Prominent symposium inspires WinSport’s food and beverage team

We strive to be the best we can in everything we do at WinSport. Our food and beverage team is no exception. Every year they prepare world-class catering for hundreds of businesses, weddings and other events. One of the reasons our team is so successful is because they are passionate, innovative and always strive to provide the best food and experiences for their guests. It’s a reason why our team is always gaining insight and education with the latest innovations, techniques and trends in the culinary world.

Jason McKay (left), WinSport’s Director of Food and Beverage, Darren MacLean, owner of Calgary restaurant Shokunin,  Amanda Cohen, owner of the award-winning vegetable restaurant Dirt Candy in New York and Executive Chef Liana Robberecht (far right), networking at the 2016 Food on the Edge conference in Ireland.

Their latest endeavour took Executive Chef Liana Robberecht and Jason McKay, Director of Food and Beverage, to Galway City, Ireland, to attend Food on the Edge. This prominent two-day symposium is for chefs and food enthusiasts around the world who want to create a better global network. It’s a forum where chefs listen, talk and debate about the future of food in the industry and on our planet.

Robberecht says the gathering was inspirational and provided an opportunity to learn from some of the best minds in the culinary industry.

“My favourite memory and learning experience was being in a room with so many amazing leaders,” she says. “These chefs, farmers and producers are all committed to change – to better the planet and to better the future. There were many innovating inspirations.  I heard everything from farming practices to a chef in New York committed to running a zero-waste operation.  It was remarkable what he is achieving – his plates are even made from recycled plastic bags, which is very inspiring.”

The symposium featured speeches from several high-profile chefs including Massimo Bottura, owner of his internationally renowned three Michelin star restaurant, Osteria, in Italy and David Kinch, owner of Manresa, a restaurant in Los Gatos, Calif. Robberecht also had the honour of speaking where she talked about the concept of avant-garde thinking when it comes to both cooking and sourcing ingredients.

WinSport’s Executive Chef Liana Robberecht delivered a speech on avant-garde thinking and how it relates to both cooking and sourcing ingredients at the Food on the Edge conference in Ireland.

“I was nervous, but I was more honoured that I was given the opportunity to share the stage at such an impactful conference. It was definitely a career highlight,” says Robberecht.

Read WinSport Executive Chef Liana Robberecht’s full speech from the Food on the Edge conference below:

Food on the Edge – How Avant-Garde Thinkers Influence Change

The term “avant-garde” is from the French term “Vanguard”.

It is traditionally used to describe any artist, group, or style that is considered to be slightly ahead of the masses in technique, subject matter, or application.

To put it another way, being avant-garde involves exploring new methods or experimenting with new techniques, in order to produce better “art.”  

 When applying this to the culinary world, it is about creating food and dining experiences like no other.

Avant-garde thinkers do not see food as they simply ARE but instead what they could BE. 

A potato is not just a potato. A simple potato becomes an adventure, an obsession of study of what the potato can become.

Maybe the potato is steamed, sous-vide, creamed, dehydrated, slow roasted, or even covered with vegetable ash. Imagination and creativity take over until the potato itself is an experience.  

Take Chef Joel Robuchon – he took the potato to new heights with his famous pommes purée, globally known as the most perfect potato.  He is a chef but he is also an avant-garde thinker. 

He has the gift to take a simple ingredient and create a mind-blowing, almost religious experience.  I mean – he was voted Chef of the Century. But he isn’t alone in this capability – we all have this potential.

Avant-garde means thinking differently.  

Thinking differently creates change. 

Without change the culinary industry has the risk of being stale or even boring. 

Now, I know I’m preaching to the choir here at Food on the Edge where we all believe in challenging the status quo. I mean that’s why we are here today – to learn and challenge each other. 

We are avant-garde thinkers.  

Many of us are project driven. I know I sure am. I love getting involved in forward thinking projects. An example of this is Calgary’s Beakerhead, which is a mash up of food, art, science, and engineering. 

It’s a five-day city-wide festival where a collection of avant-garde thinkers take over the city. They present new ideas and experiences in interesting and unusual ways.  

Different disciplines work together and create new experiences which challenge participants and attendees to think differently.  

It truly is avant-garde thinking at its best.

Through this festival, I was introduced to cricket flour.  I created a cricket gnocchi workshop for Beakerhead attendees in 2015.

Did you know that crickets are a sustainable alternative protein option? They are.  They use less water, food, and space to produce the same amount of edible product compared to traditional protein meals.  

Crickets are low in carbs, fats, and contain all nine amino acids. And did you know that in flour form, each serving of crickets is 60 percent protein? What an awesome protein source – this type of creative sourcing is something I find fascinating.

From my work with Beakerhead and crickets, a startup company out of Toronto contacted me to create and develop recipes so they can generate market-ready products enriched with cricket flour.  This is avant-garde thinking.  These type of projects are what drives me.  

I have been working with this company for over a year and it’s very exciting and interesting. Our first product is almost at the finishing line.

People are looking for change. They are looking for sustainable protein alternatives. I believe crickets and insects in general will play a big role in the future as a source of protein.

I am also about to begin work with two other separate companies. They are looking to develop products that promote sustainability and wellness through innovative food products. They are avant-garde thinkers committed to making a positive change in the world.  I’m committed to be part of this change. 

I’m also committed to bringing change to WinSport, where I am the Executive Chef. WinSport was one of the main venues for the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. It is now a world-class facility where thousands of people train and participate in mountain-based recreational activities year round.

We host over 1,000 food and beverage events every year. The volume of events is sometimes staggering, with single events feeding sometimes up to 2,000 people or more – it truly is bananas.

With those numbers, it could be easy to take short cuts and let your integrity slide. But I feel lucky because I have the support from management and my team to not let this happen. What I mean by this is – we are supported to use our skills to provide clients with real food experiences. We don’t just open boxes and reheat meals.

This is a statement that is not hard to stand by for smaller establishments- it starts to get tricky with extreme large volumes. 

Throughout my years as a Chef, I have developed deep relationships with local farmers and producers.  I have been at WinSport for a year and a half and was in my previous role for 18 years. I made the change to WinSport as they believed in my creative thinking and supported new ideas.  

I was hired to raise culinary awareness.

Not only do I have the support to continue working with local farmers and producers, but we are now planning an onsite garden and bee hives. This will not only provide honey and produce, but will also be incorporated into our children’s camps. We host more than 5,000 kids for summer camps and we can teach children where their food comes from. This garden and the bee hives will have large impacts. 

The driving force behind avant-garde thinking is straight up rebellion and obsession against the norm.

Avant-garde thinkers challenge artistic conventions and their methods of production. Their ideas are not always well accepted.  They may even be thought of as being “different” or unusual or even frowned upon.

Take my friend Brandon Baltzley who is known as a nomadic American chef who rebels against the rules. I remember him telling me a story of how his obsession with foraging took him deep into a forest. He slept without a tent on the dirt to experience and embody a mushroom.  That’s obsession with creating experiences around food.

Now, me personally, I’m not one to sleep in the dirt and camping is almost a dirty word, BUT I get why Brandon did this.

I have visions everyday on how to translate something onto a plate.

I become obsessed with figuring out how to bring those ideas into the real world for others to understand and experience themselves.

Let’s go back to my point earlier about the simple potato. That connection to a vegetable and the need to create an experience around it takes the avant-garde thinker to a new edge.

It’s about translating a smell, a sound, or a vision onto a plate.  That vision can inspire others to follow or create new visions themselves.  

This is how movements are created and standards are born.  It’s up to avant-garde thinkers like us to have the confidence to inspire movements. 

Sometimes these new paths are radical or aggressive and seem way too crazy for the general population to understand. We see in history that avant-garde thinkers are known as fringe thinkers and are often unpopular in their own time.  It is only later when they are labeled as forward thinkers.

Look at Sous Vide. A physicist first theorized it in 1799.  But it wasn’t until the 1960s that this idea was really developed and turned the culinary world on its head. And even then, it took 20 more years to become a movement.  

Today, you find this a common technique in most kitchens – even for the average household.  Some of our ideas and techniques may seem radical today BUT fast-forward to the year 2090 and they could be standard technique or practice.

Knowing where our ingredients come from and their nutritional value is a topic today promoted by chefs.  Local and ethical sourcing is important but has its own challenges.  Avant-garde thinkers and chefs using their voice as a platform helps push past these challenges and creates change. We can’t be afraid and back away because of a few challenges.

You know that this change is taking hold when schools across the UK are ensuring nutritional lunches and even the big players in fast food like McDonalds in the US provide apple slices and milk as options in a child’s happy meal. 

Now, I know what you are thinking, saying McDonalds is a curse word BUT they are multi-billion dollar company and even they are changing. This demonstrates and proves that avant-garde thinkers influence change in mainstream society.

I am interested in avant-garde thinkers in not just the culinary world, but also in farming and art. I like to take those ideas and visions and push boundaries and bring ideas from multiple disciplines.

For example, I’m inspired by JP’s project with “slow food “– “fast food” organic farming for Ireland. It’s brilliant and to me represents the beginning of change. There is no doubt in my mind he will be successful.  

This is avant-garde thinking. This is what I am talking about.  We need to challenge new ideas and create platforms for change – so we can all move forward. 

We all have the ability to create movements.

Believe in your ideas, even when no one else thinks they are great. Keep believing in your passion – the one that keeps you up all night.  Forget all the nay-sayers and continue pushing for change.

We have the power to influence change together.  Remember, it takes courage to believe in your ideas and the culture that you create around you. 

It takes courage to stay the course through the dark moments and the valley of doubt.  It is a big responsibility, but there is a community of avant-garde thinkers who will help you create new realities. You are not alone share your responsibilities. Inspire others – this is what Food on the Edge is all about.

Thank you JP for this opportunity to be here. It’s inspiring to be in a room full of avant-garde thinkers and share my ideas.


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