Chefs, producers cultivate local connections
Idaho Ag Department facilitates contact between producers and local chefs
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
The Idaho State Department of Agriculture played matchmaker April 21 at an event to connect Idaho producers with local chefs.
Through the department's Idaho Preferred program, Wood River area chefs visited about 20 vendors with unique food products in a speed-date setting at the Sun Valley Inn.
The event is meant to "bridge the gap between producers and chefs and bring more local food out to the consumer," said Kim Peterson, marketing specialist with the Ag Department.
"Local restaurants are eager to capitalize on the growing 'buy local' trend by offering unique, seasonal menus featuring only the freshest items available," she said. "The local food movement has succeeded in driving demand and opportunity for local farmers and the local economy."
Products ranged from meats and cheeses to vegetables and baked goods.
"I'm just excited to get a little exposure with local chefs, explain a little bit about our produce and growing practices," said Judd McMahan of Wood River Organics.
Joe Szerwo, executive chef at St. Luke's Magic Valley Regional Medical Center in Twin Falls, said he made so many connections he felt the event was catered specifically to his needs.
"I was amazed at some of the quality products we saw that we didn't know were around," he said.
One such product was gluten-free flaxseed crackers. With more people being diagnosed with allergies to gluten, having access to such a product is exciting to the chef.
"To have an option present itself locally is pretty neat," he said.
He said he was going to start buying local wheat berries. Previously, all he could find were expensive supplies out of state.
The chef said he's also going to start using local cheeses made by Ballard Family Dairy & Cheese, of Gooding.
He also ordered organic free-range turkeys for the holidays, wine for an upcoming fundraiser and will stock energy bars and the flaxseed crackers for the hospital's offerings.
He even met a free-range egg producer who wants the hospital's food waste, which would reduce his garbage load.
He said he can see opportunities for other locally produced foods, including elk products.
Gail Ansley and her husband, Calvin, own an elk ranch south of Twin Falls and sell elk meat, elk meat products and pheasants. She said the chef event gives producers an opportunity to meet with people who can use their products.
She said the Idaho Preferred program "has given me exposure and, strangely enough, the confidence to feel comfortable going to a restaurant."
Ansley said it also allows her to see what other producers are doing to market their products.
About 20 vendors and 15 chefs showed up for the event. Szerwo said he was surprised there were not more chefs there, suggesting better promotion is needed.
To learn more
For more information on buying local, contact Kim Peterson at the Idaho State Department of Agriculture at firstname.lastname@example.org or 208-332-8532.
Idaho Preferred: www.idahopreferred.com