OBC, Chefs Cook Up Joint Venture

What happens when the Oregon Blueberry Commission (OBC) enters into a partnership with some of Oregon’s leading chefs? All kinds of tasty things, according to the man who conceived the concept.

It all started last fall when retired Oregon chef Leif Benson was on a trade mission to Asia along with ODA Director Katy Coba and Oregon Potato Commission Administrator Bill Brewer.

“Bill and Katy and I were on a ferry boat traveling from Hong Kong to Macao, and I was talking to Katy about this concept I have about creating a partnership between the (American Culinary Federation) Chefs de Cuisine Society of Oregon and the (food oriented) commodity commissions of Oregon,” Benson said. “She thought it was a great idea.”

From that initial talk evolved a program whereby several Oregon commodity commissions, including OBC, have already become honorary members of the chefs society, which has some 130 chef members.

Essentially, these unions are very interactive with Oregon producers educating chefs about their various crops, such as potatoes, hazelnuts, crab, beef and blueberries, while in return chefs make themselves available to promote these crops with their peers and consumers domestically and even abroad.

Chef Leif Benson

Benson, a native of Sweden who was raised and trained in the San Francisco Bay area and recently retired as executive chef at Timberline Lodge, recently appeared before Oregon blueberry growers to explain the program. “We basically brainstormed some ideas on what chefs look for with blueberries and really how to market blueberries from an end user/consumer/chef point of view.”

One of the next steps in the OBC program, said Benson, is for the Blueberry Commission to select a Blueberry Month of the Year, during which time chefs will feature blueberries on their menus and the Commission will seek to enlighten chefs on the crop to possibly include chef-oriented tours of blueberry farms.

“There will just be a number of things – options – for the Commission and chefs to collaborate on and get the word out about blueberries,” Benson said. “This will be a multi-layered thing.”

Furthermore, Benson sees other promotional efforts arising, such as chefs appearing on TV to promote blueberries, cooking contests featuring blueberries and in-store cooking demonstrations.

While Benson believes it will take about two years for him to work his way through all of the Oregon food-based commodity commissions and make individual presentations, he said that liaisons formed will extend beyond that. “Basically, we’re creating a presentation for each commission and then they can decide if they want to move ahead with it.”

As for possible offshore promotional efforts, Benson said that there are a number of different nationalities represented in the chefs society that could travel to their native lands to espouse blueberries to foreign chefs and consumers.

The great thing about the program is that the chefs society is a non-profit group and charges nothing save for out-of-pocket expenses, such as travel, for chefs to become ambassadors for the various commodities.

Benson, who has “been all over the world” and worked with a number of dignitaries promoting Oregon agriculture, said blueberries are his favorite berry “from a chef’s point of view (because) they handle so well and are great in so many ways.”

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Oregon Blueberry Commission • P.O. Box 3366 • Salem, Oregon 97302
Paid for by the Oregon Blueberry Commission, an agency of the State of Oregon.