“Much like an artist working with clay — he can make an ash tray or create a delicate statue — we feel we provide chefs with the materials they need to create gourmet presentations,” said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development for Southern Specialties, headquartered in Pompano Beach, FL. “At the same time, we continue to provide our retail customers with the products that enable consumers to serve their families and friends the same gourmet products used in the finest restaurants in the country.”
The company’s line of specialty produce fits perfectly under the “gourmet” heading. The firm is particularly bullish on its “Southern Selects” brand French beans. Mr. Eagle said that the variety of bean the company handles is thin, has no tough fiber, offers a nice color and provides a flavor that surpasses traditional French green beans.
The item is available to the foodservice industry with the stem end trimmed, and place-packed for convenience and economy. Packaging for foodservice is in five-pound bulk boxes, two bags to a box; 10 one-pound bags to a box; and five one-pound bags to a box, as well as in other formats. Trimming and packaging allows for less handling, increased food safety, easy inventory and extended shelf life, he said.
For retail, “Southern Selects” French beans are available in eight-ounce and one-pound microwavable formats, as well as two-pound clip packs.
“ ‘Southern Selects’ white asparagus is another product that many consider to be a gourmet produce item,” said Mr. Eagle. “For last several years, Southern Specialties has increased its efforts to educate consumers about the mild asparagus flavor and the beautiful presentation that this vegetable provides.
“However, green asparagus continues to enjoy general consumption,” he continued. “We see creative chefs using it in a number of dishes, including salads, soups, entrees, side dishes and even in deserts.”
White and green asparagus and French green beans are available year round from Southern Specialties. The company also offers seasonally available purple asparagus under the “Southern Selects” label. Mr. Eagle said that purple asparagus turns dark green when cooked. It has a little more intense and slightly sweeter flavor than green asparagus.
“Heirloom tomatoes [with] Burrata cheese, fresh basil, good-quality balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper,” said Mr. Eagle. “It doesn’t get much better than that. And ‘Southern Selects’ heirloom tomatoes are of a quality that is so outstanding that they deserve to be used in dishes such as this.”
While mangos and papayas are considered conventional items in many countries, top chefs in the United States are using these products to create outrageously delicious and beautiful presentations today.
“These items are being used in soufflés, clafoutis [a baked cherry dessert], gelatos, flambés and other creations,” Mr. Eagle added.
All of these products lend themselves well to gourmet use, but they represent only a fraction of Southern Specialties fruits and vegetables that are continually, and increasingly, used for gourmet presentations.
“Southern Specialties has a more than 20-year history of working with foodservice distributors and their chef customers to create excitement on the plate,” said Mr. Eagle. “Our entire ‘Southern Selects’ line is compiled of premium high-quality products that are good for all kitchens, even for novice cooks who are just getting their feet wet in the kitchen.
The “Southern Selects” products are typically merchandised grouped together on retailers produce department shelves to make it easier for shoppers to locate them conveniently.
Mr. Eagle said that the movement toward more gourmet and specialty produce items is the result of the increased popularity of television cooking shows, such as those on the Food Network and other cooking channels, as well as chef segments on talk shows and news programs. Combined, they contribute to the excitement among home cooks and food lovers in general.
“Gourmet specialty items are the lifeblood of Southern Specialties,” said Mr. Eagle. “We are constantly trialing new products, new varieties and new packaging formats that create excitement and value for our customers, both consumers and chefs.”