PMA Foodservice: cauliflower and carrots the next kale

Can you imagine cauliflower and carrots qualifying as the next hot products to take over that mantle from kale?  

Their staple status and long tradition on the American dinner plate would seem to make both of them ineligible for the “next hot thing” moniker, but these two items were center stage and center plate during two different chef presentations at the PMA Foodservice Conference, held in Monterey, CA, July 24-27.

Hugh-AchesonChef Hugh Acheson, a judge on 'Top Chef.'Two chefs talking about “What’s Hot?” took the audience on a visual tour of some vegetable-centric dinner entrees featuring various restaurants in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.  While many obscure vegetables were also featured, mainline items, such as cauliflower, carrots and cabbage received great kudos from restauranteur Chef Jet Tila and Gordon Food Service Corporate Chef Gerry Ludwig.  The fast-paced, hour-long presentation featured a score of vegetable dishes being served as entrees.  The two chefs discussed the dishes, how they were prepared and the emerging trend of vegetables in center plate.

The discussion was fueled by an annual Gordon Food Service exercise that has the culinary team from that company visiting many restaurants in those three progressive culinary environments to see what trends are on the cusp of going viral, so to speak.  Over a 15-day period earlier this year, Chef Ludwig and his colleagues visited 108 restaurants and sampled 1,151 dishes.Jet-TilaChef Jet Tila  Each was photographed, deconstructed and cataloged to gauge trends in products, preparation and presentation.  Ludwig said vegetables in the center of the plate as the main entrée is gaining much traction in Los Angeles and New York, though lagging behind in Chicago.  It is his contention that restaurant trends matriculate on the coasts and do go nationwide.  “Veg-centric meals is a macro trend for the next decade,” he said.

Chef Jet, as he is called on his website, agreed.  “Vegetable centric cuisine is a movement not a fad,” he said.  

The chefs give credit to Chef Travis Lett of Gjelina’s in Los Angeles, who began featuring vegetable entrees in his trendy restaurant six years ago.  Today, they dominate the menu with 12-15 main dishes on a nightly basis.  “He has definitely brought about a change in the mindset of chefs.”

Gerry-LudwigChef Gerry LudwigThe two presenters were quick to differentiate between vegetarian fare and vegetable-centric dishes.  The latter are not necessarily vegetarian or vegan, and, in fact, in almost all of the dishes there is some type of meat or protein component.  But that component is not the star of the plate, just as in more traditional restaurants, vegetables are a side dish.  “Garnish with meat,” said Chef Jet, “to kick up the dish.”

He added that a great way to increase the flavor of the vegetable is to cook it in a meat sauce.  “Embolden the flavor with beef broth,” he said.  In fact, one of the dishes featured was a root vegetable entrée that was poached in meat sauce before being roasted.  Another featured fennel poached in chicken broth.  Still another dish had sautéed kale as the main ingredient but a house-made chorizo incorporated to provide a little zip.  

Ludwig said these chefs are creating these vegetable-centric dishes by applying similar cooking methods to vegetables that used to be the domain of meat.  They are spit roasting, charring and grilling cauliflower, carrots and cabbage.  One dish featured a roasted head of cauliflower that has been pre-poached in chicken stock and then topped with a crispy bread crust. “Chefs are elevating produce to a level we haven’t seen before,” Ludwig said, speaking of the results of this year’s research.”

He noted that on the trip to New York, he tasted the “most flavorful cabbage I’d ever had” and then it was topped the next day by another cabbage dish at a different restaurant.  

Ludwig said there is a great opportunity to add vegetable as entrees and encouraged suppliers to bring these ideas to their foodservice customers.  Chef Jet advised cooks to “torture” these vegetables into submission through grilling, roasting or sautéing.  He said the caramelization brings out the flavor and warrants the center plate spot.  Chef Jet encouraged chefs new to the concept to start by preparing the familiar vegetables with a different method and build the plate around that vegetable.

When pushed, Ludwig said rutabaga is an underused vegetable that could move into limelight in the near future.

The two chefs also talked about root to stem cooking, which is the concept of using the entire vegetable in the dish, including its trimmings.  This is the vegetable equivalent to the “nose to tail” trend popular in meat cooking.

In a session later in the day, Chef Hugh Acheson, who owns four restaurants in Georgia and is a judge for the "Top Chef" television show, expanded on the whole vegetable cooking theme, which he called “leaf to root.”  He told the grower-shippers in the crowd not to trim vegetables when sending them to foodservice.  “The chef will figure out what to do with the trimmings.”  He also noted that there was no reason for a carrot to ever be peeled again, as in its gnarly state with hairs hanging off is the best plate presentation.

He freely admits that the fast-rising prices of protein caused him to give vegetables as an entrée a chance.  Because the protein portions on his plate were declining because of input costs, he began paying more attention to the side dishes.  Now the side dish has taken over.

Acheson agreed that cauliflower is a rising star.  He noted that vegetables taste a lot better because we have learned how to cook them.  “Our mothers did a horrible job,” he said, talking at this point specifically about the fact that cauliflower was almost exclusively served as the result of boiling, which does nothing more than boils the flavor out of it.  He also called steaming a bad cooking idea for vegetables.

The Canadian native, who also worked as a chef in San Francisco for awhile, clearly believes we are in the golden age of cooking — especially vegetable cooking.  He opined that the history of cooking includes a very short time of doing it right…”like 15 years ago,” he quipped.

Talking about trends. He believes the local movement is here to stay but noted it doesn’t have to actually be local to catch the consumer’s fancy.  “What people are looking for is authenticity and a sense of place.”

He urged growers to tell their story to the consumer.  “Start with where you come from and why you do this,” he advised.

Passionate about cooking, Acheson bragged that his two daughters learned how to cook at a very young age, which has led him to form a foundation to transform home economics classes in school.  He believes all students should have basic cooking skills, knowing how to caramelize vegetables and make a vinaigrette before graduating from high school.  He said time spent learning how to cook will never be lamented on the death bed, and it is also a great way to spend family time.  “Every American,” he said, “should have a core skill set,” which includes cooking from scratch.

Popularity of PMA Foodservice Conference continues to soar

MONTEREY, CA — Already one of the more popular conferences on the produce circuit, the Produce Marketing Association’s annual foodservice conference continues to reach new highs owing to a combination of location, networking and educational programming.

The numbers tell the story: 442 attendees at the educational sessions; 120 participants at the Joe Nucci Golf Tournament; 440 registrants for the 5k Race for Talent; 180 attendees at the Women’s Fresh Perspectives reception; and more than 440 attendees at the opening reception.IMG 6145Valerie Lea (center) of Deep with Kristen Reid and Emily Fragoso of Mixtec at the opening reception.

“To me, the popularity of the conference this year was evident in the level of engagement by the attendees,” said Bryan Silbermann, chief executive officer of PMA. “The foodservice industry is finally starting to rebound and traction is building for demand for fruits and vegetables on the foodservice level.”

Silbermann added that people are starting to make money again and foodservice operators are investing more in their businesses.

“It’s amazing to see the investments being made,” he added. “At PMA, we provide a high level of value in the form of research,IMG 6143Chris Eliopulos of Sysco with Emanuel Lazopoulos of Del Monte Fresh Produce at the opening reception. and operators are turning it in to action. It’s nice to see the solutions that are being implemented.”

PMA President Cathy Burns agreed, adding, “Our educational events, including the insights from chefs and exposure to how technology can help drive innovation, were extremely valuable and helped create a feeling of family among the attendees.”

Silbermann said the conference began 33 years ago when some “farsighted” people saw a need for foodservice to be treated differently than retail.

“In the early years, for about a decade, it was all about creating a sense of identity for foodservice,” he said. “Then for about the next 15 years, it became a meeting place. Now it is back to its roots as an incubator of new ideas.”IMG 6141Larry Narwold of Mann Packing, Jane Narwold of Sutherland Foodservice and Jeff DeBoer of Sysco at the opening reception.

Burns credits some “very smart people” on the boards and strategic planning committees for the continued success of the conference. These people recognize the need to “change things up and keep things fresh,” she said. “We have gotten some fabulous people in the educational programming.”

The 2016 conference will feature one major change, though one that is beyond the control of the association. Due to a major renovation of the Portola Plaza in downtown Monterey, where the trade show is held, the conference will be moved to the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel & Spa, a few miles from the current site.IMG 6140Susan Waters and Heidi McIntyre of the Vidalia Onion Committee at the food truck they sponsored during the opening reception of the PMA Foodservice Conference.

The association explored the possibility of moving the conference to another location in 2016, with San Diego and an East Coast venue among the considerations. But for the loyal attendees, the roots run deep in Monterey.

“We constantly solicit feedback from our members, and the Foodservice Advisory Committee takes that feedback very seriously,” said Ashley Boucher, PMA’s public relations manager. “It was clear from the feedback that we needed to stay in Monterey.”

Silbermann said the trade show will be held under a large tent, which will afford more booth space beyond the 164 exhibitors PMA was limited to at the Portola. It is unknown if there will be an increased capacity at the renovated facility when the conference returns in 2017.

IMG 6149aRepresenting Monterey Mushrooms at the opening reception of the PMA Foodservice Conference were Mike O’Brien, Holly Burriesci, Sandy Quintana and Shah Kazemi.

PMA Foodservice Conference breaks attendance records in Monterey

The Produce Marketing Association announced another record-breaking crowd at its 34th annual PMA Foodservice Conference in Monterey, CA, held this past weekend (July 24-26).

The association reported that 1,870 attendees, including more than 480 foodservice distributors and in excess of 200 operators, were registered for the get-together.  Held near the Salinas Valley, numerous shipper and distributor events, private tours, and the many nearby golf courses screaming out for customer outings diffused the attendance at the opening reception and Saturday’s educational session.IMG 6238At the Idaho Potato Commission booth were Tod Schmidt, Jef Pryor, Jamie Bowen and Armand Lobato. For more photos, click here.  The PMA announced that both of those events also set individual records with more than 400 people attending each one.   During the Sunday trade show, the full effect of the record-setting crowd was more in evidence as the aisles were packed during the five-and-a-half-hour event.

Restaurant fare featuring fresh produce as the star of the plate was very much in evidence throughout the three-day event.  Several educational sessions discussed the growing inclusion of fresh produce-centric dishes and both the opening reception and a “strolling lunch” during Saturday’s educational session highlighted that trend.

Robert Verloop, executive vice president of marketing for Naturipe Farms LLC in Salinas, CA, was the opening session speaker.  He challenged the crowd to throw out the old ways of doing things that aren’t working and move forward in innovative directions.  He believes the foodservice arena offers much untapped potential for increased sales of fresh produce.  Though there is clearly a consumer trend toward healthy eating, he revealed that a recent survey showed that 54 percent of consumers eating out admit to eating “less healthy” at a restaurant than they do at home.  Only 12 percent claim their eating out occasions are “more healthy” than their eating-home events.

He noted several macro trends affecting foodservice, including empowered consumers who are clued in and looking for more authenticity.  For example, he said less than a generation ago the “Asian food” moniker was used to describe a wide range of restaurants.  Today, that title doesn’t cut it as the savvy consumer is looking specifically for Hunan, Szechwan, Thai, Cambodian or a half-dozen other cooking styles that fall under the Asian heading.

He discussed other emerging trends, including the move toward locally grown, sustainability and eating a more climate-friendly diet that includes less meat protein.  Verloop said if the foodservice industry can transform these trends to the plate, the result will be “golden” for the fresh produce industry.

Verloop told the crowd that they were going to hear a lot of innovative ideas during the day and he challenged the speakers to tell producers what they should grow if they have an extra acre of land.  PMA CEO Bryan Silbermann told this reporter at the opening session that the format for this show had been retooled to highlight more trends and ideas.  He articulated that thought in a prepared statement released by PMA after the show.   “The PMA Foodservice Committee, comprised of industry members from across the fresh produce and foodservice supply chains, took this conference back to its roots. The objectives of the conference, established years ago by foodservice pioneers Joe Stubbs, Tom Church, Joe Brennan and others, is truly to serve as an incubator of ideas – and to encourage attendees to put the learnings into action,” Silbermann said.

Several exhibitors were singled out after the event for their innovative products and showmanship, including Best of Show: Jacobs Farm Del Cabo; 2nd place Best of Show: Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers; Best Product Promo: Misionero Vegetables; and Sensory Experience Contest: Mann’s Fresh Vegetables. The strolling lunch featured a handful of chefs offering competing dishes with innovative uses of produce.  The attendees voted for their favorite dish with the Mushroom Council and Chef Domenica Catelli winning for a burger that utilizes mushrooms as 50 percent of the ingredients in the patty.

Sonya apples have arrived from New Zealand

The Sage Fruit Co. announced that the Sonya apple has arrived from New Zealand with great flavor and taste.Sonya-Bins-w-Apples-B

The company has a marketing agreement with Freshco from New Zealand and will be bringing this apple to the United States on a year-round basis.

The Sonya apple, a cross between a Red Delicious and a Gala apple, has a great crunch and is very sweet. Not only does this apple eat well it also has great storage ability from a growing standpoint.

"We are very excited about this apple and its future," the company said in a press release. "We have made long-term commitments to grow more acreage after the retail results we have been getting across the country."

"Excitement is the word that I think of when we got the results back from our consumer taste test," Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing for Sage Fruit, said in the press release. "Because of this, we have had several retailers sign up and ask for exclusive rights to this apple in their market place. While we have yet to offer exclusivity to any market we are considering our options."

SEPC’s Bright Ideas Platform exhibitors announced

MILLEN, GA — The new Bright Ideas Platform mini-trade show is set to host the best of the best at the Southeast Produce Council’s Southern Innovations Symposium Sept. 17-19 at Wild Dunes Resort in Charleston, SC.SEPC-Southern-Innovations-Symposium-Logo

With a lineup of 43 produce companies showcasing the industry’s most innovative products and services, this conference is not to be missed. All the newest ideas will be in one place offering attendees a first look at where the future of produce is heading.

Bright Ideas Platform exhibitors were carefully selected by members of the SEPC Education Committee. The featured product and service must be launched between March 23, 2015, and Dec. 14, 2015, and must be a new product or service to the Southeast market area.

The final list of exhibitors of the new Bright Ideas Platform is as follows: Accolade Inc., Amco Group, Agritrade Farms LLC, Alsum Farms & Produce, Apio Inc., Blanc Display Group, Bland Farms, BroccoBabe Brands, Concord Foods LLC, Crispy Green, DiMare Fresh, Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Fresh Express, GFF Inc., Giro Pack Inc., Idea Garden Marketing, It’sFresh! Inc., J&J Family of Farms, Lakeside Produce, L&M, Mann Packing Co. Inc., McIntire Produce Inc., Mucci Farms, National Mango Board, NatureSweet LTD, Ocean Mist Farms, Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, Red Sun Farms, Robinson Fresh, RPE Inc., San Miguel Produce, Sensitech Inc., Shuman Produce, Sterman Masser Inc., Temkin International Inc., Village Farms, Vega Produce LLC, Volm Cos. Inc., WP Rawl and Yerecic Label.

The Bright Ideas Platform will be held Friday afternoon, Sept. 18, from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. as part of the Southern Innovations Symposium. The conference will be filled with educational sessions, ample networking activities such as the Get Acquainted Welcome Reception, President’s Dinner Dance, Ultimate Tailgate Party, and special guest keynote speakers Jamie and Bobby Deen at the General Session Luncheon.

To register for the Southern Innovations Symposium, visit