Friday, August 10, 2018

Food writers and restaurant chains visit Louisiana rice country

CROWLEY – Representatives of the food industry got a first-hand look at the Louisiana rice industry from field to the table recently (Aug. 7-8).

The visit was sponsored by USA Rice. They toured the Zaunbrecher Brothers farm, and the Supreme and Falcon rice mills in Crowley.

The group included writers from the trade magazines Restaurant Business and Prepared Food; and representatives from the P.F. Chang restaurant chain, the Roti Modern Mediterranean restaurant chain, and Bloomin’ Brands, a restaurant corporation with 1,500 locations with restaurants such as  Outback, Carrabba’s, Bonefish Grill, and Fleming’s.

Michael Klein, USA Rice vice president of domestic promotion, said it’s important to help the food industry learn that rice is grown and milled in the U.S. with high-quality standards, and to help give rice more prominence on menus and recipes.

“We’d like to get rice moved from the side of the plate to the center of the plate,” Klein said.

He said similar tours have been done in Arkansas and California.

“We’ve learned that although chefs are generally more knowledgeable about food than consumers, they still don’t really know how and where we grow rice and what it takes to get it to their kitchens,” Klein said.  “They really enjoy going on the full journey from farm to fork and they leave with a much better appreciation of our industry.”

He said this is the third year for this program, and strong partnerships have been developed with restaurant chains who have come back from the tours and started offering more U.S.-grown rice on their menus. “Some have even switched their rice sourcing from imported to domestic or started calling out U.S.-grown rice on their menus and in their restaurants.”

Klein said the tour includes a discussion about farm sustainability practices and food safety standards and the entire process. “But when we take chefs and foodservice experts out and show them with their own two eyes what we are talking about, it is a much more meaningful and lasting experience.”