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Chefs Take a Pulse Journey from Farm to Fork for Alberta Chefs Day (PCN Fall 2016) SEP 19 2016 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News

This article appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of Pulse Crop News.

Alberta Chefs Day provided new experiences with pulses for culinary experts as they took a journey from farm to fork.

Nine accomplished chefs packed into vans from Edmonton and Calgary on June 7, along with food writers and staff from Alberta Pulse Growers (APG) and Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance, to learn more about the nutritious and versatile powerhouses to which 2016 was dedicated by the United Nations. Tucked away in coolers, each chef had brought along samples of a new pulse dish that could potentially be sold as ready to eat at grocery stores to be judged by experts at the Food Processing Development Centre (FPDC) in Leduc at the final stop of the tour.

After an early start from the two major centres, the two vans converged at custom farmer Troy Monea’s yellow pea field near Falun in central Alberta.

APG Research Officer Jenn Walker dug up a small pea seedling to show the chefs how the pulses that end up in their kitchen start out. Most of the chefs had never before stood in the dirt as pea plants grew as far as the eye could see.

“I like hanging out with like-minded people and to see how crops look in the ground,” said Brad Smoliak, owner of Kitchen by Brad in Edmonton. “I’ve never seen peas growing in a field like that, and I’m hoping to grow a food industry in Alberta, including food production and processing. There are only four or five plants like the Leduc centre in North America, so we’re very lucky to have that.”

The chefs had many questions for Walker about how pulses grow in Alberta.

The group also discussed the challenge of obtaining local pulses because there’s been limited domestic demand.

APG Food and Nutrition Coordinator Debra McLennan recommended looking for product of Canada labelling on beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas because the product was likely grown in western Canada.

“There are whisperings of a processing facility being set up in Alberta,” McLennan said. “If we can build that consumer demand, it will push it.”

Walker added: “If we can get pulses used in foodservice and the cool restaurants, there’s an opportunity for that. The world has traditionally sold pulses as a poor man’s protein, but it’s an amazing product you can use in all different dishes and industry has started to notice.”

The chefs shared their own experiences with pulses during lunch at the Pigeon Lake Eco Café, where Chef Tim Woods offered beet and chickpea hummus and lentil flatbread to start.

“I think that pulses don’t get enough credit,” said Melanie Hennessey, Pastry Chef at WinSport in Calgary. “They’re always in the background, and the average home cook doesn’t know how versatile they are. It’s worth getting out there as much as possible to let people know what pulses are available and how versatile they are, such as in pulse flours.”

Sean Cutler, Chef at Calgary’s Chef’s Table, added that International Year of Pulses 2016 is a good opportunity to share the positive message of pulses with more people.

“Pulses are a good alternative to potatoes, but you can do so much more with pulses,” he said. “It’s just knowing how to cook them.”

Andrea Harling, Chef at Calgary’s Made Foods, added: “Pulses are more affordable too. If you could get that message out more, it would help. It’s about education.”

The day’s events culminated in a tour and competition at Alberta Agriculture and Forestry’s FPDC, which opened in 1984. It serves to encourage the growth and expansion of the food and beverage industry in highly competitive domestic and global markets.

The Food Processing Development Centre is a modern, fully equipped pilot plant and product development laboratory facility. It is staffed with experienced food scientists, engineers and technologists. Centre services are designed to strengthen and expand the capability of Alberta’s food processors to meet the challenges of the marketplace through application of new technology and the development of new or improved products and processes. A $10 million expansion for the centre was announced this summer. Last year, the centre had 130 applications for accommodation, and 80 by June 7 of this year.

“There’s a great interest in foods and it’s very exciting for us,” said Wanda Aubee, Director of Programs at FPDC. “We can work with small entrepreneurs and multi-national companies. We have facilities, but it’s the scientific knowledge and expertise of our staff that put the FPDC at a world class level and provide our clients with the support they need to succeed. Each client is paired with a scientific lead. We work with all kinds of commodity groups – obviously we work with pulses.”

The chefs each presented their pulse based fare to be judged by the food scientists for potential to scale-up at the facility for retail sale. The chefs dazzled the judges – and each other – with culinary creations that included Beano-ua Salad, Lentil and Coconut Soup, Split Pea Soup and Fried Quail Egg, and Chocolate Cricket Lentil Cookie.