"That’s a lot of chefs for a technology festival."
That was one of my first thoughts as I dug into the food programming for this year’s South by Southwest.
More than 20 of them, including SXSW first-timers Danny Meyer, Ludo Lefebvre and Jose Andres, will appear on dozens of food-focused panels at SXSW’s food-focused SouthBites, which takes place March 11 to 14 at several venues downtown but mostly the Driskill Hotel.
When it comes to the big names, it’s mostly repeats, including featured sessions with Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern, as well as plenty of programming we’ve seen before, such as a panel on whether food bloggers belong at the proverbial table and another on the future of grocery shopping and "smartcarts" that feels nearly identical to one in 2013.
I know duplicate content at conferences like these is common, especially when there are so many panels to attend each year and so many new attendees, but it does seem like there are plenty of relevant subjects missing from the lineup that I’d rather seen instead, such as how Favor, UberEats and Amazon Now have broken into the mainstream, as well as how technology is propelling the meal kit industry.
There’s a real lack of diversity, in general, among the panelists, and there aren’t any fresh takes on smart cooking devices, food apps and cookbooks/magazines/food publishing.
I was surprised to see Zimmern scheduled to speak again with Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick, who was his panel partner at SXSW last year.
Bourdain as a headliner is certainly a draw for big crowds, but I’m curious to see what he’ll say that’s different from his boozy keynote in 2012. The fact that, as a Roads & Kingdoms backer, he’s being interviewed by one of the co-founders of the site to talk about new publishing models feels like a slippery slope of self-congratulations.
I also can’t figure out what this chef-heavy panel on why cooks should pay their dues in a physical kitchen has to do with tech culture, especially when there’s a much more relevant (and tech-focused) conversation to be had about the changing nature of culinary education now that culinary schools are in trouble. (Maybe that news will come up, but the panel description doesn’t hint at it.)
I like seeing some subjects usually reserved for SXSW Eco, such as food waste and scarcity, bycatch, lab meat and the food supply chain, as well as the panels on how chefs can use their platforms to create more equity in the industry and another with Whole Foods and Instacart that will hopefully reveal some insights into the booming grocery delivery space.
I’m super excited to hear Michael Twitty, one of, if not the lone African American in the entire SouthBites lineup (please correct me if I’m wrong — firstname.lastname@example.org), talk with Eater editor Helen Rosner and NYC chef Alex Stupak about cultural appropriation in restaurants.
I don’t see Monsanto’s influence on SouthBites as I have at recent SXSW Eco conferences, but I’m eager to see if the food myth panel with SciBabe and another called In Defense of Big Food churn up as much discussion as I hope they will.
Friday, March 11
11 a.m. Dirt, Drones and Data: The Future of Farming (Austin Convention Center, Room 5ABC) A workshop on technology-focused agriculture with folks from Frog Design.
12:30 p.m. Danny Meyer and the Age of No-Tipping (Austin Convention Center, Ballroom D) New York restaurateur (and Shake Shack founder) Danny Meyer will talk about his controversial no-tipping policy with Bon Appetit editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport.
2 p.m. Food of the Americas: Dishes from Our Ancestors (Old School Bar) San Antonio chef Diego Galicia talks about how old food traditions can influence new ways of cooking.
3:30 p.m. Creating an Agricultural Oasis in an Urban Setting (Old School Bar) MIT CityFarm founder Caleb Harper, San Antonio restaurant owner Rob Flemming and Suzanne Etheredge, CEO nonprofit Culinaria, will talk about urban farms and city design, including Culinaria’s urban farm in San Antonio.
3:30 p.m. Digital Engagement Prep List for Your Restaurant (Hilton Austin, Room 412) In this workshop, restaurant owners who want to spiff up their websites and social presence.
5 p.m. Food + Tech Meet Up (JW Marriott, Room 209) An annual meet up hosted by Austin restaurateur Sharon Mays, owner of Baby Greens.
5 p.m. Tech vs Craft: Making Food, Wine and Spirits (Old School Bar) An East Coast distiller, a West Coat winemaker and a San Antonio chef about the old and new ways of making food and beverages.
Saturday, March 12
9:30 a.m. Culinary Innovation: Tracking Food Trends (Driskill, Maximilian) Amanda Hesser of Food52 will lead a discussion about how food trends evolve, who decides when a fad becomes a trend and what brands can do with them.
9:30 a.m. Food Transformers: Reimagining Food Traditions (Driskill, Driskill Ballroom) Food customs and cultures will be the focus of this discussion with Tatsu Aikawa of Ramen Tatsu-Ya, Michael Fojtasek of Olamaie, Marla Camp of Edible Austin and cookbook author Virginia Willis.
11 a.m. Sensors, Transparency and the Modern Restaurant (Driskill, Maximilian) What happens when sensors can detect gluten in a pizza that’s supposedly gluten-free? That’s one of the questions the folks behind a new device called Nima will answer in a general discussion about food and sensors.
11 a.m. How Do We Get Billions of People to Eat Less Meat? (Driskill, Driskill Ballroom) NPR’s Eliza Barclay will chat with lab meat pioneer Isha Datar of New Harvest and Austin food historian Rachel Laudan.
12:30 p.m. Food Hall Nation: The Return of Public Markets (Driskill, Driskill Ballroom) Four entrepreneurs who are involved with food markets in Portland, New York City and Southern California will talk about the renaissance of this old style of buying food.
12:30 p.m. Next-Gen Food and AgTech Meet Up (JW Marriott, Room 209) The CEO of BlueCart, a service that connects food suppliers with restaurants, will host this meet-up to talk about how companies can address inefficiencies in the supply chain.
3:30 p.m. Hooked on Bycatch: Seafood You Should Be Eating (Driskill, Maximilian) Houston chefs PJ Stoops and Chris Shepherd, fishmonger Jim Gossen and Rosa Zirlott, co-owner of Murder Point Oysters, will talk about lesser known fish and shellfish you might be eating soon.
3:30 p.m. Just Food: What It Looks Like When We Start Over (Austin Convention Center, Ballroom EFG) TV host Andrew Zimmern and Hampton Creek founder Josh Tetrick will pivot away from non-animal proteins, the subject of their talk last year, to discuss what the food system would look like if we started from scratch to rebuild it to bring more "truth and justice" to how we eat.
5 p.m. The Future of Grocery Shopping (Driskill, Driskill Ballroom) An evolution of a similar 2013 panel, technologists from the Austin-based Chaotic Moon will discuss how technology might change grocery shopping, including their SmartestCart, an autonomous shopping cart that utilizes advanced technology to streamline the shopping experience.
5 p.m. Changing Times: Restaurant Survival in Real Time (Driskill, Maximilian) Three Texas chefs, including Austin’s Tyson Cole, will talk about the evolution of the business with Mariam Parker of the Austin Food & Wine Alliance.
Sunday, March 13
11 a.m. Do Food Bloggers Deserve a Seat at the Table? (Driskill, Driskill Ballroom) Kerry Diamond and Stephanie Smith with Yahoo! Food talk with the blogger behind My Name is Yeh about this crazy new thing called food blogging.
11 a.m. What a Waste: 40% of Food Discarded, 49M Go Hungry (Driskill, Maximilian) Ashley Zanolli with the Environmental Protection Agency, Feeding America’s Liz Baldridge, Kroger’s Suzanne Lindsay-Walker and dairy farmer Marie Audet will talk about food insecurity and waste.
12:30 p.m. Disruption at Every Stage of the Food System (Driskill, Maximilian) Experts in the field will discuss how technological advances are improving the food supply chain, from food production and traceability to food storage.
3:30 p.m. Anthony Bourdain (Austin Convention Center, Ballroom D) "Parts Unknown" Anthony Bourdain, who is a partner in the website Roads & Kingdoms, will be interviewed by Roads & Kingdoms co-founder Nathan Thornburgh.
3:30 p.m. Cultural Appropriation in Restaurants (Driskill, Driskill Ballroom) New York chef Alex Stupak, Eater editor Helen Rosner and African American foodways scholar Michael Twitty will discuss the food world’s interest (or sometimes lack thereof) in authenticity, history and provenance.
3:30 p.m. In Defense of Big Food (Driskill, Maximilian) Representatives from Chick-Fil-A, Compass Group and a regional grocer in California and Nevada will talk about how big food companies use scale to improve the global food supply.
5 p.m. Eat This Panel (If You Dare): Food Myths Debunked (Driskill, Maximilian) Yvette d’Entremont, aka SciBabe, will chat with other scientists about food myths that you should stop falling for.
5 p.m. Standing for Equal Rights: In and Out of the Kitchen (Driskill, Driskill Ballroom) Chef and Food Network host Aarón Sánchez will talk with fellow chefs Eli Kirshtein and Sarah Simmons about the role the food professionals play in the fight for social justice and equality.
Monday, March 14
9:30 a.m. Drinking Wisely in the Craft Beer and Whiskey Boom (Driskill, Maximilian) Michael Graham of Austin Beerworks and Jason Kosmas of the New York-based 86 Co. will chat with former Austin American-Statesman columnist Emma Janzen, now of Imbibe Magazine, and CultureMap’s Tom Thornton about how to read labels and menus in and media about the beverage world.
9:30 a.m. Dining and Design: The Details Make the Meal (Driskill, Driskill Ballroom) Austin ceramic maker extraordinaire Keith Kreeger will join other design lovers, including chef Matt McCallister of FT 33 Restaurant in Dallas, to talk about the importance of design and visual arts in the food industry.
11 a.m. From Palate to Plate: Defining a Taste Platform (Driskill, Maximilian) Four technology-focused foodies will talk about the data-based innovations that are changing how restaurants, grocery stores and eaters figure out what’s for dinner (and lunch and breakfast and everything in between).
11 a.m. Modern-Day Young Chefs: Paying Your Dues Upfront (Driskill, Driskill Ballroom) Three chefs — Austin’s Alexis Chong of Foreign & Domestic, Ludo Lefebvre of Petit Trois in L.A. and Erik Bruner-Yang of Maketto & Toki Underground in D.C. — will talk about the best way to learn your way around a kitchen with Richard Martin of Food Republic.
12:30 p.m. 3D Printed Food: Spam or Paté? You Decide. (Driskill, Maximilian) Two 3D printing experts, a food business consultant and an advocate for people with disabilities will talk about how 3D printing will (or won’t) affect what you eat in the near future.
12:30 p.m. Can Fast Food Work When We Care About What We Eat? (Austin Convention Center, Ballroom EFG) D.C.-based chef Jose Andres will chat with Eater’s Erin DeJesus about how fast food is changing with restaurant like his fast-casual restaurant Beefsteak.
3:30 p.m. How the World of Video Programming Is Changing (Driskill, Maximilian) The hosts of two online food shows, Donal Skehan of Donalskehan.com and Katie Quinn of Katie-Quinn.com, will join Tastemade’s head of programming to discuss how the Internet is changing what kinds of food video content is being created.
3:30 p.m. Partners for Successful On-Demand Grocery Delivery (Driskill, Driskill Ballroom) Whole Foods Market and Instacart teamed up several years ago to offer grocery delivery, and representatives from both companies will talk about how they merged their specialties to transform on-demand grocery shopping.
5 p.m. Hops to Pulp: Experiences of Niche Beverage Makers (Driskill, Maximilian) Four San Antonio beverage entrepreneurs talk about "the trials of getting a beverage startup off the ground and the perceptions of ownership both before and after launching."