It’s been called the TED Talks of the food world and you’re invited! Food has become a national obsession and there is hardly anyone not consumed with what they consume these days. Yet we still hunger for more. Enter Bitten in its fourth year inspiring audiences of creative passionistas, brand executives, and technology savants who swirl within the food space, but also stretch into the galaxies of fashion, travel, finance, the arts, and more. So what are you doing on Friday, October 27th? Let’s spend the day together.
Iranian-born Naz Riahi, artist, innovator, and founder of the conference, cajoles us to leave our desks for a day and participate in a sumptuous idea fest anchored by some of the industry’s most compelling influencers. This year’s conversations include “On Food and Identity,” “On Food and a Zen Monastery” (am so interested in this!), “High-Tech Foods that Failed,” ‘On Cultural Appropriation” (oh, is this hot topic!), “On How to Get Noticed in Food Media,” “On the Poetry of Bees,” On Fermentation,” on “Refugees and Food,” “On the Future of Protein,” and more. Michael Whiteman, food trends guru who has spoken at the conference for the past several years, is excited enough to sit in the audience this time. He believes in the power of ideas.
In recognition of Naz’s great work, she was invited to President Obama's White House for SXSL and Bitten was tasked by MIT Media Lab's Food + Future program to curate and produce a salon and workshop on Transparency. Naz's work has been featured in Refinery29, Coolhunting, PSFK, EATER, Brooklyn Mag, Elle, Guernica, The Fader and more. She has worked with brands big and small, including Levi's, Pepsi, Dig Inn, JWT, etc. and is a regular keynote speaker on food, design, trends, and entrepreneurship. She lives in Brooklyn with her dog, Hugo and loves soft serve ice cream. I decided to ask her a few questions:
Rozanne to Naz: When did you come to the US?
Naz: I came here as a political refugee with my mother when I was 10 years old. I didn't speak a word of English and it was quite possibly one of the most difficult experiences of my life, and played huge role in crafting the person I am today. I had to grow a thick skin quickly and learn to survive.
RG: Did you go to university here, if so, where?
Naz: I went to Western Washington University for undergrad and have an MFA from the New School.
RG: What is your comfort food (an Iranian dish, perhaps?).
Naz: It's funny you should ask. As part of my art practice, Bitten is presenting a series of intimate dinners this winter called Let Me Comfort You, which will be an immersive experience around my comfort foods. Without giving too much away, I'll say that one of my comfort foods is white rice with yogurt.
RG: What are your personal highly-anticipated food trends for 2018?
Naz: I'm still waiting for algae as an ingredient in cooking to become mainstream. It's been on the cusp for so long. I'm also excited for all of the vegan meat products. They seem to get better every day. One trend that's persisted over the last few years and continues to gain traction is big food companies buying startups. This is both genius and also a band-aid on the wound. Buying up startups isn't going to change the culture and future of massive CPG brands. Changing the culture and value proposition of the company from the core is what will help them survive and thrive in the next few decades. It'll come at the cost of short term losses, but a brand shift executed properly will pay in the long term.
RG: What keeps you up at night (thinking)?
Naz: Right now, Bitten! I'm excited and nervous and can't wait. Sometimes my little dog. I'm too weak to not let him sleep in bed with me and he likes to burrow, but then gets hot and comes out from under the covers and then gets cold and wants to go back under. It's really a problem.
RG: Do you cook?
Naz: I love to cook, but only if I have guests. I hardly ever cook for myself. I mostly graze or eat things out of cans. It's not a glamorous foodie lifestyle.
RG: Favorite restaurant(s) these days?
Naz: Superiority burger! I'm also really excited about the crop of women-owned and women run restaurants popping up. I love King and I love De Maria whose chef, Camille Becerra is a Bitten speaker this year.
RG: Where do you want to travel that you haven't yet been?
Naz: I'm launching a subscription trends and insight report this year and each issue will include a feature on a city in the U.S. or abroad with interviews and info about its food, tech and culture scene. So I'm hoping that'll get me to a few places on my list which includes Nashville and Mexico City.
RG: Do you think VR has a place in the restaurant space?
Naz: Yes! Absolutely. I'm actually working on a Bitten VR dinner right now. It's super exciting and very, very different. I think food is about experience and about play and about pleasure and all of that can be enhanced with VR.
For tickets to Bitten: A Food Conversation, click here. Light breakfast and lunch included (8:30 to 4:30 p.m.) See you on the 27th. Make sure to say hi.