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Texas grapefruit plays starring role at NYC event

NEW YORK -- "Texas grows the reddest and sweetest grapefruit on the market today," Eleisha L. Ensign, executive director of TexaSweet Citrus Marketing Inc. in Mission, TX, said as she held a Rio Star variety high in the air to show off the good-looking fruit to an audience, here, Jan. 6, at the French Culinary Institute.

The event, a demonstration of dessert recipes prepared by Gotham Bar & Grill's pastry chef, Deborah Racicot, was co-sponsored by TexaSweet and, an on-line magazine and information site founded by the institute.

Ms. Ensign explained to the packed auditorium that Texas growers wanted to differentiate their red, sweet grapefruit from others on the market. "So Texas now markets its grapefruit under two registered trademarked categories," she said. "The red varieties, which include Ruby, Ray and Henderson, are marketed under the name 'Ruby-Sweet,' while the reddest varieties, Star Ruby and Rio Red, are marketed under the name of 'Rio Star.' "

She also displayed the orange varieties grown in Texas and marketed by the organization. After sharing the history of the Texas citrus industry and some tidbits related to its history, growing regions and annual availability, she turned the show over to Chef Racicot.

Those in charge of organizing the promotional event chose an ideal chef to demonstrate the great dishes that can be made with Texas citrus. Chef Racicot's pastry education came through an impressive list of people in the culinary world, including Claudia Fleming at Gramercy Tavern and Richard Leach at La Cote Basque. She held pastry chef positions at the highly popular Aquavit and Picholine restaurants before joining Gotham Bar & Grill as head pastry chef.

Chef Racicot demonstrated several mouth-watering desserts, including a grapefruit-beet tart, warm grapefruit maple cheesecake, grapefruit sashimi and a chocolate-tarragon panna cotta with grapefruit gelee, made with fresh- squeezed grapefruit juice.

Besides instruction on making a successful gelee from the citrus, she also demonstrated the proper way to section, zest and peel the fruit.

The appetizer buffet included several non-desserts, also created by Chef Racicot, including pickled cherry tomatoes with goat cheese and caramelized grapefruit, grapefruit-glazed scallops, celery root and Asian pear puree, grapefruit confit and herb-rubbed gravlax bites with grapefruit compote.

Ms. Ensign said that the event was the only one directed to pastry chefs this year, but the organization is also engaging in many large-scale consumer events. By early in the week of Jan. 8, she was on a plane headed to Arizona to get organized for the P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon & Half Marathon Jan. 14.

"This event draws about 75,000 people," said Ms. Ensign. "We will sample Texas grapefruit and hand out literature. Following that, we will attend the Mid-Michigan Women's Expo scheduled for February 2-4. This event brings together more than 250 women-owned and women-focused businesses that showcase a wide variety of products and services. From February 23 to 25, we will be at the 13th annual Twin Cities Food & Wine Experience at the Minneapolis Convention Center. There will be 300 exhibitors filling in 100,000 square feet, all sampling hundreds of fine wines, gourmet food from around the world and showcasing the latest in culinary tools and gadgets. These venues and others will keep us on the move throughout the rest of our marketing season this year."

Back at the French Culinary Institute demonstration, it was standing room only in the auditorium that seats about 100, and dozens did stand to get a glimpse of Chef Racicot's techniques. Dozens more who neglected to RSVP were being turned away at the door for lack of standing room. The program's success came from the top-notch team that combined TexaSweet Citrus Marketing, a top expert like Chef Racicot and the highly regarded French Culinary Institute.