Chefs and foodservice operators on the invite list to two back-to-back foodservice events at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone have quite a few produce commodity groups and private companies preparing for them.

The St. Helena, Calif.-based culinary school is expecting up to 120 corporate and executive chefs, senior foodservice directors and managers, corporate nutrition executives and representatives from sponsor companies to its Worlds of Healthy Flavors leadership retreat Jan. 20-22, and 35 attendees of Produce First! on Jan. 23.

This year’s Produce First! event will continue in its tradition of bringing chefs and foodservice operators face-to-face with different produce items, on a mission to create a meal for each other.

After a morning of culinary demonstrations and a session on leadership strategies for the produce and foodservice industries led by Dawn Sweeney, chief executive officer of the National Restaurant Association, and Greg Drescher, executive director of strategic initiatives for the institute, and culinary demonstrations, attendees will break off into groups, each with a different assignment and different products to use.

Eleisha Ensign, executive director of Mission, Texas-based TexaSweet and one of the event sponsors, said she is excited about the event for a couple of reasons.

“One is the quality of the people who will be there," Ensign said. "They’re really the very people we’re trying to reach, with great chefs and foodservice operators, and the ability to get the grapefruit into their hands is a really great opportunity.”

This will be the first time Church Bros. LLC has been a part of one of the culinary institute’s events. The Salinas, Calf.-based company plans to highlight its romaine and green leaf lettuces during Produce First!.

“We’ll be there first to learn from our customers, with an end goal of increasing and improving our customer service,” said Ernst Van Eeghen, director of marketing and product development. “The event provides an intimate setting where both sides can learn from each other. Our mission is to give our existing and potential customers a clear picture of who Church Brothers is, and to teach them more about our items and their different applications.”

Other sponsors of Produce First! include:

  • Mexican Hass Avocado Importers Association, Miami;
  • Dole Food Co., Westlake Village, Calif.;
  • Taylor Farms, Salinas, Calif.;
  • Grimmway Farms, Bakersfield, Calif.;
  • National Peanut Board, Atlanta;
  • California Olive Ranch, Oroville, Calif., and;
  • Chilean Fresh Fruit Association.

During the three days leading up to that event, a bigger group will be part of the Worlds of Healthy Flavors leadership retreat, a joint effort of the culinary institute and of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Its itinerary includes sessions and culinary demonstration on the relationship between public health and foodservice, healthy menu development, techniques for creating complex flavors, diet quality and calorie control, what Americans are eating, nutrition labeling on menus and more.

“We are pleased to showcase the varieties of California raisins at the conference and to focus on creating more healthy menu items in 2010,” said Melinda Coffman, marketing specialist for the California Raisin Marketing Board, Fresno.

The board was also a sponsor of the Flavor, Quality and American Menus leadership retreat in September, as well as sponsoring that event and the Worlds of Healthy Flavors conferences in 2007, Coffman said.

Other produce sponsors of the Worlds of Healthy Flavors include:

  • Taylor Farms;
  • Mexican Hass Avocado Importers Association;
  • Mushroom Council, San Jose, Calif.;
  • Western Pistachio Association, Fresno,
  • Almond Board of California, Modesto, and;
  • the National Peanut Board.

The event is designed to assist corporate and executive chefs and senior foodservice directors and managers expand options for healthy menu choices within their businesses and on behalf of their customers, the culinary institute described.

It will also include nutrition research and science foundation provided by the institute’s Scientific Advisory Committee, which is under the leadership of Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. Willett is also author of “Eat, Drink and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating”.

In the past, the Wilmington, Del.-based Produce for Better Health Foundation has co-hosted the Produce First! event and published a menu development guide following, but the foundation is not sponsoring this year, said Jill LeBrasseur, communications specialist for the foundation.