Maines Joins Markon for Second Annual Chef Summit

Foodservice chefs across the country stepped out of their kitchens into fields and packing facilities to learn about the produce they use, and collaborate on new ways to integrate produce on menus through Markon Cooperative’s second annual Chef Summit.

The Chef Summit, held in Monterey, California, brought together 22 chefs from Markon’s seven foodservice members and foodservice operators, including our own Chef Eamon Lee, CEC. Attendees went on produce field and facility tours, participated in discussions around vegetable-centered menu trends and produce varietals, and participated in a new products expo.

“The Markon Chef Summit is important because it gives us Corporate Chefs a chance to communicate our customers’ feedback, ranging from what they love about Markon products and what they would like to see developed within the Markon brand”, explained Maines Corporate Chef, Eamon Lee, CEC. “This year I had the privilege of hosting a dedicated customer from Syracuse on the trip and he really appreciated the rare opportunity to engage with Markon partners, growers and packers. At the end of the trip, he felt his challenges in the kitchen were heard and validated by everyone at Markon”.

The Summit culminated with the chefs splitting into three teams in a challenge to mix ingenuity with industry knowledge to create new marketable products for Markon to bring to its customers. The teams of chefs were paired with three of Markon’s suppliers – Taylor Farms, 4Earth Farms and Church Brothers – and given full rein to develop new produce-based creations and blends. Last year’s ideation process led to the creation of Markon’s Ready-Set-Serve Urban Blend, a unique, versatile and nutrient-dense combination of baby red chard, wild arugula and baby kale, which Markon introduced earlier this year.

“It’s unique because we have skin in the game. Markon is a legitimate cooperative and Maines owns a significant stake. That means our customers have a direct line to the Markon team, and they too can say they are part of the cooperative when they invest and serve Markon products”, said Chef Eamon. 

The research and development session to create new products was held at the Rancho Cielo Drummond Culinary Academy, an alternative education school that teaches at-risk youth culinary skills and provides job placement opportunities. Students assisted the chefs throughout the product development process and were able to learn new culinary skills firsthand. Markon provided the school with a gift of anti-fatigue flooring mats and several bicycles from its wish list.

Other activities and details from the Summit:

  • Produce field and facility tours: Attendees saw firsthand how a variety of Markon’s products are grown, harvested, packed and processed. At each location, chefs were able to see the robust work involved, gain knowledge about the growth cycle, see varieties, discuss pest management, learn more about food safety measures in place, as well as meet with workers and learn about their wages and benefits.
  • Vegetable-centered menu trends discussion: Markon Member Chef Gerry Ludwig with Gordon Food Service gave an extensive presentation on the current, real-life produce trends in restaurants from coast to coast, highlighting the most popular and emerging dishes as well as discussing creative ways he’s seen chefs using produce.
  • Produce varietals presentation: Chefs heard from Seminis, a plant and seed company, and Sun World, a grape and stone fruit company, about seed development and breeding techniques, along with how the produce industry is moving toward flavor over appearance.
  • New products expo: Chefs were able to visually and tactilely experience the quality and flavor of a variety of produce items from more than 20 of Markon’s growers and suppliers.

Chef Eamon concluded, “Personally, I’m proud to be part of a cooperative that sets the standard in the industry for produce quality. I could work for a lot of companies, but Maines gives me the opportunity to be part of something bigger. A chef can’t ask for more than that. Professionally, I know I’m only as good as our distribution partners. If they embrace the same dogged dedication to product quality and customer satisfaction as Maines, then my job becomes very, very easy. Markon embodies these beliefs, and our customers know the difference.”

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