Taste3 Conference: July 17-19, Napa

I know how you think. You’re sitting there, scratching your head, wondering, “now what on earth am I going to do here in the middle of the summer to exercise both my brain and my taste buds in a sophisticated way?” It’s a good thing I caught you early on in your musing, otherwise you might have frittered away the whole summer in frustration, trying to come up with something suitably intellectual and delicious to occupy your time.

So instead of sitting there updating your cellar list in Excel, or converting that old rolodex of recipes into a new digital form, you can head up to Napa and go to Taste3. I honestly don’t know whether the damn thing is called “Taste Three” or “Taste Cubed” but it’s a big taste with a little three after it, and it may well be the coolest food conference ever devised.

Those of you in the high tech industry can think of it as TED for food and wine. For those of you who have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, here’s (maybe) a more accessible explanation. Think about a conference where, instead of one cooking demonstration after another, some of the world’s foremost scientists, intellectuals, musicians, writers, chefs, and winemakers come together to discuss a wide range of issues having to do with everything from the aesthetics to the ethics of food and wine. There are lectures, demos, performances, and of course, some tastings. But it’s all highbrow, you know?

OK, so perhaps that didn’t quite capture it. The thing of it is, the conference is nearly impossible to describe well. It doesn’t quite fit the mold of anything else out there in the world of food and wine. So rather than resort to metaphor, let me just tell you how the conference works, and who’s involved. The whole thing is set up as a series of themed sections, each hosted by a moderator, and comprised of a series of short format presentations by some amazing people.

Here are a few examples from this year’s roster:

• Dan Barber, owner of Blue Hill & Blue Hill at Stone Barns talks about his restaurants, career, and his Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture

• Journalist Novella Carpenter talks about the current phenomenon of urban farming.

• Editor-in-Chief of Gastronomica, Darra Goldstein talks about food as a path to peace in the Middle East.

• Chateau Musar Winemaker Serge Hochar on the passion for wine that kept him from fleeing civil war in Lebanon.

• René Koster, director of the Dutch “Restaurant of the Future” project, talks about how we make food and drink choices.

• Artist Laura Letinsky shares her haunting photographic images that evoke unseen people and relationships using the detritus of a meal.

• Author Christopher McDougall talks about the health and nutrition secrets of Mexico’s legendary Tarahumara runners.

• Entrepreneur Barry Schuler shares his ideas for mapping the wine grape genome.

• Author of The Billionaires Vinegar, Benjamin Wallace talks about forgery and fakes in high stakes wine collecting.

As you can see, this isn’t your mother’s food event. I’ve never been to the event, but I hear nothing but rave reviews from everyone who’s gone.It’s apparently great brain food. Check out the whole program on the event web site.

July 17th – 19th, 2008
Culinary Institute of America
Greystone Castle
2555 Main Street
St. Helena, CA 94574 (map)

Tickets are $1950, and discounts are available for those in the industry. Ticket price includes lunches, winemaker dinner, and gala dinner and reception. Tickets will likely sell out by early July so they should be purchased in advance online.