06/14/2011 01:59 pm ET Updated Aug 14, 2011

Sparks From the Culinary Edge

Last weekend, underneath the canopy of a sprawling oak tree in a remote park in downtown Austin, a small group gathered around a vintage airstream, a table and few chairs. An otherwise normal scene in Austin except for the fact that underneath that tree, in gallic stripes and signature wire-framed glasses, stood Dorie Greenspan -- in town to speak at the 33rd annual conference for the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

News of her campsite spread like wildfire. By mid-morning Twitter was abuzz with the fact that the beloved cookbook author and blogger was in town -- en plein air -- passing out french vanilla sables. From my position across the street at the Hilton Hotel, the conference's home base, I read the Twitter feeds and smiled. Yes, this was the sort of magic happening all around me.

The IACP conference -- held annually in different locations -- brings its international food members together for a series of relevant lectures. This year these ranged from "How to Build a Sustainable Food Community" to "The Incredible Expanding Cook Book: How Print & Digital Connect Today and Tomorrow." The deeper subtext however is connecting food professionals- building communities within the community.

Highlights included the lively Diana Kennedy, as she discussed her exquisite tribute to Mexican cuisine that comprises her latest cookbook and travelogue, Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy. She told of the immense work required to complete the book, and then she punctuated the talk with a story about her editor questioning the inclusion of a recipe on how to cook an iguana. Kennedy quipped that if it was relevant to at least four to five people, and she emphatically knew it would be, it would stay, and stay it did.

New York Times' food writer, cookbook author and blogger, Amanda Hesser, interviewed Jacques Pepin about his life during an early morning cooking demonstration where while crafting flowers our of butter, Pepin shared memories of his time in the kitchen with the late Julia Child and at one point noted that the only thing one needs to know after graduating culinary school is how to say "Yes, Chef." The audience, enraptured by the master, clapped and cheered like apostles of the culinary word.

It was an intimate mix of information and stories, teachers and students, and culinary professionals whose faces are well-known and others whose faces are unfamiliar. Like looking through the lens of a telescope, the conference magnified a food cosmos where hundreds upon hundreds of culinary stars, stars that we don't see every day, were seen. This spectrum of course included the stunning artists, sensualists, photographers, technical masters and chefs whose personalities set restaurants, trends, communities on fire. However, it also included the individuals fighting for school policies that give our children a chance at good health, soup-kitchen volunteers aiming to provide better meals for the homeless, farmers who wake daily to tend to their crops organically and to their livestock humanely so people they never meet can live better and longer. Also, and not least of all, it highlighted the dedicated cookbook publishers and editors busily keeping up with rapid technological advances and the authors and bloggers moving food forward by sharing their lives, trusted recipes, secrets and anecdotes that continue to provide us the feasts and folk-lore we proudly serve our friends and family.

Farming, Gathering, Gardening, Cooking, Serving -- these essential practices have always been at the core of our private lives, and now more then ever, are at the public hub of our conversations and meditations on how we live.

To find a complete list of the topics, purchase and download the lectures online, learn more about the IACP or to become a member visit the organizations website at

Dorie Greenspan, her French Vanilla Sables and other recipes

Diana Kennedy's cookbook, Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy can be found at