The American menu is evolving as chefs all across the country work to find the perfect balance of unique flavors and healthful, familiar ingredients. And as this evolution continues, the United States Potato Board's (USPB's) foodservice program is working to make sure potatoes remain a vital part of the mix.
Last October, the USPB sponsored its eighth annual seminar at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone, Calif., the preeminent continuing education
"Different Characteristics. Chef Gary Danko explains to the chefs attending the 2012 USPB "Menu Innovations with Potatoes" seminar that different potato types have distinct characteristics, which perform well with certain cooking techniques.
school for professional chefs. Designed to inspire executive chefs at leading restaurants and retail chains to innovate with U.S. potatoes, the two-day, accredited seminar was themed "The New American Menu: Global Flavors, Healthy Appeal." This year's 14 participants included chefs from Wendy's, Shoney's, Sizzler and Whole Foods. All together, the chefs represented more than 7,700 units nationwide.
Gary Danko, one of America's most talented and respected chefs, worked with the CIA's Chef, Bill Briwa, who has taught the seminar since 2006, to demonstrate potatoes are the perfect canvas for the type of menu innovation consumers want today: flavorful, globally inspired, creative, healthful and fun. Cathy Nash Holley, senior publisher and editor-in-chief of Flavor & The Menu, a popular foodservice quarterly, presented seminar participants with an update on new and emerging menu trends.
James Hoff, a grower from Idaho and member of USPB's Domestic Marketing Committee, explained how potatoes are grown and harvested, and provided an overview of the U.S. potato industry. Kathleen Triou, USPB Vice President of Domestic Marketing, presented information about the nutritional benefits of potatoes. She showcased the "Potatoes.Goodness Unearthed" nutrition campaign, which underscored the USPB's commitment to building long-term consumer demand.
As in the past, the hands-on cooking sessions were the highlight of the seminar. Working in teams, the chefs created a wide variety of American-style appetizers, side dishes, entrees, breads and desserts using fresh and dehydrated U.S. potatoes. To widen their awareness of the broad selection of commercial potatoes grown by U.S. producers, chefs were given their choice of more than 30 fresh varieties to work with, which were donated by growers from across the country.
Most had no idea there were so many varieties from which to choose, and this generated comments like: "I LOVE them!" and "I can't wait to add specialty potatoes to my menu mix." The USPB thanks Basin Gold, Discovery Gardens, Farm Fresh Direct, Hoff Brothers, Potandon Produce, Russet Potato Exchange, Skyline Potatoes, Southwind Farms, Sunset Butte Organics, Wong Potatoes and Basic American Foods for their generous potato contributions.
"This is a unique program for the potato industry, which has proven effective in stimulating new and incremental uses for potatoes on the menus of some of America's biggest restaurant chains," Triou said. "We're delighted by the seminar's continued popularity and the positive feedback we get from the chefs who attend."
For the first time, USPB integrated its social media outreach with the CIA Menu Innovations with Potatoes seminar. One of this year's attendees included Faith Duran, Executive Editor of "The Kitchn," a daily blog publication devoted to home cooking, with a monthly following of over four million readers.
She got a rare, behind-the-scenes look at this program, and had one-on-one discussions with the trend-setting chefs in attendance, which inspired new posts such as "The Potato Secret behind Great Fries" and a cooking lesson, "How to Fill and Shape Agnolotti Pasta."
For more information about the USPB's Domestic Marketing Foodservice Programs, visit www.uspotatoes.com/foodservice.php.