MONTREAL — Fruits and vegetables star in a newly expanded Quebec government program that encourages restaurants to put more produce on the plate.

Under the annual “Starring Fruits and Vegetables” program, which began in 2004 as a Nutrition Month initiative, the Quebec Produce Marketing Association will work with restaurant owners year-round to help jazz up their menus.

“Restaurants who register with the program will receive lists of distributors and producers in their region, and we’ll let them know what’s trendy and what ‘stars’ are in season,” said QPMA executive director Sophie Perreault.

“We need more links with hotels, restaurants and institutions,” Perreault said.

“Producers often don’t know what restaurants need, what type of package or cut, what amount and on what days. And chefs don’t always use what’s in season, so their costs are higher.”

“We can not only help chefs increase the variety on their plates,” she said, “but we can connect them to local producers.”

While the program was originally devised to promote local produce, Perreault said she was clear from the start that the newly expanded program must include imports.

“If we want to promote variety and color on the plate year-round, it’s the only way,” she said. “If restaurants are featuring more appetizer salads and exotic fruit salad for dessert, it’s good for business.”

While applauding the new initiative, Benoit Lecavalier, director of sales and development for produce at foodservice supplier Hector Larivée, also sees an opportunity for the industry to reach out to chefs in their mid-20s to mid-30s who bring a fresh approach to food.

“These cooking school grads are passionate about working with any new specialty produce we can give them to spruce up plates and make them look sharp,” said Lecavalier.

“They’re cooking exotic cuisines and pioneering new styles of cooking, and they work miracles with basic commodities such as carrots. For them, quality and service are more important than price.”

“This is a trend our industry needs to latch onto,” Lecavalier said. “We need reps on the road to connect with these young chefs and make things happen. Hopefully, down the road, they’ll buy regular produce, too.”