For three blessed days last weekend, the George R. Brown Convention Center was transformed into an extravaganza of meat, cheese and carbs. More than 1,900 vendors showcased their wares in an effort to connect with commercial buyers and colleagues at the Dairy-Deli-Bake Seminar & Expo hosted by the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association (IDDBA). But hidden in the literature between endless cheese producers and commodity bakers was the greatest treat of all: Not one, but two talks from CNN's Parts Unknown star Anthony Bourdain.
Not typically open to the general public, the expo is an annual event that enables professionals to share, discuss, network and collaborate on industry trends and goals. From class act entertainment (Jerry Seinfeld!) to celebrity-chef appearances (not only Bourdain, but also Lidia Bastianich) and TED Talk-level speakers to new-product unveilings and seemingly endless tastings of butter, cheese, bread and meat, my days attending were equally intellectually and physically satiating.
Seminars were a large part of the show, with the first portion of each day devoted solely to large-scale learning in the convention center’s auditorium. Topics included allergens, leadership, technology and a presentation from IDDBA president and CEO Mike Eardley about the future of grocery stores. At that one, I learned that “groceraunt” is a real word, or at least in this circle.
But the talk and following workshop discussion with Anthony Bourdain was not only the most enlightening, but the most directly focused on Houston. During his two hour-long speaking engagements, he covered topics ranging from the gluten-free trend to his expectations for the future of dining.
“What are people looking for in food now?” he questioned. “How are they valuing it? What do they value? All of that has changed. I think what people are looking for more than anything else is perceived authenticity. They want that sense that they’re getting the real thing, the real deal, not some fake recreation of whatever it is they’re searching for in their lives. We eat differently. We perceive food differently. We’re looking for food in different ways.”
He further shared his opinion of where food in the United States in heading, with a solid shoutout to the Bayou City’s diversity and demographics. “I think that in this sense Houston is instructive,” he said. “Did you know that 78 percent of every Houston resident under the age of 30 is non-Anglo-Saxon? That’s a whole helluva lot of people who grew up eating something other than meatloaf, for whom foods other than standard Americana resonates powerfully."
Korean-American, Chinese-American and Latin American chefs seem to be torchbearers, Bourdain added. Kimchi and tacos, after all, didn't just appear on our tables. "The restaurants in America where people are stacked up down the streets to get in, the absolutely pacemaking, game-changing places, these are run by second-generation Asian-American kids. And if we don’t see that coming, if we don’t anticipate that, we’re gonna to be like those people standing around saying this electric guitar never going to work," he added. Lucky for us, we’re already here.