Blueberries and broccoli. Spinach and salmon. Turkey and tomatoes. Believe it or not, these seemingly disparate foods do have a common denominator. Rich in nutrients, disease-fighting properties and tasty goodness, they’ve all been hailed as “superfoods” by members of the medical and nutrition communities. Powerful enough to help fight cancer, lower cholesterol and even improve moods, superfoods today are appearing on menus across the nation at a rapid pace.
It should come as no surprise, then, that each of these superfoods already has an ardent following within the gastronomic inner circles. For instance, in Upstate New York, a dozen seasoned yet inquisitive chefs – including, aptly, a superchef from Rich’s Foodservice Division – plus a handful of media representatives recently descended on the world’s premier culinary college for a kitchen summit focused solely on all things blueberry.
Hosted by the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, which promotes the growth and well-being of the blueberry industry, the inaugural Blueberry Invitational in mid-June promised “two and a half days of blueberry education, ideation and fun” on the home campus of the renowned Culinary Institute of America (CIA), in Hyde Park, N.Y.
Located on the banks of the Hudson River, about two hours north of the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, the CIA is the epicurean mecca for chefs from across the United States and around the world. At this storied academy, there are no walls of ivy, beds of begonias or tulip borders ornamenting the grounds. Instead, the lush landscape is dominated by plantings of Swiss chard, kale, cabbage and other leafy greens and herbs, ripe for the picking by attending culinary students and guests.
The Blueberry Invitational was to be an intense blueberry immersion that included hours of classroom education about the juicy fruit, as well as friendly cooking challenges. Anxious to expand her grasp of the featured genus Vaccinium, which has been making a news splash recently as a member of the esteemed group of superfoods, Rich’s Deanna Day was among the 12 chefs who eagerly said yes to the scholarly offer.
“The gathering gave me an invaluable opportunity to have some thoughtful conversations and debates with my counterparts from acclaimed restaurants and food companies worldwide. It provided great insight into why we’re going to see this blueberry superfood continue to pop up on everybody’s menus,” said Day, who, in addition to serving as Culinary Manager On-Site for Rich’s Foodservice Division, is both a Certified Executive Chef (CEC) and a Certified Culinary Educator (CCE). “We explored new taste and flavor sensations, which opened my eyes to the possibilities the blueberry presents. I loaded some cool new applications for the blueberry into my arsenal.”
Culinary creativity was indeed at its finest during the Invitational’s cooking sequence. The participants, divided into small teams, were challenged to create four masterpieces – a breakfast item, an entrée, a salad and a beverage – using a “mystery basket” of ingredients and expressing the blueberry in forms ranging from freeze-dried to juiced to concentrated to dehydrated.
Day took charge of both the breakfast item and the beverage for her team. First, she drew on her 20 years of baking experience at Rich’s – including her intimate knowledge of the company’s hugely successful UBR®, the Ultimate Breakfast Round – to devise a whole-grain, blueberry breakfast bar that utilized applications of the blueberry in juiced, freeze-dried and dehydrated formats.
Slightly more of a challenge was the beverage, but Day stood up to the task by plucking a green chayote from her team’s mystery basket. The mild, pear-shaped fruit made for an ideal, juicy counterpart to the flavorful blueberry in a cocktail concoction heavy with crème de cassis.
For an entrée, Day’s team rustled up a pork shoulder with a blueberry glaze, accompanied by perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes and red and yellow peppers. The group’s salad of mixed greens also blended various formats of the blueberry.
From their chapter of discovery, Day said the newly enlightened chefs departed Hyde Park as blueberry aficionados, ready to spread their passion for and knowledge of the indigo fruit far and wide.
“I’ve always loved the blueberry,” she said, “but now I have a new-found appreciation for its versatility, particularly the freeze-dried application. I’m looking forward to sharing these inventive solutions with Rich’s customers. This is one superfood that screams to be showcased on every eatery’s bill of fare.”