(April 24) NEW ORLEANS — Those who cook professionally in New Orleans have an added dimension to their jobs. Now they also do it to reaffirm who they are and show their commitment to the region’s cuisine since hurricanes Katrina and Rita nearly eliminated the city and its heritage from the map.

That was the consensus at the opening breakfast session at the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference April 15-19. Nearly 1,700 food professionals from more than a dozen countries attended ,as much to support the local economy as to conduct business at the 30th anniversary conference.

About a dozen produce companies attended, to reach the restaurateurs, cookbook authors, food writers and cooking school teachers during the half-day expo associated with the conference. Within the first two hours on the floor, an editor from a major consumer publication asked Jim Howard, vice president of the California Table Grape Commission, Fresno, for ideas about grapes to include immediately in the magazine.

“She was the second editor to ask me that,” he said.

This year, the grape commission had a bigger story to tell than usual — in 132 pages. It just published a book called “Green Black Red: Recipes for Cooking and Enjoying California Grapes,” published by Chronicle Books. It will soon be available in bookstores, and Howard said he hopes retailers also will sell them in the produce department.

The Idaho Potato Commission, Eagle, came across an author who had written a Jewish cookbook with10 to 15 recipes containing potatoes. That solved a problem for Don Odiorne, the commission’s vice president of foodservice. Odiorne said he was looking to include authentic recipes for Jewish holidays in the commission’s repertoire of recipes.

“She’ll be a great resource for us,” he said.

The benefit of being at the show is apparent to Kim Reddin, public and industry relations director for the National Onion Association, Greeley, Colo. Three years ago she conducted a workshop on onions and sampled storage and fresh yellow and red onions.

“I know of three or four different newspaper and magazine articles that came from that one experience,” Reddin said. “Even today people come up to me and tell me they remember taking my class and the tips I gave.”

Meanwhile, the group of foodies stopped and sampled the new-to-them flavor of mangosteen from Thailand and mangoes from India available for sampling at the booth of Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce Inc., which markets the Melissa’s brand. Many had never even heard of mangosteen.

The trade show was a great place to celebrate the 10th anniversary of broccolini for Mann Packing Co. Inc., Salinas, Calif., said marketing coordinator Susan Cameron. The company found two chefs from the local Marriott to develop and sample a recipe for samples on the show floor.

Culinary pros toast New Orleans at gathering
Todd Downs, president of Food Sense, Ft. Wayne, Ind., just opened a New Orleans cuisine restaurant called Bourbon Street Hideaway, in Ft. Wayne, and was on hand at the Idaho Potato Commission, Boise, to prepare and sample his recipe for andouille and leek stuffed Idaho fingerling potatoes using purple fingerling potatoes.