Everyone is Moving Back to Nature

By Betta Stothart

When it comes to food innovation, Chef Charles Hayes has it dialed in. During a recent chat, Hayes and his team were working on a short rib. “We’re cooking it for 12 hours at 155 degrees. It just falls off the bone,” he exclaims.

It’s no surprise, really.

Hayes has spent the better part of 25 years exploring and understanding not just the taste, but the science of food. As past president of the Research Chefs Association, past VP of Research and Development for JMH Premium International, and now VP of Culinary Innovation at Deli Star, Hayes is considered a pioneer in the discipline of blending culinary arts and food science.

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Exploring Wild Foods

When Hayes visited Maine last summer, he was on a related mission: To experience the power of wild foods and explore how wild translates into superior taste and nutrition. During a three-day exploration of wild foods with nine elite foodservice chefs and culinary innovators, Hayes was introduced to everything from wild seafood, to wild harvested seaweed, to wild blueberries, to an emerging “wild-to-table” restaurant movement.

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"The trip was amazing," says Hayes. "First of all, I had no idea that Portland, Maine has become such a great food town, but the experience of going out to see blueberries in the wild was definitely the best part of the trip for me. Wild Blueberries are just an amazing fruit, and the opportunity to see where and how they grow was quite moving."

In his new professional role at Deli Star, Hayes is a convener of chefs, a wizard of innovation, and a seeker of superior ingredients. “I work out of the innovation center in St. Louis where we bring chefs in from around the world to work on ideas. It’s really fun.” The company, he says, is entirely committed to a responsive, customer-driven environment.

Yet all the while, Deli Star is charging ahead on a few uncompromising goals, including proprietary innovation and clean protein. “We’re exploring everything from uncaged turkeys in West Virginia to wild venison in Australia,” says Hayes. “We’re also inventing ways to attain and provide extraordinary cooked meat for our customers.” Using a cooking process called sous vide – in which proteins are vacuum sealed in a food grade plastic and submerse in a circulator that maintains a constant temperature of hot water Hayes says that Deli Star is able to produce perfectly cooked meats that are dependably succulent.

“With our unique process, meat never gets overcooked,” says Hayes. “In fact, as the protein breaks down it becomes even more succulent.”

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Visiting Maine last summer reinforced Hayes’ belief in the power of wild. The difference between wild versus cultivated blueberries became obvious and the same is true for wild game. “Anything that is wild will have a higher nutritional benefit because it draws its nutrition from where it’s grown,” explains Hayes. “Animals that scavenge for their food in nature will necessarily have more complex flavor and higher nutrition than penned animals that are fed a consistent diet of grain.”

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From Hayes’ perspective, wild should hold a venerated place in the narrative of clean foods. “It is central to the story of health, wellness, and nutrition.”

But does wild have more appeal as food? “Definitely,” says Hayes. “Because everyone is moving back to nature.”

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If you want to “Get Back To Nature” and are attending this year’s Research Chef Association Expo in Savannah, Georgia on March 27th, make sure to visit the Wild Blueberry Association at booth #224 and join us and for an innovative session to explore the “Wild Side” of today’s Real Foods marketplace.

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