In planning The New York Produce Show and Conference, we knew that we couldn’t be in a great restaurant town like New York and not do some cooking. More than that, we recognized that much of the challenge for fresh produce, whether looked at from a trade interest or public policy approach, revolved around increasing consumption. In the end, consumption of produce in general can only increase if the consumption of individual items increases.
To us that sounded like recipe redevelopment. We were fortunate to find Chef Camille Becerra. Although known to many from her time on Top Chef Season 3, we found intriguing the way she ran her own restaurant, where the menu changed every day to capitalize on what was flavorful.
She was flexible enough to develop recipes for 14 different fruits and vegetables, and she will demo all of them at the show. More than that, she will make the recipes available so restaurants can use them to woo patrons to try more fresh produce, and retailers can provide them to consumers so they can get their families to eat more fresh.
Best of all, the recipes can all be completed within a half-hour and require nothing more than a sauté pan and a food processor.
Chef Becerra will be with us at the New York Produce Show and Conference all day — here demos will start at 10:15 — cooking, teaching, laughing and sampling. We were fortunate to find someone who shares our mission and who is willing to share the profits of a most interesting life — she has cooked for monks in a Zen Center, prepared macrobiotic food to help cancer patients, had nightmares on Top Chef and, we just can’t leave out her experience moving back to Spanish Harlem and discovering she was living in a building where they were filming gay porn movies!
We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more:
Chef and Restaurateur
New York, New York
Q: Are you ready to whip up a cornucopia of fruit and vegetable dishes for produce-savvy attendees at the inaugural New York Produce Show and Conference?
A: I can’t wait! I’m doing cooking demos all day. Every half hour, I’ll be utilizing a new fruit or vegetable. I’ve been locked in my kitchen developing all the recipes and will print them out so everyone can have one and can spread the word about how to utilize fresh fruits and vegetables in their cooking. I’m inspired. I have a platform to cook and teach for a full day, which is exciting.
New York is ready for a New York Produce Show and Conference. I think it is high time. As chefs, we understand the importance of fresh produce and that’s what consumers are looking for now more than ever.
Q: What trends are you experiencing?
A: There is a real resurgence in buying locally produced product for restaurants and a lot more awareness drawn for sustainability. With that trend, more restaurants are incorporating vegetables from local farms and featuring dishes devoted to a specific vegetable.
Consumers are becoming more health-conscious and moving away from so many beef-centric dishes. With farms specializing in great heirloom vegetables and specialty items, it gives chefs more to work with. I’m also seeing a shift in menu formations in many restaurants.
Q: In what ways?
A: Coming off of the health kick and spotlight on farms, vegetables are getting their own category on menus. The traditional approach is sectioning appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Now I’m seeing segmented categories designated as seafood, meat, and vegetables.
Q: How important is the produce category for you as chef?
A: Throughout my career, I have showcased vegetables. You don’t have to do that much to them to bring out their flavors. Vegetables on their own are already prepared in a way. At one point in my career, I studied macrobiotic cooking and prepared food for cancer patients to help them on the road to recovery. Eating produce is a way to fight illness, detox and give your body a break. It takes a lot for your body to digest meats.
Q: What you describe goes beyond tasty food preparation to a broader lifestyle approach…
A: At home, I usually make huge Sunday dinners, but we’re a vegetarian family. During the week, I’m a big fan of different grains, I’ll roast some vegetables, prepare a salad of root vegetables and sunflower seeds. I’ll make scallops and couscous and sauté some mixed hearty greens. For Middle Eastern flavors, I like roasting carrots with Nigella seeds or black onion seeds.
As far as Asian food, there is nothing better than a stir-fry. When my daughter’s friends come over to the house, they’ll say they don’t like vegetables. But they think my “go-to” — stir-fry with garlic, ginger, a little honey and soy sauce — is magic. At restaurants, I never order from the kids’ menu. Whatever I’m having, I share with my daughter. Especially in the cities, there are so many parents like me.
Q: Did you have a similar upbringing to inspire you in becoming a chef?
A: I grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a lower/middle class neighborhood. As an immigrant, my mom shopped at the supermarket. I thought farms were in the Midwest! As soon as I graduated from high school, I traveled to North Carolina, where I discovered great farmer’s markets. I enjoyed buying fresh produce and finding ways to prepare it. I taught myself to cook.
Q: Were there chefs you admired or tried to emulate?
A: It was the 90’s, but my first cookbook was Moosewood, a hippie, vegetarian cookbook from a little restaurant in upstate New York, which was published in the 70’s. I realized my passion and decided to go to culinary school. I moved back to New Jersey and attended the Academy of Culinary Arts. I lived in Cape May, one of the first resorts in the country, very Victorian and quaint. It’s the last point on the peninsula, and oddly enough, there were farms there, supporting the fresh market.
Q: How did your career progress from there?
A: I traveled many places within the country, cooking in different restaurants. I was a city girl, but I also did stints working on different farms, getting my hands dirty and helping out.
Q: So you really got a feel for all aspects of the produce industry…
A: I did so many different jobs. In addition to my macrobiotic cooking, I lived in a Zen colony cooking for monks with Samurai training. The lineage was so intact. Not much has changed there from the original teachings.
Q: How intriguing… please elaborate.
A: It was Mount Baldy Zen Center, 40 miles outside of Los Angeles. I was about 19 or 20 years old, around 1993. The monks would go into town to what Hunts Point Terminal Market is here to get donations of produce that was close to its expiration date. They would present me with boxes and boxes of two different things. I might get seven boxes of oranges and three of avocados.
When your choices are limited, that’s when creativity sets in! I’d make granola yogurt, tofu, all with recipes they’ve had for a hundred years. I cooked for the Zen Master, who was 100-years-old and from Japan. I was adventurous, but I grew up in a not-so-nice neighborhood, so this was paradise for me.
Q: Did your life in paradise continue after you left the Zen environment?
A: I moved from this ultra peaceful environment to a refurbished building in Spanish Harlem, New York. To my dismay, I discovered they were filming gay porn there! Needless to say I went crazy. What am I doing in the mid 90’s as a young cook in New York City? I’d have Sous-Chefs tell me, you’re a woman; this will be your first and last job.
I decided I didn’t like the high-end, old school. I took a job working at Angelica Kitchen, a woman-owned-and-run establishment. The owner took me under her wing, but I couldn’t afford living in New York City. I started working in the front of the house for better pay. I went from hostess to cocktail waitress to a managing position.
And then I got some investors to open my own restaurant, Paloma, in Brooklyn. We would develop our menu every day based on what was fresh at the market and promoted sustainable living. It was a great neighborhood, and I had established a comfortable life for myself.
Then the unimaginable happened. [Editor’s note: On November 4, during this interview, Becerra remembered the importance of this historic date]. Exactly two years ago on this day, Paloma went up in flames. Obama had just won the election and McCain was giving his concession speech, and someone called out, “The whole second floor of the restaurant is on fire!”
Q: That’s terrifying. How tragic…
A: I knew the firemen. They regularly came to Paloma to have burgers and beers. One of them hugged me and said, this was meant to be. God put this challenge in front of me. I’m meant to do something more. I lost everything, all the money I had invested. We were under-insured. I decided to take a year off from restaurant work and become a full time mom.
Q: Did you keep your contacts in the business?
A: I was doing benefit farm dinners using all their produce and meats, and the proceeds advanced educational projects. I also created a concept of Pop-Up Restaurants, where I capitalized on under-utilized restaurant space to throw underground dinner parties this spring and summer.
Q: That sounds resourceful…
A: It’s a great business, and has always been very profitable and attention-receiving, but it’s hard to pull off. You have to deal with temporary staff for four-day time periods, and there are complicated licensing agreements. It’s extremely demanding.
Q: What’s in the works now?
A: I’m a chef at a new restaurant that’s slated to open in December on Orchard Street, the lower east side, called APL. It stands for apple, but it’s spelled that way. It’s a project I’ve been working on for quite some time.
Q: Will the dishes be produce-centric?
A: It’s New American Cuisine, very seasonal, and including a lot of vegetable dishes. Everything will be really fresh, with a great selection of different grains. Meats are all sustainable, no antibiotics or hormones, and the dishes will incorporate global influences. They may contain Middle Eastern or Asian spices, but all will use local ingredients. I’m Latin so I love chili to build flavors and dimension.
Q: Where will you procure your produce?
A: We get a lot of our produce at the Union Square Market, and also have a great relationship with Baldor. They have a great reputation for their specialty vegetables.
Q: We can’t complete this interview without learning about your experience on Season 3 of Top Chef. How did you find yourself on this popular reality show?
A: I had opened Paloma recently. One of my friends, who ran a night club, loved the show but I had never watched it. One night I got a phone call from him at 3:00 in the morning, alerting me that the casting people and producer from Top Chef were at his club and they wanted to meet me.
From the time I met them to when I was in front of the camera was less than three weeks. Then I’m told you’re completely sequestered. They take your drivers license and credit cards. I started having bizarre nightmares. In one I was walking a pig on a tight rope in France. In another, serpents were coming out of the ocean to get me. I wasn’t enjoying myself. Now I had to figure out a way to get out of this on national television without losing my integrity.
Q: And were you successful?
A: I decided to make a cake without a recipe and they kicked me off! Five episodes later I was out and very happy. I made some great friends in the process. I developed a bond with Tom Colicchio. It turns out that we are both from Elizabeth, New Jersey. He’s become my mentor, mostly from a business standpoint. There are a lot of sharks out there and I’ve been burned. It’s great to be able to go to Tom for advice.
Q: Your new restaurant venture sounds like a breath of fresh air after some of the trials and tribulations you’ve undergone…
A: I’m excited to be back in the kitchen, where it’s not so much about the other intricacies of owning a restaurant. Now I can just be a chef. My job is going to be making beautiful food.
The New York Produce Show and Conference really does touch on all facets of the industry. The trade show, the conference, the networking events and, of course, the cooking and the recipes.
Although Chef Becerra is running the official demo program, many booths have brought in chefs of their own.
We hope you will decide to be at The New York Produce Show and Conference and to sample a little something Chef Becerra has prepared and, like an evangelist, take home one of her recipes so you can spread the word about the myriad ways of enjoying fresh fruits and vegetables.
You can learn more about the event here.
To save on waiting in line, register online here.
Or just come on by and register at the door.
The Hunts Point Market is probably the most misunderstood institution in our industry. Retailers often think they save money by cutting out the middleman, but there is a great deal of doubt about that point. It is not only a matter of price… retailers who buy with the intent of avoiding purchases from the market inevitably over order. This means they have higher shrink than they need to. It also means that they are tempted to hold off on buying fresh product so they can use up inventory, and this means their customers don’t get as fresh a product as they could.
Most retailers would be better off ramping down their direct purchases a bit on most items. They would actually sell more by always having fresh product. In most of the country this would be impossible — there are no independent wholesalers that are stocked with enough produce to be relied upon as a source for most large retailers. Hunts Point and a few other markets can really serve that purpose.
Shippers also sometimes misunderstand the value of Hunts Point to their business. Sure, very often, the returns that shippers get may be lower than other sales, but those other sales are only possible because Hunts Point is there to take the unsold volume. In other words, many shippers sell all they can to their retail customers, to the foodservice distributors and to smaller wholesalers. Then, on the few markets that can handle volume, they ship what is left sometimes on a consignment or price-after-sale basis.
When the shippers send this product off they realize that if they go back to the chain store that booked 10 loads and ask the chain buyer to buy 20 loads, if the chain would do it at all, the chain buyer will want a cheaper price on all the loads, including those already purchased, so the chain can go on sale with the item to move the extra loads.
Unfortunately by the time the account sales is done or the price-after-sale negotiated, shippers sometimes forget the reason they sent those loads to Hunts Point and forget that this was all extra income above and beyond what they were able to sell to other customers.
In truth, retailers can never fully replace markets because retailers buy what they want — they pick the size, the variety, the grade — whereas wholesale markets such as Hunts Point help growers sell what they need to. This is a great public service.
In fact, politicians who inevitably make markets a low priority would do well to realize their function. They are the distribution centers for small and midsize retailers, restaurants and the purveyors who supply them. So if we want an entrepreneurial society, where the path to upward mobility is available to everyone, including the dynamic new generation of ethnic retailers and restaurateurs, we have to make sure that the distribution centers that these entrepreneurs rely on are a competitive edge. This means that a top urban priority should be to have world class terminal markets.
And in an age where seemingly everyone wants to support local growers and diverse agriculture, only a vibrant terminal market can help those local growers go beyond the very limited sales they can do direct to consumer.
There are still a number of American cities with vibrant terminal markets, but the scale on which Hunts Point operates makes it unique. Many grower/shippers and retailers who don’t have operations in New York have street buyers or buying brokers who pick up fill-in items; the retailers can buy many specialty imported items that are not commonly available elsewhere; the retailers can take advantage of special opportunities when market prices diverge from the FOB. Even grower/shippers use the high volume on the market to pick up product when they are short in order to meet commitments and cover customer needs.
The truth is that the market and the people on it are misunderstood and don’t get the respect they deserve. Now, this colossus of produce marketing is stirring and about to do some marketing of its own, a kickoff of which is taking place at The New York Produce Show and Conference, which includes a special tour of the market.
We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more:
President of Joseph Fierman & Son
Bronx, New York
Q: Hunts Point Terminal Market has long been a cornerstone of the New York produce scene. What is driving the new marketing campaign on its behalf? We thought it ideal to highlight your efforts as chairman of the committee devoted to this unprecedented campaign…
To start, could you share with our readers a little about yourself and your dedication to Hunts Point Market?
A: I’ve been in business 30 plus years now, third generation. I started on the docks working for my grandfather loading 100-pound bags of potatoes from railroad cars. It’s the only way to learn the business, from the ground up, Produce 101… from a foreman, I jumped to a salesman, where I was led into the office to talk to a shipper about buying something, and I continued to become more and more entrenched in the business.
We’re such a large market, there’s dynamic, day-to-day banter between merchants and customers; it’s a fast-paced, energetic business filled with colorful stories passed down through the generations.
Q: What are the goals of the new marketing campaign? Is this a first for Hunts Point Market?
A: Five months ago, our board of directors had this public relations committee, and it hadn’t gone anywhere. Co-President Mathew D’Arrigo asked me to take over the committee. We looked at the introduction of the new market in Philadelphia, and all the competition from the wholesale clubs in our area. We were losing business to these guys. We needed to put a new spin on the Market to let people know how friendly it can be.
Q: Did you see the inaugural edition of The New York Produce Show and Conference as a catalyst?
A: It started out about The New York Produce Show and Conference coming in November and how we would present our booth. It began to spiral from there. We produced a promotional video that we’re going to run, and we wanted someone to be our spokesperson.
We considered using people inside the industry, but then I saw the perfect guy, Tony Tantillo, on CBS News. He coins himself the Fresh Grocer. I fired off an email to him about being our spokesperson for the Market. Soon after, I got a phone call and he invited me to visit him at the CBS office in Manhattan.
Tony Tantillo loves Hunts Point Market. His parents were wholesalers on the San Francisco Market. He’s charismatic, and while he’s not a native New Yorker, he’s got the New York vibe. Hunts Point Market has sponsorship of his segment on the daily show, brought to you by the New York markets, with farmers and our slogans.
This is not so much about a sales campaign to buy; we’re marketing a brand for the Market. I compare it to Boeing aircraft on T.V. Everyone knows the brand but is not going out to buy Boeing. This is not to get housewives to come to Hunts Point, but she can ask her grocer, “Did you get this from Hunts Point?”
Q: Will your video production work get much exposure?
A: The produce video is great and we just signed a contract with Time Warner. It will reach in the neighborhood of 3.5 million households, right through the tip of New Jersey. These are 30-second spots branding the market that Hunts Point is a great place to shop.
Q: Where do you see the most buyer attrition and why? Which buyers are you trying to woo back? And how will this effort attract new customers?
A: Restaurants and grocery stores go to wholesale clubs, but can only buy what they are featuring that day, maybe Class A lettuce, where if they come to Hunts Point Market, not only do they get the largest selection of all the different lettuces, but also a variety in qualities and price points, which can vary from one end of the spectrum to the other.
These wholesale, price clubs have special hours where customers normally would come to Hunts Point to go to shop. It’s not a matter of quality; it is about convenience.
People forget Hunts Point is the food distribution scene. We have meat and fish markets right here. We are beginning to discuss with the meat and fish markets about branding of this center. It’s an evolution.
Q: Is this type of marketing strategy something new for Hunts Point Market?
A: The produce industry has never gone this direction before and done public relations marketing. It’s smart if it works; it’s all new territory to the committee and board… nothing ventured, nothing gained. We hope it will reintroduce the Market to mid-line wholesalers, green grocers and it might open up a door or two.
Q: What are the key points you’re trying to convey through the video?
A: The video will be at the show. We’ll introduce the video at the breakfast, which we are co-sponsoring, and then it will play all day at the booth. It came out fantastically. The images show things on many levels, introduces you to Hunts Point, shows a visual of the Market and the wide range of available product, and some history about its roots in the Washington Market. Overall, it gives you a welcoming feeling to shop for price, quality and variety.
Q: Could you put into perspective the size and scope of the Market?
A: I say Hunts Point Market is the Macy’s of Harold Square for food distribution. Philadelphia’s doesn’t handle near the volume. We estimate generating a little over two billion dollars a year in volume.
Q: Will your marketing campaign capitalize on the Internet and tap into other forms of social media?
A: We’ve also introduced a website, another new forey of marketing the Market. The website will give you daily updates on the Market, and feed into Face Book and Twitter. People can apply for credit applications, see lists of vendors, and a number of our shippers are partnering up with links on our website. You can come and advertise with Hunts Point Produce Market. It’s another avenue the Market has taken, and it’s a sophisticated, interactive website: HuntsPointProduceMkt.com
Q: Attendees to The New York Produce Show and Conference will include federal, state and local government officials. Could you make a case to them about the Market’s significance?
A: The Market has 3,500 well-paying union jobs with good benefits, health, pension, welfare. We keep an affordable food supply available to the masses of the New York region. Based on ethnicities and the cultural make-up of New York City, the Market lends itself to all these areas, where a price club is more focused.
A city dweller doesn’t need a crate of paper towels. When it comes to urban areas of New York, it’s the green grocer that is really king, where a consumer can buy one tomato or three potatoes, or a head of lettuce. You don’t have to buy six pounds of peppers. It’s all about the quality of the product; no one wants to waste.
With the consolidation of the large supermarket chains in New York, you only have one or two wholesalers supplying these larger chain stores. There used to be 15 or 20 supermarkets, but with the reduced numbers, supply is now all coming out of C&S, one distribution center, which makes it less competitive.
Q: There will be plenty of chain buyers at the show. How could they benefit from Hunts Point Market?
A: The idea of Hunts Point being a high-level sponsor at this trade show is partly to get bigger retailers to realize they don’t need to buy everything in big quantities on contract. Taking advantage of the spot market on a day-to-day basis could save them 30 percent.
Why do they always have to overbuy with contracts? It seems economies would dictate a different approach. There used to be street buyers. That is what made Waldbaum’s great, because they could bring the best value to consumers.
We don’t know six months out there will be a glut of honeydews. In a contract, say the big chain buyer paid $13, but in this Hunts Point scenario they’d get them for $7. These buyers are missing all the great bargains, and consumers are missing out too and forgetting what fresh is about.
Why are some of the small chain stores making such a big splash in these areas? They’re putting out good produce and getting paid for it by giving consumers what they want.
Consumers are finding delicious Hunts Point Market produce from a street vendor down the block for half the price and wondering why they can’t get it from their local supermarket. Why should there be anything that’s not the best being served to the consumer?
Q: How does this marketing campaign play into the long-time discussions about building a new market?
A: A new market may not be out of the question for Hunts Point, but as we weigh the issues involved in a $300 million or $400 million investment, we are still continuously improving what we have and being the best at what we are. That’s the spirit we’re bringing forth.
Q: As attendees unfamiliar with the Hunts Point Produce Market make their way to The New York Produce Show and Conference; do you have any last minute thoughts that might be helpful for them?
A: My only words of wisdom are come and shop at Hunts Point. You don’t know what you’re missing.
Whether you are a buyer or a seller, if you are in New York, you owe it to yourself to see Hunts Point. The New York Produce Show and Conference is making it easy to do that by incorporating the market into our regional tour program on Thursday, November 11, 2010.
You can learn more about the event by looking here.
You can register for The New York Produce Show and Conference right here
Or just sign up for the tour of Hunts Point right here.
We recommend signing up in advance so as to avoid waits and to guarantee a place on the tour, but you certainly can also sign up at the show registration desk starting on Tuesday after 4 pm at the Hilton New York.
One of our goals when we launched PRODUCE BUSINESS 25 years ago was to help elevate the esteem in which the industry was held among policy makers, consumers, the media, academia and, indeed, the industry members themselves and their families.
We doubled down on this goal when the Eastern Produce Council and PRODUCE BUSINESS joined hands to present The New York Produce Show and Conference.
Now, with the show imminent, high above The Avenue of the America — that is 6th Avenue for the native New Yorkers reading — there are banners flying proclaiming the existence of a new industry institution — The New York Produce Show and Conference.
These banners are a quintessentially New York institution, and they proudly proclaim everything from the Tony Awards to Museum exhibitions to High-Tech Trade Shows.
Of course, this is a trade-only show and conference, so spending money on these banners won’t get us any exhibitors or attendees but millions of people will see these banners and we hope each one will move the industry up a notch in their esteem as they reflect for one microsecond on the fact that the produce industry isn’t just a clerk at the supermarket or a farmer far away… that it is an industry, a sophisticated supply chain and that the people who make it up work very hard, with great intelligence and dedication to bring the fruit of the earth to the people of the world.
The New York Produce Show and Conference is literally upon us. As we wrote before, we thought it might be helpful to maintain a roundup of some of the pieces we’ve written about the upcoming event.
This is the last round-up before the event.
For those whose schedule allows, we urge you to take a look at these articles as you are bound to find value that will justify making a trip to the event.
Remember, you can learn more about the event here.
And you can register right here.
Yet whether you can attend or not, we think attention to these 19 articles is worthwhile. Obviously, we can’t begin to profile all that is going on at the show, yet just what is here suggests a body of work that wrestles with many of the challenges the industry faces. Local, organic, traceability, increasing consumption — all this is discussed, and it is combined with a trade show and cooking demos, educational component and networking events.
This is just Year One. Both at The Eastern Produce Council and PRODUCE BUSINESS, we are certainly hoping to get input and feedback that will let us do a better job next year.
But if you read the articles below, you will also realize that we have put together a formidable event. We hope you will come and experience it.
Roundup of articles:
1) New Event Planned For 2010: Eastern Produce Council And PRODUCE BUSINESS Announce The New York Produce Show And Conference
2) New York Metro’s Economy Is 12th Largest In The World
3) Retail “Thought Leaders” Panel Announced For The New York Produce Show And Conference
4) Famed Food Writer Joan Nathan To Speak At New York Produce Show And Conference
5) A New Hypothesis On Local:
To Boost Sales, Sell It Through Supermarkets… Cornell’s Miguel Gomez Previews His Upcoming Talk At The New York Produce Show And Conference
6) Rutger’s Professor Ramu Govindasamy To Speak Out At The New York Produce Show And Conference…Research On Asian And Hispanic Produce Marketing On The East Coast Identifies A Profitable Opportunity
7) Research To Be Unveiled At The New York Produce Show And Conference Shows ‘Local’ Preference Versus Organic
8) Rooftop Farm Just Part Of The New York Experience
9) Exciting Spouse/Companion Program Highlighted At The New York Produce Show And Conference
10) Professors From Cornell And Arizona State Universities To Unveil Generic Produce Promotion Research Results At New York Produce Show And Conference
11) PTI Voice Pick Code Solution May Propel Progress, While Presentation By Gary Fleming At New York Produce Show And Conference Offers Path For Fragmented New York Region Closer To Compliance
12) New York Produce Show And Conference Retains DMA Solutions For Consumer-Influencer Outreach
13) Pundit Mailbag — Professor John Stanton’s Presentation At New York Produce Show And Conference ‘Worth The Registration Fee Alone’
14) When In New York… Meet The Vegetable Butcher At Mario Batali’s Eataly
15) Tour To New Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market Offers A Glimpse Into The Future Of Produce Wholesaling In America
16) New York Produce Show And Conference Enlists Services Of Lewis & Neal To Educate Influential Bloggers And Media About The Industry
17) Top Chef Camille Beccera To Cook Up Produce Dishes At The New York Produce Show And Conference
18) Hunts Point Produce Market Unveils New Marketing/PR Campaign At The New York Produce Show And Conference
19) The Produce Industry Is Flying High In New York City!