Foodservice chefs across the country stepped out of their kitchens and into fields and packing facilities to learn about the produce they use, and collaborate on new ways to integrate produce on menus through Markon Cooperative’s second annual Chef Summit.
The Chef Summit, held August 22—24 in Monterey, California, brought together 22 chefs from Markon’s seven foodservice members (Ben E. Keith Foods, Gordon Food Service, Gordon Food Service Canada, Maines Paper & Food Service, Nicholas & Company, Reinhart Foodservice, and Shamrock Foods Company) and foodservice operators. Attendees went on produce field and facility tours, participated in discussions around vegetable-centered menu trends and produce varietals, and participated in a new products expo.
The Summit culminated with the chefs splitting into three teams in a challenge to mix ingenuity with industry knowledge to create new marketable products for Markon to bring to its customers. The teams of chefs were paired with three of Markon’s suppliers—Taylor Farms, 4Earth Farms and Church Brothers—and given full rein to develop new produce-based creations and blends. Last year’s ideation process led to the creation of Markon’s Ready-Set-Serve Urban Blend, a unique, versatile and nutrient-dense combination of baby red chard, wild arugula and baby kale, which Markon introduced earlier this year.
The research and development session to create new products was held at the Rancho Cielo Drummond Culinary Academy, an alternative education school that teaches at-risk youth culinary skills and provides job placement opportunities. Students assisted the chefs throughout the product development process and were able to learn new culinary skills firsthand. Markon provided the school with a gift of anti-fatigue flooring mats and several bicycles from its wish list.
“The Chef Summit has become a signature event, which allows Markon to showcase its culinary expertise through its network of member chefs,” says Markon Member Chef Jeffrey Merry, with Reinhart Foodservice. “Produce’s popularity on menus continues to grow across all foodservice operations. The opportunity to collaborate with top-notch chefs and share best practices leaves us feeling reinvigorated as we walk back into our own kitchens.”
Attendees saw firsthand how a variety of Markon’s products are grown, harvested, packed, and processed. At each location, chefs were able to see the robust work involved, gain knowledge about the growth cycle, see varieties, discuss pest management, learn more about food safety measures in place, as well as meet with workers and learn about their wages and benefits.
Markon member Chef Gerry Ludwig, with Gordon Food Service, gave an extensive presentation on the current, real-life produce trends in restaurants from coast to coast, highlighting the most popular and emerging dishes as well as discussing creative ways he’s seen chefs using produce.
Produce varietals presentation: Chefs heard from Seminis, a plant and seed company, and Sun World, a grape and stone fruit company, about seed development and breeding techniques, along with how the produce industry is moving toward flavor over appearance.
New products expo: Chefs were able to visually and tactilely experience the quality and flavor of a variety of produce items from more than 20 of Markon’s growers and suppliers.
“The amount of information we gathered to bring back to the homestead is staggering. It’s a much different experience in person than the knowledge you try to gain from TV or sales material,” says Markon member Chef Angel Morales, with Shamrock Foods Company. “The innovation throughout the produce industry is astounding with producers rapidly coming up with new and cool produce items for chefs to use. The Chef Summit gave us the opportunity to hear the latest news and trends and share this information with our foodservice operators as we all work to increase produce on our menus.”
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