Why Food World Luminaries Are Heading to Silicon Valley

Rachel Tepper Paley
·Editor
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Photo: StockFood

In a world where lab-grown meat and 3D-printed pizza are normal dinner table conversation, it makes sense that Silicon Valley — the beating heart of the tech industry — has food on the brain. This summer, it will be the backdrop for Bite, a new conference about the intersection of food and technology on June 5-7.

Some big names are slated to attend: Food truck pioneer Roy Choi will talk about his forthcoming project, Loco’l, which aims to bring restaurant-quality food to food deserts. Robert Egger, the founder of the anti-hunger nonprofits DC Central Kitchen and L.A. Kitchen, will tackle the topic of food waste. Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick will talk about the innovative technologies his company uses to produce eggless mayo and dairy-free cookies. Tim Geistlinger, the vice president of meat substitute-company Beyond Meat, will also make a presentation.

José Andrés (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

The event’s “Chef Chair” is José Andrés, the El Bulli-trained chef whose empire includes the avant-garde restaurant Minibar in Washington, D.C. He’s a clear lover of technology, but also a staunch advocate for fresh, healthy food. His latest restaurant, the fast-casual concept Beefsteak, celebrates the “unsung power of vegetables.”

Andrés told Yahoo Food that the conference’s inclusion of people with opposing views on hot-button topics was very much intentional: In what will likely be a lively debate, Monsanto’s executive vice president, Dr. Robert Fraley, will talk about the merits of GMOs with Top Chef Masters star Michael Chiarello.

“Right now, when we speak about food technology, we’re thinking about GMOs and big agriculture — they’re like Darth Vader,” Andrés said. “While I am not a proponent of GMOs, I am a proponent of trying to learn more about them. If only for the simple reason that we need to feed 9 billion people by 2050.“

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3D-printed candies made by 3D Systems, which will demo its technology at Bite. Photo: 3D Systems

That means there might be arguments, but Andrés hopes they’ll at least be productive. “I do believe that we all need to stop going to conferences where we’re all clapping to ourselves. I want to go to conferences where people talk a little differently from me. Maybe they’re right. I don’t know.”

But Bite’s main objective isn’t to incite fights; it’s to find technology solutions to global food problems. For instance, something as simple as making clean cookstoves affordable around the world could “move a billion people out of poverty,” Andrés said. Solar ovens reduce the use of wood and coal, which could result in a healthier environment worldwide. And innovations that results in hardier seeds might improve harvest yields in countries that sorely need them. 

But from where does Andrés get his unshakeable belief in the power of technology? “You have to remember,” Andrés said slowly, “I am a boy who came from El Bulli.”

Tickets to Bite are available here.