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Food is life. Or so it would seem. Bloggers blog about it, journalists write about it, and increasingly consumers want to be part of the conversations taking place behind the swinging doors of restaurant kitchens.

The Culinary Institute of America at Copia in Napa is spearheading a program aimed at creating a bridge between the growing number of people interested in the food on their plate and the chefs defining what those items are. The program, titled Conversations at Copia, is a three-part series designed to educate, inspire, and discuss pressing issues currently being explored in the food world. They’re doing it in partnership with Andrew Zimmern.

Zimmern is widely known for eating his way through weird and funky foods across many different countries on the Travel Channel’s television show “Bizarre Foods.” Many don’t know that the enthusiastic guy slurping pig brains was also the creator, executive producer, and host of the franchise. While he’s best known for interviewing locals on how to eat the foul-smelling Durian fruit or munching on tarantula sticks, he’s also a four-time James Beard award-winning TV personality, author and chef who, in his spare time, raises money for culinary scholarships funding the next generation of chefs.

Maryam Ahmed, director of public programs for the CIA’s California campus, said CIA chose Zimmern for this particular project because “Andrew Zimmern is someone that the consumer and the public can identify with experientially. He has taught people so much through his endeavors in the culinary world and by showing people places they might not otherwise get to experience. When we designed this panel series, we thought about who would be really perfect to make the public feel comfortable and part of the conversation, and we couldn’t think of anyone better than Andrew.”

Copia describes the series as, “a live-talk series that brings together the pioneers of constructive disruption within the worlds of food, beverage, and hospitality to share their stories of positive change.”

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Zimmern will be the moderator for all three panel discussions, coaxing conversation and debate from panelists identified as leaders in their field. “The first Conversations at Copia is called Culture and Cuisine,” Ahmed said. “We’ll be exploring the topic of authenticity. We’ll be joined by several different panelists with different perspectives and backgrounds on cuisine, and what makes them authentic in presenting that cuisine to the public.”

The talks are an opportunity to put food enthusiasts and industry professionals together in a room and discuss and navigate topics that otherwise tend to get pushed to the side. In addition to culture and cuisine, Copia will tackle subjects “Food for Good,” exploring how to expand access to food and reduce waste, in October, and, “Setting the Equity Table,” examining where social change in the food and beverage industry is coming from in December.

The evenings will feature a reception prior to the panel with small bites, drinks and with book signings for panelists who currently have a book out. The panel will take about an hour and 15 minutes followed by a Q & A.

“Andrew is very passionate about audience engagement,” Ahmed says, “so come with questions.” Afterwards, a fundraiser benefiting the Andrew Zimmern Second Chances Scholarship at the CIA will be held upstairs in Copia’s Hestan Kitchen. Tickets are $95 per person.

For more information on the series, how to buy tickets, discover panelists taking part in the talks, and to be part of the conversation, visit ciaatcopia.com and refer to their Happenings calendar.

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Sarah Flick is wrapping up her studies at the Napa Valley Cooking School by serving an externship at the Culinary Institute of America.

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