Idaho Ag Dept. promotes Idaho food in Chicago
By John O’Connell
BOISE, Idaho — Past Idaho State Department of Agriculture food and beverage promotions have either taken place within the state or in a foreign market.
In the future, however, ISDA plans to also target other regions of the U.S., based on the success of its first out-of-state domestic marketing promotion, said ISDA trade specialist Kim Polzin.
From Feb. 20-21 Idaho commodity groups and businesses highlighted their premium products in a reception and cooking competitions in Chicago, known as a hub of America’s food service industry.
Polzin said help from existing business contacts made the trip affordable for ISDA and its participants, though no final cost estimates are in yet. The Idaho Potato Commission and the USA Onions/Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee were the major promotion sponsors.
“The message we heard over and over again with all of these events was, ‘Wow! We didn’t know Idaho produced so many interesting products on a commercial basis,’” Polzin said.
The Idaho industry representatives made chili with their home-grown ingredients during a grilling challenge at Weber Grill Academy. Another cook-off involved culinary students at Le Cordon Bleu College competing for scholarship money with their recipes featuring Idaho products.
Culinary college deans, who were in town attending a conference, food media and food service customers were invited to a reception at Kendall College, where culinary students prepared hors d’oeuvres from Idaho foods.
Idaho wines and potato vodka were also served.
As a small business owner, Lea Beckett, with Grand Teton Vodka in Driggs, believes her best advertising comes from “getting presented to top chefs and to get food and beverage people to notice of us because of our quality.”
Chicago is also the home of Proof66, the spirits reviewer that ranked her signature product as the world’s No. 3 vodka and top potato vodka. Her business recently doubled its size and started making a whiskey with Idaho-grown potato flakes and malt.
Based on the event, a new high-end Chicago restaurant plans to stock steaks from Agri Beef in Boise. Agri Beef marketing manager Seth Mortensen said the Chicago chefs were amazed by the quality of his company’s American-style Kobe beef, known for its heavy marbling.
“You make an impression like Idaho did with those young students and that sticks with them for the rest of their careers,” said Mortensen, who also made several promising business contacts.
Kay Knab, assistant caviar director with Fish Breeders of Idaho in Hagerman, said chefs were shocked that Idaho is a high-quality caviar producer, and one master chef now plans to add the delicacy to the list of products prepared in his kitchen.
“We’re confident we’ll have future sales directly from this,” Knab said.
Jerry Tominaga, an owner of Southwind Farms in Heyburn, demonstrated that Idaho potato growers offer more than just russets. He said the chefs love the bright colors and interesting shapes of his fingerling spuds. One chef created a fingerling curry recipe that Tominaga plans to utilize in promoting the specialty potatoes to the growing Asian market.
Other companies making the trip included 13 Foods, Clear Springs Foods and Glanbia Foods.