Markon Brings Trends, Field Tours, and R&D to Successful Third Annual Chef Summit
- by Jessica Donnel
MONTEREY, CA - It’s not every day that top chefs get a chance to step out of the kitchen and into the fields that grow their ingredients, but, when they do, the experience can be magical. That was one of my major take-aways from Markon’s third annual Chef Summit, which invited foodservice chefs from its member companies and beyond to come to the company’s headquarters for an in-depth look at where the produce they use comes from. From hands on experience in the vegetable fields of Salinas, to discussing some of the latest and greatest trends with food experts and the growers themselves, Markon has solidified itself as the host of one of the produce industry’s most unique and valuable events for foodservice professionals.
“I think the Markon chef summit is so valuable to attend because it takes a chef to places they have not gone before,” said Chef Vic Vegas, Nicholas & Company Executive Chef, regular Chef Consult on Spike TV’s Bar Rescue, and attendee of Markon’s Chef Summit. “I travel the country, and I see a lot, but there's nothing like getting into the fields and experiencing how these amazing fruits and vegetables are grown, harvested, packed, and shipped. It’s incredible to witness the great people behind the scenes and understand what it takes to bring our food to life. I categorize the experience as spiritual.”
A two-day event truly spanning field to fork, Markon’s Chef Summit kicked off with a few field tours, where attendees were able to get down and dirty with some of the more mysterious produce categories, such as artichokes and fennel. In the field, the chefs were able to walk alongside Markon inspectors as they reviewed crops ready for harvest and got firsthand experience about how they are packed into Markon brands for their customers.
Next, the chef’s got to have a little fun with what Markon calls, Supplier “Speed Dating” and Produce Exhibition at the Monterey Plaza Hotel. At this fast-paced supplier roundtable, chefs could meet with suppliers in a small group setting, learn their stories, and discover the true value of those products they provide. Also at the Plaza, attendees finished off Day One by taking part in an interactive panel discussion, tackling some of the key issues, challenges, and trends that the produce industry sees every day.
“For chefs, its important that we work with companies like Markon to learn how to better communicate the rich stories that lay behind our fruits and vegetables,” Eric Cronert, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Reinhart Foodservice, shared with me. “It is so valuable to be able to attend events like these that teach chefs how to share the story of our produce to the end consumer.”
For Day Two, attendees were whisked off to Rancho Cielo in Salinas, a culinary academy dedicated to transforming the lives of local youth community members through learning skills such as cooking and serving. The chefs were greeted by a presentation from Chef Chris Casson, the Director of Produce and Specialty Products for Markon member Shamrock Foods, as well as one of those who helped spearhead the third consecutive Markon event. Followed by Casson was a presentation from Cathy Holley, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief for The Flavor & The Menu, who tackled some of the current culinary trends we have and will see in the foodservice industry. From wild produce texture treatments like fried leek hay and hummus-like plant purees to the emerging uses for produce standbys like celery and radishes, Cathy shared her depth of knowledge with the trend-hungry crowd of chefs.
Perhaps my favorite part of the summit, and certainly the most delicious smelling, was Markon’s R&D Session, where the company invited suppliers from the likes of Taylor Farms, Church Brothers Farms, and Misionero to bring some of their most-sough-after produce items and asked the chefs to get cooking. For the R&D Session, attendees were divided into three groups and given an opportunity to develop new blends and applications by collaborating with a designated supplier. During this event, the chefs were actually asked to get into the kitchen with some of Rancho Cielo’s young chef volunteers and create new blends thatcould be potentially launched as new Markon items as well as provide invaluable, one-on-one culinary experience for the Rancho students. Fun fact: past years of Markon’s Chef Summit have spawned such creations as Markon’s Ready-Set-Serve Urban Blend and soon-to-arrive Ready-Set-Serve Aromatic Herbs & Tenders Greens available exclusively to Markon member customers.
“Through Markon’s event, chefs are getting the opportunity to network with each other and create these strong connections throughout the United States and Canada, and our suppliers are getting to speak to the people in the trenches and gain ideas from them as well,” Chef Chris told me. “Our suppliers are always more than happy to participate because we offer them an opportunity to work directly with those people responsible for making these trends.”
The educational portion of the Chef Summit came to a close with a lively Grower Panel Q&A, where the chefs could ask their wildest questions directly to the growers who make their produce a reality. Vegetable and wine grape farmer Joe Alarid, Ocean Mist Grower Manager Ryan Kelly, and prolific organic produce grower Dennis Johnson were all in tow to give straight and well-informed answers to all the attendee’s questions. From labor issues and combatting harsh weather conditions, to organics and GMO produce, this panel of growers did not pull any punches when it came to sharing their wisdom with the eager squad of chefs.
Rounding out the two-day event with a beautiful closing dinner in downtown Salinas, Markon’s staff, the chef attendees, and growers all came together to celebrate a successful summit and dance the night away to the music of Markon’s employee band.
AndNowUKnow would like to share our gratitude to Markon and all the gracious chefs in attendance. And who knows, you may be seeing some of the newly developed blends coming to Markon’s repertoire of products soon! Until then, stay tuned.
About 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 Food Service, and Shamrock Foods Company) and their 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. Read more about Markon at Markon.com.