This week on Foodie Friday meet Alan Kahn, the new vice president of foodservice for the Idaho Potato Commission. In his role he oversees all the Commission’s foodservice activity, including work with a range of restaurants, corporate chefs and foodservice distributors. When he’s not working, you’ll likely find him on the slopes in winter, fishing in the non-snowy seasons or generally enjoying the beauty of Idaho. We’re guessing he’ll never tell you where the fish are biting, though. The good ones never tell.
What is your role in the food industry?
I oversee all foodservice activity, including advertising, trade shows, promotion, promotional materials, public relations, training, and education. In addition the Commission works with high volume independent restaurateurs, chain and corporate chefs, and foodservice distributors.
How did you first get involved in the food industry?
I grew up in the food industry. My dad was involved in the meat packing industry and I worked for him in high school and after I graduated college. Prior to that, I flipped burgers at a local fast food independent restaurant, worked in a Bonanza steakhouse as a dishwasher, and waited tables for three years while in college. After working for my dad for a few years in a production plant, I remained in the food industry and developed a career in sales & marketing primarily for manufacturers.
What/who inspired your current role in the food industry?
I’d have to say that I truly enjoy and appreciate living in the state of Idaho and the ability to give something back to the people who make the most iconic product in the state – the growers, shippers, and processors of Idaho Potatoes. I have a strong desire to help grow the brand and market share for the people who make this industry possible.
If you had one message for people who don’t live and breathe food like we do, what would that message be?
Life is short. Experience great food, robust wine, and innovative restaurants.
What food trends are most influential in what you do?
At the current time, there is a lot of focus on the trend of plant-forward foods and introducing more vegetable-based foods into people’s diets. We’re focused on that, while providing innovative, creative, and indulgent ways to utilize potatoes on your menu. Given the proliferation of potatoes on menus, as well as their economic value to operators, it’s important that we continue to keep potatoes top of mind and fresh, in the eyes of the consumer.
What is the most significant change you’ve seen in the food industry?
For a long time we had significant growth in chains, particularly in quick service and casual theme restaurants. Additionally, food choices were limited in non-commercial establishments. Now, there is substantial growth and focus on independent restaurants, celebrity chefs, food-oriented TV shows which introduces the consumer to a much broader range of globally inspired ethnic foods, and a myriad of food choices and cooking styles when visiting non-commercial sites.
Tell us about an industry professional who influenced you most?
My career really started to develop after I was already in the food industry for about 10 years. That’s when I went to work at Ore-Ida Foods in Boise, Idaho and reported to someone who took a real interest in my professional development. That person is Kevin Storms. I owe a lot of my success to him. Kevin was our VP of marketing and demonstrated the qualities in a person (not just a manager) that you would want to emulate - humility, thoughtfulness, honesty, integrity, great listening skills, and the ability and desire to help you get to that next level. Kevin was an enormous influence on me and taught me how to be a respectful leader.
What's your big splurge food item? Any particular brand you're willing to pay more for?
I really try to eat healthy most of the time, particularly when traveling. If not, it’s easy to put on those extra unwanted pounds! However, believe it or not, my splurge item is a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with cheese (served with fries of course!). It’s indulgent, tastes great, and brings back memories of earlier times in my life. I know it’s not glamorous, however it’s simple and satisfying – particularly knowing that it’s only a three or four times/year treat.
What keeps you motivated as a food professional?
At this point in my career, I enjoy helping others develop their careers; continuous learning about new chefs and new food trends; and the constant exploration of new restaurants, new trendy non-commercial food venues and other “food locations” (which could even be food trucks).
What do you view as your greatest achievement to-date as a food professional?
Being flexible and adaptable to change. Change is constant and our ability to stay positive, have a great attitude, and make a positive change in business and in people’s lives is critical to success. Several people who have reported to me have gone on to bigger and better things. That, to me, is truly satisfying for me to look back upon.
What’s your favorite food to make at home?
Salmon, grilled to perfection on the BBQ.
What’s your favorite meal to order in a restaurant?
Again, it’s probably salmon, grilled and served with a unique and innovative sauce of some sort, along with some creatively prepared vegetables & potatoes.
What three foods/ingredients could you not live without? Why?
Salmon, dark chocolate, and red wine. No explanation needed.
Tell us about a memorable meal you’ve had.
There’s a restaurant in town here in Boise, Barbacoa, that serves “steak on a rock”. They bring it to you on this 500’ black rock, pour a cognac-based flaming sauce over it, which makes a great presentation, as the flames engulf the steak. The product and presentation are always crowd pleasers.
Tell us about food or ingredient would you never use or eat.
I don’t eat octopus. I think it’s a texture thing with me. Also, crickets. I don’t think I would ever eat crickets, as they do in some countries…
Where would you most like to live? Why?
Boise, where I live now. It offers the best of everything; wonderful outdoor activities like skiing, hiking, biking, fishing, as well as a vibrant downtown and restaurant & entertainment scene. I can be in the foothills hiking in about 10 minutes, with beautiful views of the valley. Summertime nights stay light until 10:00pm.
Please describe your perfect day.
Skiing in the morning and fly fishing the Boise River for rainbow trout in the afternoon. Followed by a nice seafood dinner and glass of great red wine.
Tell us about your favorite vacation destination.
Any beach, with a cold beer in hand.
Connect with Alan:
Website: Idaho Potatoes
Instagram: Idaho Potatoes
Facebook: Famous Idaho Potatoes