News and Stories

Markon Hosts Fourth Annual Chef Summit to Focus on Produce Innovation, Recipe Creation, and Education

October 16, 2018

Markon and its Members Also Donate $10,000 to Rancho Cielo Drummond Culinary Academy

Foodservice chefs from across North America recently gathered to learn, collaborate, and innovate new ways to use produce on menus at Markon’s Fourth Annual Chef Summit.

The Chef Summit, held September 17-19, 2018 in Monterey, California, brought together 17 chefs from Markon’s members (Ben E. Keith Foods, Gordon Food Service, Gordon Food Service Canada, Maines Paper & Food Service, Nicholas & Company, Reinhart Foodservice, and Shamrock Foods Company) and foodservice operators. The chefs attended produce field tours, presentations around produce-centric menu and flavor trends, met with growers, and created unique recipes, with two culinary events: the green box challenge and blended mushroom contest.

Markon partnered with The Mushroom Council and asked attending chefs to submit blended mushroom recipes in advance of the Summit. The blended mushroom trend took off when the James Beard Foundation started the Blended Burger Project, and encouraged the nation’s top chefs to reimagine the iconic burger with finely minced mushrooms to enhance umami flavors and reduce fat, calories, and cholesterol. The practice has since spread across the country, gaining more adherents each year. Markon and The Mushroom Council chose the Summit’s participants’ top three recipe winners, which were served as lunch during the Chef Summit’s third day:

First place:

  • Sam Blackburn, Executive Chef, Northwest Texas Healthcare System
  • Recipe: Blended mushroom turkey meatballs with honey sriracha glaze, jasmine rice, and cucumber, mango and jicama relish.
  • Blackburn won $2,000

Second place:

  • Jenn Bushman, Creative Services Manager, Reinhart Foodservice
  • Recipe: Jalapeno mushroom patty melt
  • Bushman won $1,500

Third place:

  • Chris Casson, Director of Produce and Specialty Foods, Shamrock Foods Company
  • Recipe: Mighty mushroom burger with bacon jam and fried egg
  • Casson won $1,000

"We appreciate Markon’s understanding of the plant-forward strategy of adding finely diced or ground mushrooms to meat to make healthier, flavorful and more sustainable iconic foods that foodservice chefs want on their menus,” said Steve Solomon, Menu Strategist for The Mushroom Council. “The Markon chefs had a chance to create dishes with, what is called ‘The Blend,’ and they didn't disappoint – blended burgers, meatballs, and other meat-mushroom combinations were created that all the chefs in attendance agreed were among the best they ever tasted."

Another highlight of this year’s Summit was the $10,000 donation Markon and its members made to Rancho Cielo Drummond Culinary Academy, an alternative education school that teaches at-risk youth culinary skills, provides job placement opportunities, and offers transitional housing. The academy will use the $10,000 donation toward enhancing a variety of its programs and operations. Markon has partnered with the academy for the past three years to have students work hand-in-hand with the chefs at the Summit.

"The Drummond Culinary Academy is a testament to Rancho Cielo's remarkable vision and passion for their students," said Rich Wolowski, Markon’s Board Chairman and Gordon Food Service’s President and CEO. "Markon, its member companies, and the wonderful participating chefs are blessed to share in Rancho Cielo's mission through our annual Chef Summit. Together, we provide a unique development opportunity for young people, helping change lives while preparing them for great career opportunities in the culinary and hospitality industry. This donation by Markon's board is a further sign of our continuing commitment to Rancho Cielo and our heartfelt desire to positively impact the Salinas Valley community."    

This year, academy students participated in a hands-on learning demonstration, Q&A session with the chefs, and had the opportunity to work alongside the chefs during the green box challenge to develop new recipes or product usage ideas for a variety of salads and blends from Markon and its platinum sponsors Taylor Farms, Misionero, and Church Brothers. The winning recipe, developed by Sam Blackburn, Executive Chef for Northwest Texas Healthcare System, and Angel Morales, Shamrock Foods Company Corporate Chef, was a beet pasta beggar’s purse filled with wild mushrooms, aromatic herbs and greens, braised Markon Ready-Set-Serve Super Slaw, and cured meat with goat cheese ricotta.

Other Summit activities included:

  • Produce field tours: Chefs saw firsthand the growing and packing process for cabbage and snap peas. Chefs experienced the robust work involved in the harvesting and packing process, gained knowledge about the growth cycle and seed varieties, discussed pest management, learned more about food safety measures in place, and met with workers.
  • Produce trends: Flavor & The Menu Publisher/Owner, Cathy Holley, presented on the current produce-centric trends in restaurants coast to coast, highlighting the most popular and emerging dishes, and discussed creative ways chefs are using produce.
  • Supplier focus groups: The chefs engaged with the Summit’s sponsors in a round-robin discussion to give Taylor Farms, Misionero, and Church Brothers the opportunity to discuss regional culinary trends and gain insights for products currently in development.
  • The supplier “speed dating” expo: Chefs were introduced to several of Markon’s supplier-partners’ new and innovative products in a fast-paced meet and greet.
  • The Mushroom Council presentation: In addition to tasting delicious blended mushroom recipes, the chefs participated in a discussion with The Mushroom Council’s Solomon about the growing opportunity to increase the use of mushrooms throughout foodservice menus.

“I’ve been attending the Markon Chef Summit since its inception, and I find the experience and learnings I walk away with unparalleled. Each year, Markon keeps the format fresh and presents us with a wealth of new information and ideas. We collaborate and create innovative, on-trend recipes with new and existing Markon products,” said Chris Casson, Director of Produce and Specialty Foods, Shamrock Foods Company. “I also enjoy working alongside the culinary students at the Rancho Cielo Drummond Academy. This portion of the Summit allows us seasoned chefs to give back and help shape the future generation. I am already anticipating next year’s Summit.”

About Markon
From its headquarters in Salinas, California, Markon Cooperative Inc. provides fresh produce purchasing, logistics, information, and marketing services exclusively to its seven member distributors (Ben E. Keith Foods, Gordon Food Service, Gordon Food Service Canada, Maines Paper & Food Service, Nicholas & Company, Reinhart Foodservice, and Shamrock Foods Company) and their North American foodservice customers. A leader in food safety, quality control, and innovation, Markon is also mindful of the produce industry's impact on people—from field workers to consumers. Learn more about Markon at