The Culinary Institute of America’s annual leadership retreat to focus on agricultural products and American menus will kick off Sept. 9.


The event, at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley, Calif., is a joint effort of the culinary institution and the University of California-Davis, and focuses on trends for U.S. chefs, foodservice operators.


This, the sixth year for the Flavor, Quality & American Menus retreat, should attract 120 chefs and foodservice operators from around the country to the four-day event Sept. 9-12. Attendees will tour Napa Valley farms and vineyards, hear from commodity group sponsors about the trends related to their agricultural products and create their own menu the closing day of the retreat.


“Flavor, Quality & American Menus provides multiple opportunities for produce industry sponsors to network and share information about their products,” said Greg Drescher, executive director for strategic initiatives at the culinary institute.


The invitation-only event gives sponsors time to network and develop stronger relationships with current and potential customers, as well as to present their products to the entire audience and see them used in the Market Basket exercise on the closing day, Drescher said.


Sponsor presentations are sprinkled inbetween scheduled seminars and workshops, topics of which include how to focus on produce in menu development, research and development strategies, controlling food costs, creating craveable vegetables, reducing food waste and working toward a more sustainable food system.

The sustainability seminar is new this year. Drescher said.

This year’s attendee list includes representatives from Brinker International, owner of Chili’s, Romano’s Macaroni Grill and On The Border restaurants; Darden Restaurants, owner of Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Longhorn Steakhouse and The Capital Grille; The Cheesecake Factory restaurants, Giant Eagle Inc., Lund Food Holdings, Ruby Restaurant Group, Safeway, Sodexo, the U.S. Marine Corps, Wegmans Food Markets Inc. and several other restaurant groups, foodservice providers and universities.


“As part of our larger commitment to providing leadership to the foodservice industry around healthier menu choices, the CIA is resolutely focused on developing strategies to increase produce consumption among chefs and on foodservice menus nationwide,” Drescher said. “We really need to be focused on doubling produce consumption within the restaurant industry over the next several years to get us where we need to be in terms of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.”


In addition to this event every September, the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone hosts the Produce First! An American Menus Initiative each January, with the upcoming one scheduled for Jan. 23.


“We invite the produce industry to partner with us in these programs to reach the most influential corporate chefs in our industry—the major menu decision-makers—and get them energized about what we call 'creveable' menu possibilities around produce.”


Sponsors of this year’s leadership retreat include the National Watermelon Promotion Board, C.H. Robinson, Produce for Better Health Foundation, California Raisin Marketing Board, Almond Board of America, and the Western Pistachio Growers Association.

Staff writer Ashley Bentley plans to cover this event from St. Helena, Calif. Watch for stories, photos and videos online, as well as tweets from Ashley at www.twitter.com/ashleyebentley.