PLANT CITY, Fla. — During a tour of central Florida strawberry fields, chefs and culinary professionals learned more about how they can use the berries on menus.

In its March 9 harvest tour, the Florida Strawberry Growers Association invited chefs and culinary instructors from leading Florida culinary institutions and chefs from major foodservice operations to visit the winter strawberry capitol and see how Florida berries can fit into menu preparation.

Ted Campbell, the Dover-based association’s executive director, said the industry is communicating more with the foodservice segment.

“At half the industry, foodservice is such an opportunity to be creative,” he said. “We have focused on retail. But at the recent PMA (Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit 2010), all the innovations I saw were in foodservice. Foodservice is a good vehicle to promote strawberry use. They’re not just for dessert anymore.”

Campbell said foodservice operators typically don’t promote strawberries during the winter, when Florida’s production is peak, instead featuring berries in the summer during peak California production. He said the large hospitality industry within 100 miles of Plant City along Interstate 4 offers many opportunities for increased berry use.

Mike Lott, owner of Mike Lott Farms, Seffner, showed the chefs how berries are grown and harvested.

“This is a very safe and low-input item,” he said. “Any products we do use are very limited. Strawberries are a very cleanly grown item that gets a bad rep on the Internet.”

The field trip also included a visit to Dover Fresh Produce LLC, Dover, owned by C&D Fruit & Vegetable Co. Inc., Bradenton, where participants viewed strawberry unloading and cooling.

Chefs visit Florida strawberry fields

Doug Ohlemeier

Mike Lott (left), president of Mike Lott Farms, Plant City, Fla., discusses strawberry production practices with chefs and culinary instructors during a March 9 tour highlighting the berry's versatility on menus.