A team of 10 executive chefs and one restaurateur from the China/Hong Kong region recently received a firsthand look at U.S. meat production. The team consisted of chefs who emerged as winners of culinary competitions organized in the region by USMEF, with funding support for the tour provided by the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council (MSRPC) and the Beef Checkoff Program. The group was accompanied by Steve Mo, USMEF representative for southern China.
“We were very excited to host this group of chefs and help them learn more about every aspect of U.S. meat production,” said Bruce Schmoll, a soybean producer from Claremont who serves on the USMEF Executive Committee. “When you talk about export growth potential, there’s no more intriguing region than China/Hong Kong. We have a good track record of success there with U.S. pork, and we would like to build a similar presence for U.S. beef.”
The team’s first U.S. stop was in Tennessee for a tour of Claybrook Farms Meat Company in Covington and a meeting with officials from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. Next they arrived in Minnesota, where staff and leadership of the MSRPC played a key role in illustrating the state’s diverse grain and livestock sectors.
China/Hong Kong is this year’s third-largest destination for U.S. pork in both volume (221,876 metric tons or 489.1 million pounds) and value ($448.6 million) – up 28 percent and 72 percent, respectively, over last year’s pace. Hong Kong is a major destination for U.S. beef muscle cuts, as exports this year have climbed 18 percent from a year ago to $131.4 million despite an 8 percent decline in volume (22,152 metric tons or 48.8 million pounds). But mainland China remains closed to U.S. beef, due to BSE-related restrictions that have lingered for nearly a decade. (NOTE: All totals are January through June, 2012. Pork export totals include both muscle cuts and variety meat, but Hong Kong is only open to boneless U.S. beef muscle cuts.)
“There is so much promise for U.S. meat in China, and our discussions with these chefs confirmed that interest in our product is very high,” said Michael O’Leary, a longtime Minnesota soybean industry leader from Danvers and a former member of the USMEF Executive Committee. “We not only need direct access to China, but the range of beef products eligible for Hong Kong is too narrow. It’s an exciting and growing market, but we’ve really only scratched the surface there.”
While in Minnesota, the chefs visited a wide variety of food outlets – from specialty restaurant Butcher and the Boar to popular supermarket chains such as Hy Vee. Store managers at Hy Vee discussed in detail the range of meat products available at their supermarkets and the chefs enjoyed an in-store tasting demonstration.
The group also had an opportunity to experience Minnesota agriculture firsthand with visits to the New Sweden Dairy Farm north of Nicollet, Tim and Mary Waibel’s pork farm near Courtland and the corn and soybean farm operated by Harold and Matt Wolle near St. James. At the Wolle farm, the team saw how U.S. farmers raise quality soybeans that are fed to livestock. They learned about the growing stages of soybeans and how farmers care for their crops through land and water management practices that protect the environment while also enhancing food safety. The tour was followed by a live cooking demonstration by Tim McCarty, head chef of the Mayo Foundation House in Rochester. He demonstrated barbecue cooking techniques and different marinades and seasonings. The delegation had the chance to use their hands and taste buds as they assisted in preparing grilled pork ribs, shoulder and loin. Several community members and farmers turned out to greet the team during a picnic supper and memorable evening around a campfire.
The Minnesota tour concluded at the headquarters of Famous Dave’s BBQ in Minnetonka, where Culinary Director Charlie Torgerson offered an extensive look at the company’s research and development kitchen and discussed Famous Dave’s meat selection, preparation and merchandising practices.
The team’s final stop was Kendall College School of Culinary Arts in Chicago, where Executive Chef Dave Zino of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association – like USMEF, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program – offered a presentation on dry aging and wet aging methods for beef. Zino also led the chefs in a hands-on cooking exercise to better familiarize them with beef preparation and handling techniques.
While in Chicago, the group visited some of the city’s outstanding steakhouses, including Gibson’s, David Burke’s Prime House, Chicago Chop House and Smith & Wollensky. They also toured The Publican, an award-winning restaurant where many entrées feature underutilized cuts and variety meat.