This week on Foodie Friday meet Don Odiorne, officially vice president of foodservice at the Idaho Potato Commission. Informally, Don is often called Mr. Potato and loves everything about potatoes and food. Enjoy!
What is your role in the food industry?
I oversee all foodservice activity, including advertising, PR, training and education as well as the web site and blogger activities. In addition the Commission works with high volume independent restauranteurs, chain or corporate chefs, and food service distributors.
How did you first get involved in the food industry?
My love for foodservice was spawned from cross country driving family trips every summer. Initial jobs included everything from managing a fast food burger and chicken chain (Red Barn) to working in the kitchen, snack bar and the front of the house in a country club in Denver, to college and university foodservice and business dining. My career includes operations, marketing, owning a fresh pasta restaurant and as a franchisee with three chain pizza locations before finding a home in marketing with food associations, boards and commissions.
What/who inspired your current role in the food industry?
Having lived in California for 22 years, at one point we (Candy and I) realized we were never going to be able to buy enough property so she could have horses at home and I could have parking for my car hobbies. Idaho was reasonable in cost.
The key people who inspired me in the food industry were always supportive bosses and mentors and, of course, my wife.
What food trends are most influential in what you do?
Right now the food trends we try to capitalize on are modern steak house sides, gluten free choices, ethnic influences from India and Latin America, indulgent foods such as loaded fries, chips and tots and wintertime bowls. And, just like everybody else we want to let people know that potatoes are nutritious and fit into a plant forward menu. We haven’t had as much luck with swapping the term “meat and potatoes” to “potatoes and meat” yet.
What is the most significant change you’ve witnessed in the food industry?
In the microcosm of Idaho potatoes, we’ve become a “one stop shop” for russets, red, yellow and fingerlings. It wasn’t that long ago that Idaho grew mostly the Russet Burbank variety, over 94%. Now it is 50% of production with many other russet varieties too.
Watching entrepreneurs start restaurant concepts, run and grow them while embracing a living positioning on making things from fresh. They are challenging the old guard of successful brands that struggle to find their way without alienating the existing base of customers.
Tell us about an industry professional who influenced you most?
This would actually be three people who worked at Saga Corporation in the Business Dining segment before the parent company was purchased by Marriott. Ralph Pica, Mike Cronk (went on to Aramark) and Fedele Bauccio (now at Bon Appetit Management) all encouraged me to take on a new career in marketing and merchandising and to always think outside of the box, to continue learning new things and to share knowledge or help others starting out in their careers.
Describe a food fad/trend you would love to start.
I have a chef friend who is exploring what to do with potato peels typically discarded or used for animal feed. Fried, freeze dried or pelletized and made into some sort of healthy potato based snack. That could be fun.
I’ve learned that being first or too far ahead of trends is a really good way to lose money.
What's your big splurge food item?
Processed meats, because I really shouldn’t have them. I always pay more for Gallo Salami when it comes to brands.
What keeps you going as a food professional?
Getting to visit so many cities and restaurants as part of my job.
What do you view as your greatest achievement to-date as a food professional?
Right now, I’d say being involved with food bloggers. It’s great to see so many finding a way to have a full time career, to know that they are passing on family recipes and teaching their kids how to eat healthy and prepare ingredients into a meal. I even think this is where many culinary students will come from in the future. I’ve worked with over 100 food bloggers. My own blog, started in 2009 as Dr. Potato, in order to share preparation tips and food safety topics. It has at times been 7 of the top ten visits to our website, according to Google Analytics. It makes me very proud.
What’s your favorite food to make at home?
Actually, its pasta with sausage and vegetables in a cream sauce.
What’s your favorite meal to order in a restaurant?
I love ordering fish when traveling as it’s interesting to see how creative chefs can be in the preparation and accompaniments.
What three food/ingredients could you not live without?
Pepper, chocolate and red wine.
Tell us about a memorable meal you’ve had.
I think getting to eat at Parachute in Chicago was one of the most enlightening meals I’ve had where I was truly fascinated by the tastes, textures, and presentations coming out of a very small kitchen. The baked potato bing bread…picture a loaded baked potato mixture encased in a warm crusty fresh loaf of bread. We actually have a version on our website. One of the desserts, a pavlova was over the top…
Who in the food industry do you most admire?
Ina Pinkney, the Breakfast Queen of Chicago. She’s re-invented herself with a book tour and documentary, has such intelligent insights as to what makes a successful restaurant.
What food or meal makes you happiest?
Lobster makes me happy. It reminds me of my Dad, who was from New Bedford, MA. As a kid, he used to tell us not to eat the claws as they were bitter, and saved them for himself. Now I know…
Having a Southern meal again with lots of fried food that my mom fixed would make me happy. Hushpuppies and fried okra top the list.
What food or ingredient would you never use or eat?
Sea urchin, that’s an experience I will cherish forever and never feel I have to repeat.
Where would you most like to live? Why?
Always have loved the beach. Anywhere I could be thirty minutes or less of a drive.
Please describe your perfect day.
When it comes to food, Kevin Ryan of ICCA and GCIA (corporate chef groups) has put together some amazing menu immersions to cities. I think the record was 14-15 restaurants in a day and a half in New Orleans.
Connect with Don: