It’s been nearly twenty years since I started working in the produce industry. That’s a milestone in anyone’s book, and what I’ve noticed more than anything over this time is the evolution of quality. How the quality and flavor of American-grown fruits and vegetables…all of foodservice, in fact…has increased to compete with any other country in the world.
It wasn’t always this way. I remember a time when the U.S. didn’t have any Michelin-starred restaurants and for the most part, the fast-food segment (there were no such things as quick serve or fast casual then) gave you a choice of burgers or pizza. People would talk about Europe as if it was the mecca of eating—a place where every bite that went into your mouth was lovingly grown and prepared. And on my own trips abroad I agreed…never had I tasted such flavors or seen such delicious dishes.
Well, a lot has changed this side of the pond and it took a trip back to Europe to really make me see how amazing American cuisine has become.
I was recently in France for a family function. Before leaving all I could think about was the food I would be eating: the ripe cheeses, the crusty bread, the savory mushrooms, unctuous onion soups, and foamy cafés au lait. Don’t get me wrong, the meals we had were good, but the kicker was that they were really no better than anything I’d had at home over the past few years. In fact, because our produce is so much fresher, I’d say much of our food is better.
A light bulb went off in my head: the foodie generation really had succeeded in pushing our domestic chefs to new heights. I knew things had gotten better, but this much? The answer was and is yes.
By demanding meals from every conceivable cuisine (for where else in the world can you find so many different types of people that can make authentic dishes?) and motivating our farmers and artisans to grow and make the best-tasting ingredients possible, our increasingly educated restaurant customers have transformed the culinary marketplace completely.
In today’s foodservice market, customers can order just about anything their hearts desire…and not just in California or New York. From coast to coast people are enjoying falafel, banh mi, naanwiches, tapas, and tacos. And it’s not just foreign recipes that have emerged—our burgers have gone gourmet, our breads are artisan-made, our vegetables are house-pickled, and our kids’ menus are no longer an afterthought. Like my Ukrainian friend remarked at a Russian restaurant this week, “This tastes as authentic as home. Wait—it’s better than home because we could never get these gorgeous vegetables there!”
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m really proud to be part of the industry that stepped up the game. Together we’ve made huge strides in quality—including flavor, food safety, appearance, and texture—so that nobody has to fly across an ocean to get a first-rate meal.