Last month, I was lucky enough to be selected as one of dozen food and lifestyle bloggers to attend the first ever Dole Salad Summit in Monterey, California. What an amazing, enlightening, profound experience it was! We were invited to the headquarters of Dole Fresh Vegetables to spend a few days getting an up close look into the world of Dole salads and fresh-cut vegetables. We were given insider access to the growing fields and produce growers, the salad processing plant, the product development experts, the marketing team and even some intimate face time with the down to earth President of Dole Fresh Vegetables, Ray De Riggi. Plus we were also going to be wined and dined and have the opportunity to explore the beautiful sights of the Monterey Peninsula. I was excited to have such a unique opportunity, but little did I know that this trip would dramatically alter my perspective on lettuce, bagged salads and how vegetables are grown, harvested and processed.
We were flown up to gorgeous Monterey and hosted at The Clement Monterey, a luxurious Intercontinental Hotel property right on the water. This was the view from my room, so I knew I was off to an amazing start
After settling into my room, I joined a handful of other amazing influential bloggers along with the Dole team for a cocktail reception on the waterfront. These bloggers included a mix of some of the most talented and intriguing bloggers in the food and lifestyle space. Here is a glimpse of these phenomenal women who are hugely passionate about food and definitely worth following
After sipping our cocktails and getting to know one another, we walked over to the Sardine Factory (a classic Monterey restaurant) for the first of many memorable meals and experiences. I ended up sitting across from Gil Oetzel, the Director of New Product Development for Dole Fresh Vegetables. It was incredible to hear him speak with such enthusiasm and passion about lettuce, creating new products and Dole’s commitment to growing fabulous vegetables. Three memorable things that I learned from Gil that evening were: that Salinas/Monterey is known as the ‘Salad Bowl’ of the US and that the majority of all of our fresh lettuce is grown there; second, Dole’s salad bags have been developed with different porosity’s because different types of lettuce breathe differently; and last, the Dole Salad processing plant has such amazing state-fo-the-art washing equipment to clean their lettuce and that we (consumers) are far more likely to introduce bacteria onto our lettuce by washing it at home.
And after being served this insanely picturesque, vibrant and ridiculously fresh tasty salad with Candied Garlic Dressing (totally addictive!) at the Sardine Factory (I don’t think you can tell by the picture but this salad was wrapped in a thin slice of cucumber to hold it all together), it was becoming rather obvious to me that they take their lettuce rather seriously in this part of the country.
The next morning began this colorful and tasty trio called the Dole Power Vegetable Breakfast which included a Berry Stuffed French Toast Panini, Field Greens & Mushroom Breakfast Frittata, Dole Broccoli Slaw & Garlic Quiche and Mimi’s Green Energizing Drink. It was tasty and a great way for foodies to start the day.
Next, it was off to the headquarters of Dole Fresh Vegetables to meet with Ray and his key executives and learn all about their latest products and healthy lifestyle initiatives. Dole has recently embarked on a company wide commitment to increase the nutritional health of Americans by utilizing social media platforms like Facebook and partnering with food enthusiasts to help spread about the benefits of eating healthier. I loved the passion that came from Ray and his team, I enjoyed our roundtable sharing about the latest food and nutrition trends bloggers are seeing and it was great to learn about how Dole creates their products in order to make healthy eating simple and inspiring to consumers. It was also fun to sample some of Dole’s newest salad kits like Spinach Cherry Almond Bleu and Endless Summer.
Next, it was off to one of the most transcendent lunches I have ever had at La Bicyclette in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Behold, the vibrantly gorgeous La Bicyclette Spring Salad with the Dole Spring Mix blend with baby beets, mandarin oranges from San Jose and goat cheese from Palo Colorado National Forest, each delectable flavor did a dance in my mouth
The salad was followed by Risotto Giovanni, a Nantes Carrot Risotto with Truffle Marinated Artichoke. The vibrant orange color, the truffled chokes and real carrot flavor made this dish a Hall-of-Fame-Makes-Me-Weepy-It’s-That-Good kind of a dish
Here is a picture right in front of La Bicyclette with the majority of all of the amazing bloggers on this trip
After this divine lunch, we went out to the Dole Growing Fields to meet the growers and farm workers. It was amazing to see how passionate and proud these growers were, how genuinely happy the farm workers were, how much pride they all took in their work and how Dole takes it’s farming practices very seriously and uses minimal pesticides to grow their produce. I think these pictures truly capture how it felt to be out in the fields
Our last stop of the day was at the Dole Processing Plant, where we got to see the amazing equipment and systems that Dole has developed for processing vegetables to ensure it arrives at the stores fresh, fast and contaminant free, very impressive (no pics allowed!) We ended our visit in the product development lab with Gil and participated in a fun little Lettuce 101 course to see how many lettuce types we could identify correctly out of about 30 varieties, not an easy task!
But at the end of the day, I am happy to say that I was a proud graduate of Dole Salad University Lettuce 101
However, most importantly of all, I was delighted to learn that Dole is a company with heart, passion and a commitment to making clean, fresh and healthy salads for us to enjoy. I will never look at a bag of lettuce the same way again because now I know all that goes into making it fresh, tasty & healthy!
Disclosure: Dole Fresh Vegetables invited me to Monterey to visit their headquarters, fields and processing plant. They provided all of my transportation, two nights of accommodations and meals. All of my opinions and thoughts are my own.