MONTEREY, Calif. — While fresh fruits and vegetables are the reason for the Produce Marketing Association’s Foodservice Conference & Exposition, celebrity foodies and chefs bring the star power.
They may not have attained the widsespread cultural esteem professional athletes enjoy, but culinary celebrities have, in their own way, achieved a certain rock-star status.
Their word-of-mouth advertising brings new food items and preparation ideas to a mass audience.
Workshop session panelist Ted Allen, host of Food Network shows “Food Detectives” and “Chopped,” remarked on how Americans’ relationship with food and cooking has evolved over the past generation or two.
He noted how for his parents’ generation, adding value was all about time-saving innovations in packaging and convenience foods. They saw cooking as a chore to be made simpler and faster.
Today’s younger adults have a more romantic view of food and view cooking and preparing elaborate meals as an enjoyable past time, he said.
Jeff Henderson — “Chef Jeff,” star of Food Network’s “The Chef Jeff Project” and executive chef for Las Vegas casinos — offers an inspiring personal and professional tale.
He discovered cooking in the most unlikely of places — a prison kitchen.
After a rough upbringing that led to 10 years behind bars, he found salvation on a stovetop.
During the Gourmets Dish sessions, Henderson spoke of his childhood in Los Angeles and how produce (other than avocados from the tree in his grandpa’s yard) was largely missing in action from his family’s diet.
He said he never tried blueberries until his early 30s.
He also dropped a word bomb that surely bruised the egos of some apple folks in the audience.
Henderson said that growing up the only fruit he was regularly exposed to was “red Washington apples,” and he wasn’t terribly fond of them.
Perhaps sensing a hint of tension in the room, Allen jumped in and said the apples were probably in storage for too long.
We can give him some credit for attempting the save, but the exchange made it clear the produce industry needs to step up educational efforts aimed at foodservice professionals.
New varieties, coupled with improved handling and storage techniques, mean more choices and fruits and vegetables stay fresher for longer.