US Potato Safari
A spud spree
By Nico Erle Ciriaco
Peru is the origin of potatoes; with the tubers planted on different altitudes of the vast Mt. Andes range. Varieties can come in russets, whites, reds, yellows as well as specialty crops of fingerlings, blue and purple. Any single spud is at least 110 calories, having no fat, with lots of fiber from its skin, containing 18 per cent potassium (based on the recommended daily allowance) that’s higher than those from banana and broccoli, and contains 45 percent vitamins B and C ( based on RDA).
Talk about the versatility of this tuberous crop and chefs would share firsthand how potatoes have become an integral ingredient to some of the world’s best cuisines. Half shells, skin-ons, tater tots, criss- cut fries, wedges, shoe-strings, chips, fries, and hash browns are some of the available US frozen potato varieties in the market. It’s complex carb and one required by our brains and muscle tissue. Potatoes are very filling and are the highest in satiety value from among 38 foods belonging to the carbohydrate group.
Besides variety, restaurateurs are assured of a steady supply because US potato growers offer processors a plentiful year-round delivery of the finest varieties that meet stringent FDA and USDA specifications. The ideal growing temperatures, rich soil, state-of-the-art processing facilities and generations of expertise required by the US frozen potatoes standard enable chefs to achieve a sumptuous meal with desirable appearance, taste, and texture.
“You simply get over them being fried and used as sides for the longest time. Now, they can be part of any dish from appetizers, main courses, entrees to desserts. The Philippines is the second largest potato consumer in Southeast Asia; at times toppling Malaysia from the top spot. It is also the 8th largest exporter of frozen potatoes worldwide.
“Frozen potatoes have the same nutrition as fresh ones. In a 1991 study conducted by the University of Illinois through the American Frozen Food Institute, it was found out that cryogenics did not injure the vitamins of the spud after processing. It is contact with air that affects the vitamin c and thiamine content of potatoes that’s why they darken after being peeled. And today, with issues on gluten-free content, potatoes are used in most soup dishes than croutons,” shared Susan Weller, international food marketing director for the US Potato Bureau (USPB).
“The USPB was born in 1971 with headquarters in Denver, Colorado. It has 104 appointed board members from farmers and growers state-wide. It is part of the USDA’s foreign agricultural service,” she added.
The USPB has taken a move to further enhance the capabilities of Filipino chefs by conducting seminars and trainings on the latest potato recipe around the world; including delectable food choices across Southeast Asia’s 17 regions. It also provided an avenue for chefs to experiment on the versatility of US frozen potatoes through the US Potato Safari.
For three days, Manila-based journalists and Cebu-based bloggers were able to experience a one-of-a-kind potato food marathon from Mediterranean to high-end Asian cuisines to warm comfort food finds. Restaurants such as The Suite Room with its high-end dishes, Circa 1900 who tediously prepared a seven-course feast for us (complete with wine pairing), and Anzani Mediterranean Cuisine with its authentic dishes and a sprawling wine cellar welcomed us all.
The safari ended with a delicious spread prepared by Marco Polo Hotel’s executive chef Stefano Virillo. His elegant presentation of dishes with an unforgettable taste grabbed a handful of accolades from among us guests. “Sixty-two per cent of our harvest are exported to other countries, whether as frozen, table stock, dehydrated, as chips, or seeds. I started Hoverson Farms in North Dakota with 13 acres in 1976. Now it is 5,000 acres of potatoes. You’ll find our farm on the map in the 49th parallel up north. There are 2,500 US potato growers. Most of these are family farms and multi-generational. Hoverson Farms straddles the River Valley, 300 miles long and 35 miles wide. The long hot days and cold nights (sometimes at -56 degrees) are favorable for raising potatoes,” revealed Carl Hoverson, Environmental Stewardship Awardee for using lesser pesticides on his crops. The crispy McDo fries we enjoy come from his farm.
To fully understand how versatile, unique, and easy to use US frozen potatoes are, media attendees were challenged to a special cook-off wherein each group of three have to create a set dish using them as key ingredient.
With US frozen potatoes, market growth and diversity is within the grasp of the Filipino food industry. Chefs at work and at home can make every dining opportunity both an occasion worth remembering and a work of art worth sharing.
At the end of the media cook-off, my team, Gandarah, romped off with the grand prize for our winning entry, Gambas a la Gandarah (see comment for recipe).
All the media groups were given an hour to prepare our dishes and another 5 minutes to present the finished concoction for judging. Each group prepared four separate plates for the judge’s panel composed of Carl Hoverson, co-chair, US Potato Board; Susan Weller, USPB international food marketing director; Dennis Uy, executive chef, Maribago Bluewater Resorts; and Stefano Verillo, executive chef, Marco Polo Hotels-Philippines. Each plated entry was judged on the innovative/creative use of the US frozen potato cut(s), 50 per cent; taste, 25 per cent; and plating/presentation, 25 per cent.
Delectable potato-infused dishes are currently available at The Suite Room (4F, Ayala Center Cebu, +6332-2540508), Circa 1900 (Sanjercasvil Road, Gorordo Ave., Lahug, +6332-2396265), and the Anzani Mediterranean Cuisines (Panorama Heights, Nivel Hills, Lahug, +6332-2327375) until the end of March.
For more details about the US Potato Safari, simply visit the Web site www.potatoesusa-philippines.com and/or call Ms. Reji Retugal-Onal through tel. nos. 534-8534 and 534-8223.