California Giant Berry Farms Chef Invitational Wraps Up; Tom Smith, Joe Barsi, Kyla Oberman, and Alan Ediger Comment
MONTEREY, CA - The folks at California Giant Berry Farms are good company. Not only does the team always come ready with an armful of delicious berries, but they welcome fellow industry members with open arms—and a perfectly timed joke. Suffice it to say, attendees of the 4th Annual California Giant Chef Invitational were in good company, and the five finalists certainly put on a great show. In the end, Chef Derek Seigfried came out on top.
On the morning of the competition, we listened to the judges—three of which were previous winners of the competition—speak on innovation, inflation, and the continuously evolving nature of the foodservice industry. Moderated by Tom Smith, California Giant’s Director of Sales, the Chef Forum touched on current trends and many of the challenges from the past couple of years.
“These chefs are the innovators of our industry. We can grow a great-tasting product and sell it to our customers, but unless there is a culinary mind looking at berries in a different way to ultimately push more of those products to their customers, we are going to go stale," Tom told me. "By having multiple channels of the foodservice industry involved in this event, we really get a better perspective on what is actually happening in the sector. This allows California Giant to build our relationships and brand recognition with the culinary industry, while it allows chefs to build a greater understanding of and appreciation for the berry.”
When we gathered for the finale, you could feel the energy in the room. Attendees and chefs alike were buzzing with excitement that has been building for months in anticipation of the event. Of course, we were all dying to try the five incredible dishes being served, but equally as enthralling was the opportunity to celebrate and honor the hardworking and talented chefs that make the foodservice industry what it is today. Michael Muzyk, President of Baldor Specialty Foods, emceed the entire event, bringing timely insights to the table that informed many conversations.
First up to the judges’ table was Robert Stegall-Smith, Corporate Executive Chef for Performance Foodservice and the People’s Choice winner for the competition. He served up the Giant Berry Pizza with Triple Berry Chipotle Sauce & Strawberry “Pepperoni”—an innovation that had everyone talking.
“Though this is our 4th annual Chef Invitational, it is our first year back in person since COVID, which we are all really excited about. We’re committed to serving the foodservice industry, and the chefs are our segue to the consumer," Joe Barsi, President, explained. "We have growers here, some of our field workers, our Owner, and there really aren’t many events that bring all those different groups together with the chefs themselves. It’s amazing how social media and influencers can help consumers find new ways to utilize berries, and many of those applications happen first in a foodservice kitchen. Incorporating berries into a variety of dishes keeps things unique and different, and that’s why we created this event.”
Next up was Adrian Day-Murchison, Product Development Chef at Calavo Growers, who presented the Spiced Blueberry Lamb Waffle Burger with Strawberry Feta Tzatziki. This chef not only brought rock and roll to the plate, but a flavor combination all its own.
Jereme Nemeth, Culinary Consultant at Sysco Eastern Shores Region, was the third chef to present his dish to the judges. He brought with him a Berry Brisket Sando topped with blackberry barbecue sauce, raspberry Malibu carrot slaw, and pickled mustard seed.
“Our industry is so heavily based on relationships," Kyla Oberman, Director of Marketing, added. "When it comes to selling our berries, it’s not just a transaction for us. We are working to cultivate our partnerships and utilize our channels of communication as tools for future success. Events like the Chef Invitational are about making connections and creating lightbulb ideas. For produce, we have a constant responsibility to educate our business network on what it takes to produce a high-quality berry, and without the incredibly high expectations that we meet, chefs would not be able to meet their own incredibly high expectations. This event has allowed us to underscore that in so many ways.”
We also heard from Derek Seigfried, Culinary Specialist at Gordon Food Service. This chef presented attendees with the Blackberry Lamb Kofta, which utilized several different berries grown by California Giant.
“Events like this allow us to support our customers who we sell to directly and ultimately sell to local restaurants. Engaging in events that create new recipes featuring berries is really important because not only does it drive consumption, but it also introduces new ideas to consumers that are out enjoying those restaurants. We’re certainly going to continue to promote this event in the future, and we’ll take the learnings from this year and innovate for the next time," Alan Ediger, Vice President of Sales, expounded. "There are a lot of ways to promote at the retail level, but there aren’t a lot of opportunities for us to impact the chefs that are in the restaurants, so this provides a path for us to do that.”
Last but certainly not least, we had Dontre’al Haigler, Product Development Chef at Denny's. He wowed the judges with the California Giant Berry Meets the Sea—a stuffed lobster tail wrapped with crispy pancetta and served over a pool of sweet drunken blue and blackberry vinaigrette.
“It was a lot of fun being here—a lot of great competition and I made some lifelong friends in these folks. It still feels surreal, but I am super pumped to continue strengthening my partnership with California Giant and see what’s to come," Chef Derek relayed just minutes after he was handed his award. "I like to experiment with berries in classic and untraditional recipes, so you will definitely see more of them popping up on my menus.”
In true fresh produce fashion, we ended the evening with a beach party to celebrate the victorious chef and the foodervice industry as a whole. We may have walked away with full bellies, but our minds were also teeming with what could be the next big thing in foodervice.
Events like the California Giant Chef Invitational invite this kind of forward thinking, and we at AndNowUKnow encourage you to join us on the journey.