ST. HELENA, Calif.—The message was loud and clear — produce needs to have double the presence on restaurant and foodservice menus.
Acting as the capstone course after three days of a nutrition-focused conference, the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone’s annual Produce First! gave chefs and foodservice operators a chance to work with different produce items, thinking about how they could improve produce consumption at their end of the industry.
Of the 30-plus foodservice operators in the room — ranging from Dairy Queen to Brinker International Inc. to Sodexo Inc. to smaller, regional chains — 44% said increasing produce is a high priority. Seventy-four percent agreed that increasing produce’s presence at foodservice can have a significant effect on doubling produce consumption in the U.S.
The biggest barrier for them, though, is customer demand.
This is where the other half of the conference’s attendees came into the picture. The institute’s teaching kitchen was full of chefs and representatives from sponsoring produce companies, who donated product and were on hand to help develop new dishes.
Sponsors of Produce First! included:
- Mexican Hass Avocado Importers Association;
- Chilean Fresh Fruit Association;
- Church Bros. LLC;
- Grimmway Farms;
- The Mushroom Council;
- Taylor Farms;
- TexaSweet Citrus Marketing;
- the National Peanut Board; and
- Dole Food Co.
Steve Church, vice president of operations and co-owner of Church Bros. LLC, Salinas, Calif., squeezes a lemon at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.
Before getting into the kitchen themselves, presenting chefs shared some of their own produce inspiration. For Suvir Saran, chef of Devi, an Indian restaurant in New York, produce plays the star role, and meat is optional or treated as a condiment.