ST. HELENA, Calif. — More than 100 attendees of the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone’s annual Flavor, Quality and American Menus conference are getting a four-day crash course in agriculture.

The event, which is invite-only for institutional foodservice and chain operators from around the country, kicked off Sept. 8 with opening remarks and culinary demonstrations. Attendees have a day trip to University of California-Davis on Sept. 10, and the conference closes Sept. 11 with a hands-on team culinary challenge that gets corporate chefs, foodservice operators and suppliers in the kitchen, working together.

“Unfortunately, when you get into big volume foodservice, often there’s just so much to do and the supply chain is so complicated, the farm-restaurant connection is often just picking up the phone and calling your purchasing guide and saying here’s what I need,” said Greg Drescher, executive director of strategic initiatives for the culinary institute.

Through this event, the culinary institute aims to build bridges between agriculture and corporate chefs in volume foodservice, Drescher said. The idea is to foster creativity and innovation with products grown and harvested in the U.S., drawing inspiration from cuisines around the globe as well as American regional cooking, such as American Southern cuisine.

“There are imperatives on both sides for diversity and innovation,” Drescher said. “We know in the restaurant industry and foodservice industry, what happens when everybody tries to do the same thing. Yeah, chicken Caesar salad is a good idea, but if we’re all doing chicken Caesar salad there’s no differentiation.”

Through a connection made at a previous Culinary Institute of America event, chef and author Joyce Goldstein has been working with Yale University to revamp its salad program. The trick is to pare down the number of choices students have, but add quality, she said.

“Food costs have gone down,” Goldstein said. “There are fewer, but better options, and less waste.”

Goldstein said the university’s 12 colleges are putting larger plates by the salad bar to encourage students and faculty to take more salad, and it’s working.

After an experiment with a Mediterranean salad bar a few years ago, Goldstein said the realization was that foodservice operators could use a small selection of dressings and still create a diverse array of salad offerings.

“We did a tasting with 12 vinaigrettes, and made two salads with each vinaigrette,” Goldstein said. “The salad was distinguished by the dressing, but if you tasted the two side-by-side, you could see the flavor was decided by the ingredients. That’s great for foodservice; you could have taken so many directions.”

Goldstein was one of ten chefs giving demonstrations to help motivate foodservice operators to incorporate more produce on menus.

Sponsors of this year’s event include:

  • C.H. Robinson Worldwide;
  • National Watermelon Promotion Board;
  • Naturipe Farms;
  • Paramount Citrus;
  • Church Bros. LLC;
  • Ocean Spray;
  • Almond Board of California;
  • National Peanut Board;
  • Dole Foodservice;
  • Western Pistachio Association; and
  • Monsanto Vegetable Seeds.

In addition to the demonstrations, attendees are scheduled to hear from speakers on a number of topics, including sustainability, the future of American agriculture, local and regional sourcing, street food concepts, emerging trends and nutrition.

American Menus event innovates with agriculture

Ashley Bentley

John Currence, chef-owner of City Grocery Restaurant Group in Oxford, Miss., adds cabbage to his Gumbo Z'herbs Sept. 8 during a southern-inspired culinary demonstration at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone's seventh annual Flavor, Quality and American Menus conference.