"The trip to Monterey is a reward for our top produce sales associates. They enjoy Monterey and they get a better education on fresh produce. Each year we invite different vendors to make a product presentation," Mark Krauter, branch manager, Amerifresh, Fresno, explained.
A Sunday social event at Rancho Canada kicked off the three-day educational program. Three product presentations were presented six times on Monday so that all eighty attendees could have personal interaction with the chefs and presenters and sample the products. The chef presentations were complemented by hands-on field tours in the Salinas Valley.
This year's presenters were Ostrom Mushroom Farms, a family-owned mushroom grower/packer that has been in business since 1928, the only grower of white, crimini and portabella mushrooms in Washington State; Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Inc., one of the nation's largest grower/shippers of fresh fruits and vegetables; and Mann's Fresh Vegetables, well known for fresh foodservice products such as Broccolini and Simply Singles whole lettuce leaves, as well as Stringless Sugar Snap Peas.
Executive Chef Mary Pagan, owner of the Culinary Center of Monterey, prepared mushroom menu items from Ostrom Mushroom Farms with commentary by Fletcher Street, Ostrom's director of sales and marketing. The recipes included creamy chicken and mushroom soup with chiffionade of spinach; mushrooms in merlot butter sauce; and sausage stuffed mushrooms.
Pagan pointed out to the DSRs the importance of providing consistent, quality produce twelve months of the year and of building trust with chefs.
"Sell directly to the chefs," she advised. "Bring recipes and demonstrate them to the chef. Make a batch ahead of time, sample the chef and give him or her additional ideas with the product. Show how to create a signature item on the menu and how to add perceived value to help with the bottom line"
Central Coast chef/artist Wendy Brodie, whose weekly television show, "Art of Food," is broadcast nationwide on PBS and Comcast ABC Channel 7, prepared romaine, celery and orange menu items from Duda Farm Fresh Foods. Commentator was Bill Munger, director of fresh cut produce, for Duda. The recipes included Dandy Romaine Heart Wraps, Dandy Celery Puff hors d'oeuvres and White Chocolate Orange Mini Tarts.
Brodie explained the visual importance of food and showed sales reps how to expand product usage in unconventional applications. For example, she said that celery leaves may be used as doilies and fried celery leaves make "a beautiful garnish." She also discussed celery straws as an enhancement to such items as seafood shooters. Chefs can squirt cream cheese into celery straws then cut them into rounds for appetizers. "Celery isn't just for a Bloody Mary anymore," Brodie asserted.
Chef Todd Fisher of Hullaballoo and Chicken Scratch Flat restaurants in Salinas created recipes using Mann's fresh-cut sweet potato products, demonstrating how they can become signature items for restaurants. These included steak and sweet pomme frites with Point Reyes blue cheese and herb jus and Mann's Sweet Potato Tartlet with Lemon Crƒ