Salinas, Calif. – Chefs are constantly challenging themselves to develop new plant-forward dishes, and Markon Cooperative’s recently held Chef Summit provided the perfect backdrop to learn, collaborate, and innovate together.
Markon‘s Fifth Annual Chef Summit, held in July in Monterey, brought together 26 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. The chefs attended produce field tours, participated in roundtable discussions about the produce industry and trends, and connected directly with suppliers and growers about produce innovation and new products, while also working together to create new produce recipes and usage ideas.
One unique highlight from Markon’s Chef Summit was the blended burger recipe contest held in partnership with The Mushroom Council. The Mushroom Council is a sponsor of the James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project and partnered with Markon to challenge chefs to create new blended burgers that contain at least 30% mushrooms. Recipes were submitted prior to the Summit and the top four recipes were served for lunch at the event. Summit attendees voted Darci Kropp, chef of Cape Canaveral, Florida-based Darci’s Bacon Blues, as the winner for her Bacon Blues Burger. Kropp took home a cash prize for her blended burger that featured ground chuck blended with Florida-grown Monterey mushrooms and cherries, topped with arugula, brie, jalapeno bacon, and a spicy cherry ketchup, all served on a brioche bun.
“We couldn’t be happier with our partnership with Markon around the Blended Burger – the chefs were incredibly creative, and the burgers were amazing! Blending, which combines 70% meat with 30% mushrooms, has become a part of our culinary culture as this plant-forward approach is appearing on more menus and now on retail shelves,” said Steve Solomon, menu strategist for The Mushroom Council. “Consumers view blending as a better way to enjoy iconic foods like burgers without sacrificing flavor. Markon has embraced this blend concept with their distributors. They are a force in the industry, and their partnership is helping bring chefs new opportunities.”
Another culinary challenge featured during the Chef Summit was the Markon Green Box Challenge 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 and were able to learn new culinary skills firsthand. The chefs and students were separated into three teams to develop new recipes or product usage ideas for a variety of salads and blends from Markon and its platinum sponsors Church Brothers, Ippolito Produce, and Taylor Farms.
The winning recipe was a scallop and shrimp lettuce bisque, featuring Markon’s Ready-Set-Serve Heritage Salad Blend, a mix of colorful lettuces, blended together and topped with skillet-roasted shrimp and scallops, red oak pesto, and lolla rosa oil. It was developed by David Cunningham, center of plate sales specialist and culinary consultant with Reinhart Foodservice, and Jesse Edmunds, owner and chef with Seven Hills Hospitality Group.
Other Summit activities included:
- Produce field tours: Chefs saw firsthand the growing and packing process for Brussel sprouts, mushrooms, and mixed berries. They were also given the opportunity to experience how Markon’s new Markon First Crop Strawberry ReadCycle Clamshell, a corrugated, fully recyclable strawberry cardboard carton, is packed. Overall, chefs experienced the robust work involved in the harvesting and packing process, gained knowledge about the growth cycle and seed varieties, discussed pest management, learned more about food safety measures in place, and met with workers.
- Produce trends and toolbox session: Flavor & The Menu Publisher/Owner, Cathy Holley, facilitated a brainstorm around future flavor and menu trends, took a look at where past flavor and menu trends have gone, and discussed how chefs can continue to use produce in creative ways on their menus.
- Supplier focus groups: The chefs engaged with the Summit’s sponsors in a round-robin discussion to give Cal Giant, Ippolito Produce, HMC Farms, Fresh Origins, Taylor Farms, and Church Brothers the opportunity to discuss regional culinary trends and gain insights for products currently in development.
- Grower panel Q&A: Chefs were given the opportunity to interact directly with growers through this question and answer session. The chefs met with John Pattullo, from Church Brothers, and Dennis Johnson, from AW Johnson and Sons Farming, and learned more about each grower’s story. The chefs learned of the challenges encountered in agriculture, as well as practices that sets these growers apart from the rest (sustainability, food safety, worker programs, etc.).
“The Markon Chef Summit continues to be one of the most enjoyable culinary journeys of the year,” shares Sam Blackburn, executive chef with Sodexo. “From getting to experience Markon’s ‘boots on the ground’ and spending one-on-one time with the students at Rancho Cielo, to working together to create new culinary masterpieces; Markon has found a unique and special way to highlight the important role produce plays on menus. Markon’s Chef Summit is an eye-opening experience and I enjoyed learning more about the amazing way Markon
From its headquarters in Salinas, California, Markon Cooperative Inc. provides fresh produce purchasing, logistics, information, and marketing services exclusively to its seven member distributors (Ben E. Keith Foods, Gordon Food Service, Gordon Food Service Canada, Maines Paper & Food Service, Nicholas & Company, Reinhart Foodservice, and Shamrock Foods Company) and their North American foodservice customers. A leader in food safety, quality control, and innovation, Markon is also mindful of the produce industry’s impact on people—from field workers to consumers. Learn more about Markon at Markon.com.