A group of us, from around the country, made our way to the New Orleans Convention Center for 3 days of exploring, learning and sampling the hottest items in the produce industry. With more than 1,000 booths representing the entire world in both produce and floral, one might equate the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit event as the produce industry’s championship competition. Awards are given for the best booths, best product promo, best first time exhibitor and best packaging. It’s also where industry connections are made, importing and exporting deals are facilitated, and where the who’s who of produce and floral come to toot their horns.
And toot they did, y’all.
Before I try to condense 3 days into a single blog post, let me go ahead and answer the question I know you probably have on your mind.
What’s a girl like you doing in a place like that?
And that’s simple.
I care about where the food I’m eating comes from and I know you do as well.
Secondly, the conference was being held in New Orleans so it was quick hop, skip and jump away.
And finally…OF COURSE I want to be on the front lines of discovering a yet to hit the shelves brand spanking new fruit. To be able to say I was one of the very first people to sample a Pitahaya or experience a chocolate covered kiwi berry?
Worth it right there.
Pitahaya: (pronounced pi-tahy-uh) is a fresh fruit of the cactus species, with edible black seeds, a white interior and a sweet flavor similar to a watermelon.
If you follow me on Twitter, you saw me tweet like a crazy woman about kiwi berries. Grape sized kiwi!
Every time the HBF International booth put more kiwi berries out, I was in line.
They are wrapping up their seasonal production, but make a note now to look for kiwi berries next year.
Our time in New Orleans was delicious and informative, but man was it was intense. I’ve never been so overwhelmed and surrounded by so.much.produce. The booths were unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Some looked like miniature grocery stores, complete with every refrigerated vegetable you could imagine.
We hit the ground running each morning, attending keynote breakfast sessions and then on the expo floor the entire day.
Keynote speaker Dan Thurmon demonstrating performing when it matters and mastering the art of balance.
He was juggling knives on unicycle.
Oh my dear goodness.
After the morning motivation, it was off to the races, er…expo floor where at every turn someone was offering you something to eat or drink created with what they were representing. We never had an official “lunch” outside of the expo hall if that tells you anything about the amount of food offerings in the booths alone.
Happy hour cocktails? Yep.
Create your own Guacamole? Uh huh.
An oyster bar? Only in New Orleans, my friends.
It would be impossible to recap each of the 1,000+ booths so I’ve narrowed down some of my favorite experiences.
As part of our official duties, we judged the Sensory Experience competition amongst the 10 brand finalists.
From Apple Rings Flatbread to Mini Crunchers Cucumbers and Zespri Kiwi Frui-shi, it was a tough job, but someone had to do it.
(My favorites: Spaghetti Squash Nests, Apple Rings Flatbread, Crunchy Cucumber Boats, Kiwi Frui-shi- get it, like sushi with fruit)
Buyers’ Choice: Del Fresco Produce’s Mini Cucumber Strawberry Boats
Kids’ Choice: Mucci Farms’ Layered Strawberry and Mango Dip
Bloggers’ Choice: Green Giant Fresh’s Spaghetti Squash Pizza Nests
The booths were magnificent, and innovative but I remained smitten by the ladies with the sweet pepper dog.
Watermelon art, anyone?
It was also super fun to round the corner and meet long time blog friend, never met in person Isabel aka Family Foodie, representing the Strawberry Growers Association. She sent me home with one of those strawberry hats and the cutest darn keychain you’ve ever seen.
If you’re saying to yourself, “hey, Aimee’s pretty lanyard matches her shirt” you’d need to thank my friends at the Guatemala Beyond Expectations booth.
They were hands down the most eager to teach me all things Guatemala, insist I sample their green pea hummus, extend an invitation to visit Guatemala….and send me on my way with a pretty lanyard.
And last, but certainly not least was the Idaho Potato Beignets.
Idaho. Potato. Beignets.
Call it what you will, but I’m usually a snoot when it comes to Louisiana “twists” on things. You won’t find kale in my gumbo EVER, and I’ll be the last in line for quinoa in my jambalaya.
These beignets did not disappoint despite my skepticism.
They were such a sweet way to wrap up the delicious time that was PMA Fresh Summit 2017 and I’d be the worst friend if I was sitting on the recipe, and didn’t bother sharing it with you.
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 6 tablespoons shortening
- 3/4 cup prepared Instant Idahoan mashed potatoes, cubed
- 1 egg, plus one egg yolk
- 1 cup milk, scaled and cooled to lukewarm
- 1/4 tablespoon salt
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 2 1/2 cups dry instant Idahoan mashed potatoes
- Oil for frying
- 1 cup powdered sugar for topping
- Dissolve yeast in warm water, set aside. Cream sugar and shortening.
- Beat in cold mashed potatoes, eggs, cooled milk, yeast mixture and salt.
- Sift the flour and dry instant mashed potatoes together, reserving 1/4 cup of the flour to use for dusting the work surface.
- Mix the flour into the potato mixture, adding just enough to make a soft dough. Knead well.
- Place dough in greased bowl; cover and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk, 30-60 minutes.
- Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut with a well-floured 2-inch square cutter (pizza cutter work great too). Let rise uncovered about 30 minutes.
- Heat oil in 350 degrees in a heavy saucepan.
- Putting just a few of the beignets in the oil at a time, fry for two minutes, flip and fry until golden on the other side. Drain on paper towels.
- Shake beignets with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.
I am grateful to the teams at both Kitchen Play & the PMA for allowing me the opportunity to expand my horizons, push my picky food boundaries and experience something so personal as meeting the folks who represent the foods you and I eat each and every day.
(Disclosure: Part of my travel costs and all of my Fresh Summit conference ticket have been covered through Kitchen Play for PMA. The opinions represented here are entirely my own).