SALINAS, CA - The winter months spark feelings of gratitude, generosity, and the desire to come together. All three reflect a recent conversation I had with Shamrock Foods Company’s Chris Casson, Vice President of Sales, Produce and Specialty Foods, as we looked back on Markon Cooperative’s seventh annual Chef Summit. This year’s summit brought chefs from all over the United States and Canada to California’s Salinas Valley for a week of education and giving back to the community.
“This event gives our member and customer chefs insight into what it takes to grow the highest quality produce from those truly living it day to day,” explains Chris. “During this week-long event, our chefs got their boots on the fields to see firsthand how products are grown, packed, and harvested, including the Good Agricultural Practices and top-notch food safety practices required for items packed in Markon brands. These field tours let them experience what it takes to get Markon fruits and vegetables from the field into customer kitchens, and ultimately onto the finished plate.”
This year, Markon’s members had the chance to visit artichoke, Brussels sprout, celery, and fennel fields where they could feel, smell, and taste the product right out of the ground. The group also had collaborative innovation sessions with more than 15 longtime Markon growers, which allowed suppliers to discuss the products in their pipeline while the chefs provided feedback on what customers are using most, as well as how to market their current products in different foodservice applications.
Closing out the informative week, Markon hosted its annual fundraiser, the Taste of Markon dinner, which sponsors the local, at-risk youth at the culinary school within Salinas Valley’s Rancho Cielo.
“Our event sponsors are a group of grower-shippers from within the produce community, as well as specialty food suppliers and two different chef apparel companies—all getting behind this important cause that helps train and educate the future of the foodservice industry,” Chris adds. “This year’s sold-out dinner hosted more than 100 guests who enjoyed high-level culinary masterpieces spread throughout six different food stations. The member and customer chefs paired with student sous chefs, giving the youngsters real-life experience and guidance.”
The menu for this exciting experience included a host of dishes that put a spotlight on fresh produce’s value on the plate. If you haven’t eaten lunch yet, I might suggest skipping to the next paragraph because this year’s menu featured a Living Garden with Rye-Bonito Soil and Bagna Cauda; Carrot Mochi with Cauliflower Hummus and Tomato Confit; Creamy Corn and White Miso Soup with Smoked Corn Hushpuppy; Charcoal-Grilled Squid with Fennel Confit and Crunchy Potato; Grapefruit Scallop Crudo; Smoked Short Rib with Leek Chimichurri and Grilled Leek-Artichoke Purée; Ancho Chili S’mores; and Shiso-Yuzu Mousse.
As Chris tells me, the event was the highlight of a bonding week, raising over $11,000 for scholarships and kitchen equipment.
As we reflect on this impactful event hosted by Markon Cooperative with the help of its partners, we here at AndNowUKnow can’t wait to see what next year’s Chef Summit has in store!