By Dan Phalen
In mid-June, I was honored to be one of 16 chefs invited by the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council to attend a 3-day Blueberry Boot Camp at the Greystone campus of the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley. I just can’t say enough about what a great experience the 2013 Blueberry Boot camp was.The representatives of the Blueberry Council were so gracious and accommodating, we all were treated like longtime friends. The program was put together with tons of great info but also a great balance of hands-on to actually work with the various blueberry products. Chef Lars Kronmark, a CIA chef-instructor, walked us through a fascinating tasting of blueberry products, including sugar-infused dried, powdered, microwave dried, dried bits and freeze-dried blueberries! We then got to take them into the teaching kitchen to work with them and develop ways to use those products along with fresh and frozen blueberries in savory dishes.
As chefs we are often sent various brochures, given the product’s history, shown the warehouse it’s produced in, etc. but until we actually get to work with the product itself do we really get to understand its value and versatility. I can say that this was definitely achieved and we were given several hands-on sessions in the fantastic kitchens at the CIA along with Chef Lars, our CIA guide Courtney Koehn, and their team of passionate students. It was an outstanding experience and we were shown so much diversity in products and capabilities for blueberries.
As chefs and even consumers you think you know everything you can do with something as common as a blueberry but an event like this can really teach you to expand your horizons and truly think outside the box. I think the only thing that I would have added is one more, no-holds-barred, free-for-all, hands-on kitchen session but maybe that’s just me being greedy and wanting more time to cook.
In all it was a perfect event and such a blessing for me to attend. I will remember this event as one of the top experiences in my culinary career. Thanks to all who made this possible and extending me the invitation.
Dan Phalen, CEC, is the Corporate Executive Chef for Luby’s Fuddruckers and oversees all culinary for Luby’s cafeterias, Luby’s Culinary Services, Fuddruckers and Cheeseburgers in Paradise restaurants. Dan has competed in numerous culinary competitions and has been awarded bronze, silver, and gold medals.