Hosted by Will Guidara, Anthony Rudolf, and Brian Canlis, this year's conference was organized around the theme of "restoration."
In 2015, the Welcome Conference was created as a forum for hospitality professionals to convene, eat snacks, and discuss new ideas. At this year's gathering, which took place on June 4 at NYC's Lincoln Center, the ideas centered around one really big one: "Restoration." Hosted by Will Guidara, Anthony Rudolf, and Brian Canlis, the conference hosted speakers from all corners of the industry to discuss how the restaurant world and how it might go through a requisite "restoration," touching on the #MeToo movement, the essence of excellent service, and the very meaning of butter.
"The restaurant industry, for all of the endemic issues it is contending with and at times struggling to transform—it's still a place where you can encounter earnest, thoughtful, playful people who believe in the moment," said F&W restaurant editor, Jordana Rothman, who attended the event. "Seizing the moment, creating the moment, believing in the moment."
Here, our five biggest takeaways from the day.
You can find good service where you least expect it.
And it may be missing where you expect it most. Kevin Boehm, of Boka Restaurant Group, gave a talk titled "Restoration of Your Own Soul," and in it, he revealed that the dining establishment where he had the single best dining experience was ... Wendy's. To be fair, it was the number one-ranked Wendy's in the country, but still, the service, and warmth of the staff, was surprisingly top-notch for a fast-food restaurant.
Boehm, in short, was moved by the idea of greatness being found in unusual places: taking pride in whatever you're doing, wherever you are.
Learning to say "no" is important, but so is learning to saying "yes."
Another gem from Boehm's talk? A realistic story about how he grew a dining empire.
"You don’t get to 19 restaurants and 2000 employees without saying yes a lot," he said. "I kept raising my hand because I always wanted to know what was behind door number two.”
Achieving culinary super-stardom can be a very slow process.
Osteria Francescana's Lara Gilmore, who is married to chef Mossimo Bottura, spoke their restaurant's long journey towards global recognition. In her talk "From A to Z," she touched on a detail that many people forget: That Osteria Francescana, one of the world's most recognized restaurants, was open for seven years before earning its first Michelin star. It was four more years before they earned their second. The Modena restaurant didn't just skyrocket to success.
The trouble with earning that first Michelin star, she said, is that you wake up the next day and already beginning dreaming about the next one. (For those keeping track, Osteria Francescana now has three.)
"We are in the arms race of informality."
As could be expected, Dan Barber's talk, "Restaurant (n)," was full of an unreasonable amount of gem turns of phrase and anecdotes. One of the most interesting topics he spoke on was the state of fine-dining, which is (obviously), (wildly) in flux. Increasingly, as a society, we're able to recognize the merits of the casual restaurant with spectacular food and service—not only the white-glove establishments that remain the gatekeepers of "fancy."
And now, fine-dining establishments are shifting to keep up—Barber called the process "the fine-dining journey into the upside down."
"What everyone is looking for is a sanctuary space," he said. "How restaurants are a sanctuary space by design. We are uniquely positioned to be the solution to this hardwired craving for connection."
Alain Ducasse can taste the weather.
One of the highlights of the day was Barber's story about legendary French chef Alain Ducasse, visiting Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Barber served him a simple plate of bread and butter. Ducasse, who offered a middling "c'est bon" after finishing the plate, seemed underwhelmed. When Barber asked why, the French chef asked, "Did you use an electric mixer?" Barber said no. Ducasse asked, "Has it rained a lot recently?" Barber said yes, and Ducasse remarked that the cows grazing on watery grass had washed out a bit of the dairy's flavor. Finally, Ducasse asked, "Are the cows grazing by the BARN?" and Barber responded, yes, of course, it's the best grass.
The next day, Barber discovered a stage in the kitchen using an electric mixer; the stage excitedly reported that they had found a way to make the butter faster. So Ducasse was right; he had tasted the mixer! Later he noticed that the cows weren't grazing by the barn; they were, in fact, out on field 7, a few acres away. And Ducasse had tasted that too!