This may surprise you, but every now and then, I run out of stimulating garlic thoughts. Or, as much as I hate to admit, I haven’t had an experience worth mentioning – at least that’s blog appropriate! That’s why I invited my colleague, Amber Oliveira, who also works in marketing and sales at Christopher Ranch, to write a guest blog. Take it away, Amber!
Monterey, Calif., typically known for its array of delicious, fresh fish, recently evolved into a produce town for a weekend, attracting some of the most insightful, influential produce industry members.
The Produce Marketing Association, a leading global trade association known for its industry advocacy, consumer and industry research and networking opportunities, played host to one of its biggest events of the year – the PMA Foodservice Conference, which I, Amber Oliveira, got to attend.
Several hot industry topics were highlighted throughout the weekend, such as strengthening fresh produce in restaurants, sustainability and food safety, with plenty of time devoted to culinary events and – three of my favorite pastimes: eating, drinking and socializing.
Reflecting on the successful show, I thought I would share my experiences and perceptions of the weekend. As they say, my 2 cents is free!
Saturday morning began with an “Executive Think Tank” roundtable – featuring leaders from the National Restaurant Association, the International Foodservice Distributors Association, Bon Appétit Management Company, Subway and more. There, PMA president Bryan Silbermann and fellow industry leaders discussed produce and foodservice trends, as well as strategies for incorporating more produce in restaurants. Silbermann projected an ambitious goal of doubling use of fresh produce in restaurants by 2020 and outlined effective ways to do so, like moving produce toward the center of the plate… I don’t think anyone in the room complained about that!
The PMA also provided great industry research with promising numbers:
• 92% of fine dining operators said they would pay more for fresh produce, if safety is guaranteed.
• 72% of operators agree that fresh produce attracts customers.
• 2 out of 3 restaurants want a relationship with produce growers.
Then, it was on to the following session, which focused on rethinking business strategies to appeal to the emerging generation – Generation Y.
Our industry is hopeful that Gen Y will boost restaurant sales, with the idea that Generation Yers’ love of food and little kitchen interest will encourage restaurant business. However, the speaker also referred to Gen Y as spoiled and high maintenance. Speaking on behalf of Gen Y, we think that is completely false!
Sunday morning began with a Q & A session, including some culinary figures you may know… Ted Allen, Chef Jeff Henderson, and Chef Robert Danhi. Chef Danhi, who was a James Beard Foundation Book Nominee for his Southeast Asian Flavors, emceed the session. He spoke with Allen and Chef Henderson about the importance of food, namely produce, and how it’s influenced eating choices throughout their lives.
Chef Jeff Henderson delivered an inspiring success story, as he grew up in poverty and consumed most produce out of a can. Still, his family ate and cooked together, forming a strong bond through food.
His life initially followed a tumultuous path, however, ending up in prison to serve 10 years. While working in the prison kitchen and chopping veggies (without a knife), he realized his passion for the culinary world. He read many books and learned techniques that would help him when he emerged, and, upon release, he started at the bottom of the kitchen totem pole and worked his way up to Executive Chef at the Bellagio in Vegas. He now has his own show on the Food Network called “The Chef Jeff Project,” which teaches at-risk young adults how to use the power of food to handle problems and better their lives.
Ted Allen often consumed produce growing up – lots of fresh and lots in can – but believes fresh is best. He cooks with fresh produce frequently, and says fresh produce enriches his life. He’s been very successful, starring in the former “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” judging on “Top Chef” and “Iron Chef America” and now hosting Food Network’s “Chopped” and “Food Detectives.“
After the Q &A session came the best part… the cooking demo!
Chef Danhi, Chef Henderson and Allen each prepared a savory and sweet dish. The savory dish had to include two ingredients: broccoli and grapes. The sweet dish had to include avocado and blueberries. While they weren’t the best-sounding combos, these guys are inventive and came up with amazing recipes – which we were fortunate enough to sample at the end!
My favorites? For the savory dish, I loved Chef Henderson’s scallops with broccoli puree, topped with grapes. For the sweet dish, I loved Chef Danhi’s avocado and blueberry parfait, topped with slivered almonds.
The expo began shortly after and went very well. One perk of this year’s event was the happy hour on the show floor – nice touch, PMA! Overall, it was a great event for the produce industry. Looking forward to it next year…