To drive menu innovation in America’s leading restaurant chains, the U.S. Potato Board is conducting a seminar series at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

This year’s seminar, held from September 27 to 29, attracted 15 of the nation’s most influential culinary decision-makers. Among them were 11 foodservice chefs representing more than 32,000 units and a major supermarket retail chain representing 1,739 stores. They were joined by executive chefs from America’s top three potato processing companies—ConAgra Foods/Lamb Weston, McCain Foods USA, and J.R. Simplot Company—and FreshPoint, the fresh produce division of Sysco, the nation’s largest foodservice distributor.

CIA chef/instructor Bill Briwa led the seminar along with guest chef, Cindy Pawlcyn. Pawlcyn is a Napa Valley restaurateur and cookbook author who owns and operates three restaurants: Mustard’s Grill, Go Fish, and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen.

“We turn to America’s leading chefs, the source of foodservice creativity, to develop a new generation of innovative potato dishes,” says Kathleen Triou, vice president of domestic marketing for the U.S. Potato Board. “Our goal is to demonstrate that potatoes are the perfect canvas for bold global flavors and healthy menu innovation.”

The seminar focused on the role that potatoes play in Mediterranean and Latin American cuisines, and included sensory immersion sessions and component tastings for each cuisine. After the immersion sessions, the chefs teamed up to develop innovative potato entrees, sides, soups, salads, and desserts.

During the seminar, Triou presented information about the nutritional benefits of potatoes, debunking common misconceptions. She emphasized that with skin a medium sized potato (5.3 ounces) is fat and cholesterol-free; low in calories—just 110 calories; provides 45 percent of our daily vitamin C; contains more potassium than a banana; and is a good source of vitamin B6. She also reviewed highlights from the “Potatoes. . .Goodness Unearthed” advertising campaign, underscoring the U.S. Potato Board’s commitment to building consumer demand for potatoes by raising awareness of the positive nutritional benefits.

Also presenting at the seminar was Sid Staunton and Susan Weller. Staunton, a third-generation potato grower and member of the U.S. Potato Board, provided an overview of the state of the potato industry. Weller, international marketing manager for the U.S. Potato Board, presented innovative food concepts from countries like Japan, China, and Korea, which import U.S. frozen potatoes.

Among the many ideas developed at the seminar, several standouts captured the imagination of the attendees. These included a potato “noodle” salad, a vichyssoise potato smoothie, potato enchiladas, a fingerling potato and spicy grilled shrimp salad with yogurt dressing, potato-stuffed grape leaves, and a plethora of traditional Mediterranean and Latin American sauces that were “reinvented” as dips, dressings, and drizzles for potatoes.

“Everyone loves potatoes,” says Chef Sergio Ortiz of Landry’s Restaurant Group, “but because baked, mashed, and fried are so popular, I think chefs tend to go right to those tried-and-true preparations. These three days were a real eye opener—a reminder that potatoes can go anywhere you want to take them. I’ve already got some surprises in mind for my menu.”

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