A team of chefs from restaurants and hotels in Barbados learned about the versatility and availability of U.S. lamb on an educational visit to Colorado arranged by USMEF. Funded by the Texas Beef Council and the Pork Checkoff, the “ideation” mission also included workshops on U.S. pork and beef, as well as a feedlot visit and a “Meat 101” seminar at Colorado State University.
“We called it an ‘ideation’ adventure because it was set up to include chefs who would benefit most from an education on U.S. lamb, pork and beef and how our products can help them form new and better menu concepts,” explained Liz Wunderlich, USMEF representative in the Caribbean region. “Like other markets in the Caribbean, Barbados’ HRI sector is focused on tourists and they are open to trying different things and offering their guests new products. This is a great chance to put U.S. red meat at the center of the menus there.”
U.S. lamb was given special attention because USMEF and companies serving the Caribbean foodservice industry recognize there are added opportunities in Barbados and surrounding markets.
“Right now, New Zealand lamb has about 90 percent of the market, but one of the goals of this trip was to show chefs what they can get from the U.S. and how they can use it,” said Edward Juman, director at Continental Foods, a distributor to supermarkets, restaurants and hotels in Barbados. “Overall, we wanted to expose them to the red meats that are available and what they can get versus what they are using now.”
The team was given a tour of the Superior Farms lamb plant in Denver, where vice president of operations Shane McKenzie and export coordinator Faith Garrard took the chefs through the company’s processing and packing procedures and talked about trends in lamb cuts.
“Everyone was impressed with what Superior Farms is doing, how they process the lamb and how they handle the animals,” said Juman. “They were also impressed with how the company caters to their various customers in retail and foodservice. They were very knowledgeable and able to answer all the questions from our chefs on the various cuts of lamb that they are interested in using.”
Garrard noted that hosting the chef team for a facility tour may seem like a small gesture, but it’s actually a big step for U.S. lamb exports.
“As chefs, these are the people making important decisions on the product that is served at their restaurants and hotels, so we want to showcase our U.S. lamb and let them know where it comes from,” she said. “They will remember their experience here in the U.S., and hopefully it will help them make those decisions about product selection.”
Immediately after the plant tour, the team was given the opportunity to work with and taste the same cuts they saw at Superior Farms. At a U.S. lamb tasting and cutting demonstration at the Americatus New World Italian Restaurant in Denver, chef and owner Iain Chisholm hosted the team and talked about culinary trends for U.S. lamb. Under the theme “The Art of Low and Slow,” Chisholm cooked and served dishes featuring U.S. lamb neck, belly, shanks and tongue. Superior Farms then gave lamb cuts to each chef to cook and share at a table tasting of the chefs’ creations followed by a discussion of menu applications for various cuts.
“The whole idea was to show the versatility of U.S. lamb and the flavor profiles it can take on,” said Chisholm. “We served lamb tongue braised in red wine, lamb neck braised barbacoa-style, a shank prepared North African style and braised belly – using the same lamb cuts they had experienced on their Superior Farms plant tour.”
Chisholm stressed the profitability of some of the alternative cuts of U.S. lamb.
“I was able to show them what a chef can do with cuts that are not necessarily in high demand and that have such a different flavor and texture than what most consumers think about when they think about lamb, such as the rack or leg of lamb,” said Chisholm.
On their way to Colorado, the Barbados chefs made a stop in College Park, Georgia, to visit U.S. food distributor Halperns’ Purveyors of Steak & Seafood. At Halperns they gained insights on cutting techniques and portion control for U.S. pork, beef and lamb. They also learned creative methods of utilizing U.S. cuts that tend to be larger than those imported from competitors.
Along with the lamb plant tour and tasting, the Colorado portion of the trip included a visit to the JBS slaughter facility in Greeley and a tour of Five River Cattle Feeding in Kersey.
At Colorado State University, the Department of Animal Sciences presented a day-long course on U.S. red meat that covered beef and pork quality, food safety, full breakdowns of pork and beef carcasses and cooking idea sessions for various cuts.
The chefs’ U.S. visit wrapped up with a beer and food pairing at the Budweiser brewery facility in Fort Collins. The menu featured Yorkshire pudding with mashed potatoes, topped with seared flank steak, lollypop lamb chop with curry sauce, Cuban sliders, teriyaki beef kabobs and barbecue spare ribs.
“We were able to provide the team a whole lot of information on U.S. lamb, pork and beef in a very short time and do it very efficiently,” said Wunderlich. “The chefs had a lot of questions, and our industry partners on this mission were able to answer each and every one. What we want to happen now is for the chefs to go back home and share what they learned.”