Acclaimed Chefs Tour Mississippi Rice Country

People gathered around blue-topped table for milling demo
Rice farmer Carter Murrell (left) explains the milling process
Sep 25, 2019
GREENWOOD, ARCOLA, & GREENVILLE, MS – Earlier this month, USA Rice brought seven foodservice chefs, nutritionists, and award-winning individual chefs to Mississippi rice country for the fourth iteration of the Foodservice Farm & Mill tour to learn and experience first-hand the whole story of U.S.-grown rice from the field to their kitchens.

The tour kicked off with a U.S.-grown rice presentation that covered the history, plant anatomy, and nutritional profile of rice, and the latest in rice uses, applications across all foodservice meal components, and foodservice trends for rice.  Following the presentation, the group visited the Delta Seed and Service Center where Mississippi rice farmer Carter Murrell provided an informative walk through of the planting and harvest cycles, as well as the drying, milling, and grading processes.  He also spoke about sustainable farming practices utilized in the state and shared his experiences with alternate wetting and drying on his own family farm.

It was then a short ride down MS-438 to Marvin Cochran’s farm and fields where harvest was in full swing.  Cochran welcomed the group and explained the proud history of rice farming in Mississippi.

“There aren’t many places in the United States where you can say we’re growing the seed, planting the rice, harvesting it, drying it, and milling it all in the same county or parish, but we can say that here in Washington County where you are standing right now,” Cochran told the group.  “That’s pretty special and we’re proud of that.”

Cochran then saw to it all the attendees got to ride in one of the two combines running that morning, which was a highlight for all.

“Getting these chefs out into the field to actually experience harvest is a vital part of the tour that gets them thinking about our rice differently,” said Cameron Jacobs, USA Rice domestic promotion manager.  “In the field you can really see it click with our attendees.  Rice goes from just something that’s in their pantry to a locally-grown crop being nurtured and prepared by family farmers.  This year’s attendees were from Chicago, New York City, Tampa, Nashville, Roanoke, Washington, DC, and the Philadelphia area – this visit to the farm made an impact!”

After a rice-centric lunch, attendees were ready to suit up for their tour of the Mars’ Food U.S. facility in Greenville that is home to the ready-to-heat process for Uncle Ben’s quick cook bags.  At the facility, attendees learned about the process, where rice is sourced, how quality of products are ensured, and Mars’ sustainability goals.

“It was great to learn more about American grown rice from seed, to harvest, to mill, to polish, to bag.  I took away a lot from this tour,” said 3x James Beard nominee Chef Hari Cameron.

“I now know how unique the U.S. rice industry is in its ability to produce all types of rice – long, medium, and short grain, as well as aromatic and specialty varieties,” added 2018 Rising Star winning Chef Jerome Grant.

New to the foodservice tour program this year was a reality show-style cooking competition that took place following the mill tour at the Viking Cooking School Test Kitchen in Greenwood.  Attendees were put into teams of two and had to answer rice trivia questions to earn market baskets of different ingredients including shrimp, catfish, chicken thighs, and pork tenderloin.  

Chefs then had one hour and their choice of Uncle Ben’s quick cook rice varieties to produce a dish that would be judged for a chance to win a commercial Zojirushi rice cooker.

Jacobs noted while these tours are educational opportunities, it’s also about establishing and maintaining relationships with tour attendees.

“Restaurants have tremendous influence on consumers, and the proper promotion and plating of U.S.-grown rice can have a trickle-down effect to your everyday consumer,” he said.  “The more restaurants we get using U.S. rice – and calling it out – the broader we can spread our messages and awareness of our industry, and potentially impact consumer purchasing habits.”

Tour participants represented more than 1,600 restaurants from Bloomin’ Brands (parent company for Outback, Fleming’s, Bonefish Grill, and Carrabba’s Italian Grill), Logan’s Road House, Virginia Tech’s dining services, the Restaurant Associates group, a(muse) coastal cuisine, and the Smithsonian’s African American History and Culture Museum.