On paper, it appears that Southern chefs have plenty of chances to get together. The program for next month's Music City Food + Wine in Nashville features Mike Lata, Ashley Christensen and Tyler Brown - all of whom will come back together for Palmetto Bluff's Music To Your Mouth. The November event will also reunite John Currence and Craig Rogers, both of whom are slated to appear at next month's Euphoria festival in Greenville.
But Caroline Jackson, a former Charlestonian who was active in the early years of the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, worries consumer-focused tasting parties don't provide a satisfactory forum for tough industry talk.
"Very rarely do we get to connect at festivals," Jackson says. "We're all passing ships at these big events."
Although there are many conferences aimed at professionals, most of them target a narrow segment of the restaurant world, such as chefs or sommeliers. Jackson hopes a statewide meeting she's planning to bring to Charleston this fall will give a variety of hospitality experts the opportunity to collectively chew over challenges facing South Carolina's food and beverage industry.
"I'm calling it the biggest pre-shift meeting ever," Jackson says of the INDI Conference, scheduled for Oct. 1. The daylong event will include sessions on reducing waste; writing recipes for publication; upgrading cocktail programs and training staff.
"I've been trying to rip workshop ideas from the headlines," Jackson says, referring to the city's current restaurant staffing crisis.
INDI isn't an acronym: The letters were plucked from the word "interdisciplinary." Each session leader has been tasked with creating a worksheet appropriate for small group work.
The presenter roster is still in development, but confirmed session leaders include Charleston's Boris VanDyck, Mitchell Crosby and Nathalie Dupree. While Jackson is trying to emphasize local talent, she's tapped New Yorkers Ed Schoenfeld and Sam Mason to guide a discussion of "branding new concepts and developing new flavors in today's marketplace."
According to INDI's website, the conference is appropriate for chefs "who could use a kick into the next gear," bartenders who want to open their own bars and wine experts who need to learn better sales skills, among other professionals.
"I think there is a tight-knit (restaurant) community in Charleston," Jackson says. "However, I feel there are some people who think 'how do they do what they do?' and 'why are they more successful than I am?'"
Jackson eventually wants to stage similar conferences in other states, she adds.
The conference registration price is $159. For more information, visit indiconference.com.