PMA Foodservice Conference Offers Hands-On Produce Training

Industry decision-makers, from produce growers to foodservice operators, attended the Hands-On Fruit & Vegetable Training program on Friday, July 29, hosted by the Produce Marketing Association’s Foodservice Conference and Expo. The seven-hour session, held at the Hyatt Regency Monterey’s Conference Center, gave approximately 50 attendees a literal taste of how to expand the perception of potatoes, cucumbers, mangos, pears and melons.

The second annual Hands-On event targets foodservices operators and aims to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables by inspiring creative ways to use produce in restaurants and in homes. Presenting organizations were: Monsanto, National Mango Board, Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, Pear Bureau Northwest and Potatoes USA.

Jill Overdorf, director of business and culinary development and corporate executive chef for Coosemans LA Shipping, led the event with an introduction to the trends and hot culinary forces shaping today’s produce industry.

The workshop’s themes touched upon flavor profiles, food presentation and root-to-flower usage to influence excitement within the industry, which ultimately beams down to consumers. Some of the Top Trends from Overdorf’s experiences include: cauliflower, imperfect produce, pickling (Overdorf gave an example of pickled green strawberries), global flavors and spices (such as turmeric), and food colors as a fashionable template for plate appeal, and — yes — apparel. A rule of thumb is three colors on a plate make it great.

Potatoes USA was first on stage for presentation and demonstration. Its in-house chef taught the Hasselback cutting technique for a Russet potato. By placing two chop sticks (or wooden spoons) below the potato as a brace, you can cut thin slices lengthwise along one side of the potato — leaving the slices to fan out as they cook. Add seasonings, sauces or spices as a topping for unique flavor and stellar presentation.

Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers represents more than 200 hydroponic greenhouse growers in Ontario, focusing on tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers. Its demonstration included recipes and usage of spiralizers and Mandolin-style slicers.

The National Mango Board discussed the fruit’s varieties and flavor profiles as well as demonstrated ripeness testing for in-store purchases and cutting techniques. Chef Robert Danhi cooked a jasmine rice pudding with mangos that was a crowd favorite during the lunch, which included all five of the produce items in different variations to complete the plate.

Pear Bureau Northwest shared the year-round options of pears and conditioning practices. Its demonstration showed cooking and cutting techniques for grilling, sautéing and brining.

Monsanto’s interest in being a participating partner at the event was to obtain feedback on what the foodservice industry is looking for so seed development can be implemented for future crops. Steve Martori, a farmer and managing member for Scottsdale, AZ-based Martori Farms, talked about his use of the Seminis melon seeds. Attendees sampled the Charentais orange-fleshed melon, the Galia green-fleshed melon, and the Golden Honeydew white-fleshed melon.