A team of chefs from Japan’s prominent Prince Hotels and Resorts had a real life “farm to plate” experience last week in Minnesota, thanks to efforts by USMEF and the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council. The team toured family farms, a feedlot, a meat processing facility and a U.S. restaurant chain test kitchen to learn about U.S. beef, pork, soybean and corn production.
Japan continues to be one of the top markets for U.S. beef and pork – the U.S. exported $1.5 billion in beef to Japan last year and $1.9 billion in pork products – and the Japanese chefs expressed that their main points of interest during the visit were the quality and safety of the red meat they serve to their clientele.
“These types of tours are a very good opportunity to exchange information,” said Takemichi Yamashoji, USMEF senior marketing director in Japan, who accompanied the team. “It’s great for chefs and meat buyers from Japan to meet farmers in person to see how dedicated they are and how they care for their land and livestock.”
It is also good for U.S. farmers to meet their customers and learn what they look for when making purchases, added Yamashoji.
“For the U.S. meat industry, Japan is a very important, high-value market,” he said. “But the U.S. has a lot of competition, with many countries trying hard to export their red meat to Japan.”
Giving the team of chefs a close glimpse of U.S agriculture during the Minnesota visit is seen as an impactful way of strengthening the relationship between U.S. producers and Japanese consumers. The Prince chain includes more than 1,500 chefs at 38 locations.
“We have a chance to bring these chefs over, and several of them had to qualify through winning a recipe contest in Japan using American beef,” said Bruce Schmoll, USMEF vice chair and a member of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association who hosted the chefs on his Claremont farm. “For these Japanese chefs, it was an opportunity to see how their food is grown.”
Not by coincidence, the farms toured by the team included those that grow corn and soybeans.
“Japanese consumers love grain-fed beef and pork,” said Yamashoji. “U.S. corn and soybeans are very high quality, and high quality corn and soybean make high quality beef and pork.”
Along with the Schmoll farm, the chef team visited the Minnesota farms of Matt Widboom in Worthington and Chris Hill in Brewster. The team also visited several red meat companies, including JBS Swift in Worthington, PM Beef in Windom and Protein Sources in Mapleton.
Included was a tour of Bakken’s Feedlot on the Minnesota-South Dakota border.
The team wrapped up its visit by touring the Famous Dave’s test kitchen in Minnetonka. Charlie Torgerson from Famous Dave’s and Chef Tim McCarty of the Mayo Foundation House demonstrated various cooking techniques using U.S. beef and pork.
“This is the main site for Mayo Clinic doctors, development officials and dignitaries to meet and have businesses lunches,” Schmoll explained. “Chef McCarty is in charge of the food preparation for those events. In the past, he has been to my farm to conduct barbeque demonstrations for international trade team delegates.”
Media coverage of the visit was significant, as television, radio and newspaper reporters filed reports from various stops made by the Japanese team. KAAL-TV in Austin broadcast a story titled, “From Farm to Japanese Plate.” WNAX Radio in Yankton, South Dakota, filed this report, while the Brownfield Network offered this during a midweek broadcast.
Newspaper coverage included an article in the Worthington Daily Globe that explained Japan’s interest in learning about U.S. agriculture.