ANAHEIM, Calif. — If you're enjoying what you're munching on at Produce Marketing Association's Fresh Summit, chances are Otis Huemmer had a hand in it.
Huemmer, of Philadelphia-based Aramark Corp., is executive chef at the Anaheim Convention Center and is responsible for preparing ingredients for the continental breakfasts, lunches and concessions for the meetings and conferences and in the exhibit hall.
One of Huemmer's biggest challenges at Fresh Summit is preparing items that exhibitors pass out at their booths. For example, he may put together a salad recipe that exhibitors will portion out to attendees who stop to visit.
"That can be a challenge because there are so many booths and a lot of service orders coming through the kitchen," he said.
To be sure, Huemmer isn't tending the kitchen by himself. He has 115 culinary and steward employees, including three sous chefs and a kitchen manager.
This is the first show Huemmer has worked that focuses solely on produce, he said, "So this is kind of exciting."
Nothing is left to chance at Fresh Summit.
Huemmer and PMA's event planners conducted a four-hour tasting that evaluated all meals using produce provided by sponsors.
Proper handling and preparation is critical at Fresh Summit because one of the benefits of high-level sponsorships is having one's products featured on the menu, said PMA public relations director Julia Stewart.
This year, 18 products will be highlighted.
"Aramark does a terrific job incorporating those products into top-of-the-line menus that delight conference attendees," Stewart said.
Prunes were one of the trickiest items Huemmer had to work into a menu.
His first suggestion was a fresh cream roll with prune dipping sauce, but the sponsor wanted the prunes to have more of a presence. He ended up using diced prunes in a salad.
"There is a lot of back and forth to get it right," he said. "The clients are customizing all the time."
Huemmer is used to working with event organizers to develop menus, but he said, "PMA definitely has a lot more involvement in the menu planning - even in the way it's presented."
Coming up with fresh, high-quality produce for convention center events is standard procedure for Aramark. The company launched a sustainable, locally grown program in 2004, said general manager Jim Tripp.
"We have some of the best local partners," he added.
FreshPoint Southern California, based in nearby City of Industry, plays a vital role in ensuring that Aramark gets the freshest locally grown produce available, he said.
FreshPoint, too, emphasizes sustainability and the locally grown aspect, said president Verne Lusby.
"We do everything we can to help meet (Aramark's) expectations," he said.
Aramark even has helped arrange meetings with Tripp, Huemmer and local growers.
"I think it's really important these days that you understand your source," Tripp said. "It's a safer way of buying food, and it's the right thing to do."
FreshPoint makes deliveries to a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point audit point where temperatures are checked and product is rushed into refrigeration and used on a first-in, first-out basis, Huemmer said.
Food safety is a prime concern, and all fruits and vegetables are meticulously washed and cared for, he added.
Including Fresh Summit and other activities at the convention center, the kitchen staff will go through 1,380 tons of produce this year, Huemmer estimated.
Although maintaining high standards is routine for Huemmer and his staff, he said he particularly enjoys working with PMA.
"It's great to have the Produce Marketing Association here because they're people who get it," he said, "and working with people who get it is fun."