Culinary and Food Service
Connecting Current and Future Chefs with America's Favorite Protein: Texas Beef Council’s Culinary and Foodservice Program
Convincing consumers about beef’s great taste and versatility is certainly a focus for the staff at the Texas Beef Council (TBC). However, promoting beef to the culinary and foodservice industry is also an integral part of TBC’s overall marketing strategy. By sharing beef information with professional chefs – as well as chef instructors, post-secondary educators and high school culinary instructors – the Texas Beef Council (TBC) works hard to put more beef on menus throughout the Lone Star State.
Over the past five years, staff at TBC has developed numerous ways to promote beef to this influential group. Robert Hale, manager of culinary and foodservice at the Texas Beef Council, coordinates “Beef Loving Chefs,” a program designed to encourage chefs and other foodservice professionals to include beef in their recipes.
Building a Community With Beef
TBC developed Beef Loving Chefs as a one-stop resource for chefs and foodservice professionals intended to increase beef sales.
“We have a private Facebook page with around 900 members right now,” Hale says. “There, we share information, videos and other content we’re producing specifically for social media. Our members go to our page to find new employees, new jobs and talk about their work with their peers in a closed group setting. And, beef is what brings them together.”
By educating these individuals about topics ranging from cattle ranching and beef production to proper cutting techniques and recipe development, Beef Loving Chefs has become a trusted third-party resource and online community for foodservice professionals statewide.
Since it launched two years ago, Beef Loving Chefs has really taken off with beef producers having the opportunity to get involved as well. One unique way that producers can assist is by hosting a Pasture to Plate tour. During these tours, TBC staff take chefs out to cattle ranches where they can talk with beef producers about how they raise a delicious, wholesome product. These groups have also toured processing plants and other sectors of the beef industry to learn about beef’s role in a sustainable food system.
“Pasture to Plate tours are a great way for us to connect chefs with the people who are producing the beef they love,” says Hale. “Programs like this one aim to bridge the gap between the two industries and provide beef education and resources along the way. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”
Mentoring the Next Generation of Chefs
While working with established chefs is certainly important, so is reaching out to educators and other culinary instructors who play a major role in grooming tomorrow’s foodservice workforce.
“We do many of the same activities with post-secondary culinary students that we do with our professional chef network,” Hale explains. “The Culinary Institute of America and many of the community colleges here in Texas have very strong culinary programs and do a great job of educating students and preparing them for the next level.”
TBC’s Foodservice Program also reaches out to an even younger and more impressionable audience of future chefs. High school home economics classes have evolved into culinary arts programs at many schools, and these programs attract many students who are interested in foodservice careers.
“There are more than 320 culinary programs in Texas high schools that operate a full commercial kitchen,” Hale adds. “We feel it’s important to reach out to these programs and help those instructors educate their students about beef right from the get-go.”
Some Texas high schools now have Career Technology Education (CTE) centers that house a variety of specialized programs like arts, automotive, agriculture and culinary. Neighboring high schools will often bus their interested students into these CTE centers where chef instructors teach a curriculum developed by the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation and adopted by the Texas Restaurant Association Education Foundation.
“That curriculum is called ‘Pro Start,’ a two-year high school culinary education program that we helped develop here at the Texas Beef Council,” Hale says. “It contains a tremendous amount of beef information, as well as lesson plans and videos that can help former home economics teachers focus less on home cooking skills and more on commercial foodservice. It’s all about helping these students get started on a path toward careers in the foodservice industry where they’ll hopefully feature beef on their future menus.”
TBC helps the high school culinary instructors get various educational materials including posters, infographics and statistics to use in their classroom kitchens. The curriculum currently includes TBC’s new six-part video series, “The Raw Truth About Beef,” an online experience that goes behind the scenes to learn about each stage in the beef lifecycle. Often, TBC staff will also travel to schools and perform a beef cooking or cutting demo, or the classes will travel to the TBC office for hands-on training.
Another way that TBC provides beef education is through the Culinary Educators Training Conference, an event that attracts approximately 120 high school culinary teachers each year. For three days, the teachers learn various culinary skills, many of which involve beef cutting and preparation.
All of these efforts help the teachers and their students prepare for the “Pro Start” Invitational, a competition where 40 high school teams in Texas demonstrate their culinary skills and foodservice management. Twelve teams end up going to the state competition, and one winning team advances to the national competition.
Measuring Success and Planning for the Future
Through all these programs, TBC has reached hundreds – if not thousands – of current and future foodservice professionals in just five short years. And, while that’s important, it does not mean anything unless the program achieves its ultimate goal: selling more beef.
“We regularly evaluate our efforts and look at specific numbers that indicate success,” Hale says. “How many people are in the Beef Loving Chefs group, how many people we’ve taken on our Pasture to Plate tours, how many we’ve trained on beef cutting and preparation techniques – this all helps us understand how we can continue to reach chefs in meaningful ways.”
TBC is always looking for ways to evolve the program and find new ways to teach chefs and students about beef’s versatility.
Certainly, the restaurant and foodservice industry is one that has been hit hard by COVID-19. TBC understands that they will need to change their approach as the situation continues to unfold throughout 2020 and beyond.
Hale says he knows things will be tough for the chefs and restaurants throughout Texas, but he believes there will be opportunity when the dust settles.
“We will have to shift our focus a little and see how things play out. Some restaurants will come back and thrive; others may be closed for good. But new ones will open, and we’ll learn from this experience. And, we’ll take what we’ve learned and integrate it into our programs and curriculums. Our community of foodservice professionals was strong before this crisis, and they’ll be there for each other during and after it as well.”