of the senses were engaged at the same time trying to take in the different spices and flavors. Food so good you couldn’t stop smiling? Or laughing? This is how I felt during the 2022 Culinary Institute of America Worlds of Flavor® international conference and festival. The Culinary Insitute of America (CIA), hosts a yearly 3-day conference for “like-minded, flavor-seeking culinary pioneers” including registered dietitians to learn, be inspired, and taste mouth-watering dishes from the best chefs in the world. Honestly, the first time I heard about this conference was a few months ago from my friends and registered dietitians Marisa Moore and Tamara Melton. They were planning to attend this year’s conference because of the theme: Africa and the World Reclaiming the Past, Crafting the Future. It was explained to me this was the first time attendees would examine the many ways how cultural foodways have traveled from Africa across the Atlantic because of the transatlantic slave trade. The conference and festival were about promoting African and African diasporic dishes and ingredients, efforts to bring more visibility and compensation to African and Black farmers, and how chefs can be agents of change.
I knew I had to attend this conference. I believe it’s important to embrace foods from different cultures in the U.S. and globally because food is powerful, food is impactful, and food is love. I want to share a little about my experience at this awe-inspiring event.
Day 1- November 2
I landed at the San Jose International Airport in San Jose, CA from Atlanta, GA, got a rental car, and drove to Napa. I was born in Northern California so I was returning home. After a 1 hour and 25 minutes drive, I checked in at the hotel, quickly dropped my luggage in the room, then drove to CIA Copia a mile away. This was the first day of the conference and I was a little tired because of the 3-hour time difference. I was also eager to see the Copia campus and meet other attendees. We were greeted with food, South African wines, and live African music. The keynote speaker, Dr. Jessica B. Harris, an author, and culinary historian, gave a moving presentation on the journey to have a conference dedicated to the foodways of the African Diaspora. Dr. Harris is also featured in the Netflix documentary High on the Hog. A must-see for everyone. Dr. Harris along with Therese Nelson, and many other influential Black and African chefs were committed to seeing this vision unfold. My emotions were all over the place after listening to the panel discussion on how in the sixteenth century, trade, colonization, and enslavement disbursed African foodways across the Atlantic, giving rise to new regional foodways in what is now known as the African Atlantic world. Enslaved people, my ancestors, didn’t have their cooking tools, or ingredients, only the memory of their recipes.
Day 2 – November 3
I woke up bright and early, 4:30 AM ET ready to start the day. Chef Pierre Thiam and Chef Michael Elegbede led a culinary demo and discussion on fonio. Fonio is a quick-cooking, gluten-free, nutrient-dense, and drought-resistant member of the millet family indigenous to West Africa and cultivated for over 5000 years. It has a nutty flavor and a nutritional powerhouse because it’s a good source of vitamins and minerals including thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, iron, copper, zinc, and magnesium. I tasted fonio for the first time at the conference mixed in a chocolate pudding. It was quite tasty.
The attendees selected 3 breakout sessions in advance. My first breakout session was titled The Real Caribbean: Beyond the Tourist Experience led by Bahamian Celebrity Chef Simeon Hall Jr and Season 18 Top Chef contestant Chef Nelson German. These talented chefs prepared delightful dishes from the West Indies and the Caribbean Islands with African, Spanish, and French influences intermingle with ingredients including fresh seafood, tropical fruit, and legumes like pigeon peas that make these cuisines unique. Chef Simeon prepared Grits Pelau with Boiled Peanuts, Crab, Conch, Salt Cod, and Salt Beef. I learned pelau is a traditional one-pot dish with rice, protein of choice, and herbs. Chef Nelson prepared two dishes Shrimp Suya with Smoked Yogurt and Peanut Salsa Macha and Warm Pigeon Pea Hummus with Pickled Pearl Onions, Spiced Peanut Chimichurri, and Fried Green Plantains (Tostones). So so good.
My second breakout session was titled Black Terroir: Wine and the African Diaspora. It was wine-tasting time. The participants tasted wines from Black and African vineyards. This dynamic session was led by Stephen Satterfield and Angela McCrae. Stephen and Angela discussed global Black winemaking from South Africa to Napa while highlighting the challenges they’ve faced as young wine professionals, and how they’ve used their influence to shift those challenges and change the industry for the better. My favorite wine was Theo-patra’s Cuvee Blanc 2021 from Theopolis Vineyards in Yorkville, CA. This was a deep and enlightening session. If you drink wine or know someone who does support Black and African winemakers.
Day 3- November 4
My final day at the conference. Time flies when you’re having fun. Boy, was I having fun. Every morning a robust and delicious breakfast was offered. This morning my stomach was telling me to refrain from spicy foods. Dishes from the Africa Diaspora have a little “heat” added to them. This “heat” is typically a whole scotch bonnet pepper. I’m glad I always travel with my Tummy Drops. My last breakout session titled On Returning Home led by two gifted chefs based in Nigeria: Chef Michael Elegbede and Chef Nana Araba Wilmot. The chefs offered personal stories and dishes such as Peanut (Groundnut) Soup with Tiger Prawns and Charred Okra with Peanut Granola and Basil Aioli. Both chefs are passionate about their Nigerian roots and lead culinary careers incorporating their cultural heritage in African cuisine. The culinary sessions were more like conversations in your family’s kitchen–warm and engaging.
My Final Thoughts
I’m a registered dietitian yet I have never tasted so much amazing, flavorful food in my life in such a short period of time. Where has this conference been all my life? I danced, engaged in meaningful conversations, and met incredible people at this conference. It was a joy to attend this conference. An absolute joy. I plan to attend more Worlds of Flavor® conferences in the future. Want to prepare these recipes at home? Many of the chefs have cookbooks you can buy online. I’m determined to continue to show people how to embrace and enjoy foods from the African Diaspora. Because our foods are powerful, our foods are healthful, our foods are love.