Arizona Culinary Institute students from the classes of Basic Culinary Skills, Meat Fabrication, and Baking filtered into a classroom of a different kind on an unseasonably chilly morning in May, ready for a tour of Arizona beef, from gate to plate. The room rang of excitement, anticipation, and sleepiness, as we did get started at 7:30 am. The real diversity and personalities of the classes began to emerge with introductions. The students were asked to tell us their name and their first memory of cooking. The future chef’s answers ranged from cookies to tamales, but there was a common theme: cooking with family. Lauren Scheller, Arizona Beef Council assistant executive director, made a connection with the group by saying, “Just like you all are passionate about cooking and feeding people delicious food, so also are Arizona ranchers passionate about raising quality and delicious beef for you to cook and serve to your restaurant guests.”
JBS, USA in Tolleson, Arizona was the first stop on the agenda. JBS continues to be a reliable partner in educating influencers on how beef is processed and this year was no different. Bill Munns, director of marketing & product management, graciously set up the tour and James Stell, operations manager, hosted an excellent tour of the large plant. Honestly, the results of this year’s tour weren’t much different from past year’s, which was also positive. The students went home with an understating that quality animal care is a priority all the way through the lifecycle of a beef animal and continues until that animal is harvested. The Ah-Ha moments are always fun to hear as most often people are amazed at the lack of “gross” they had envisioned and how the entire process is kept clean and safe.
A delicious steak lunch by Bruce Brown Catering at the Buckeye Elks Lodge with a brief overview of the beef lifecycle followed the plant tour. The morning’s excitement had not yet dissipated, and the room only grew quite when the New York strip carving station was assembled. The anticipation was palatable. A brief presentation by the Arizona Beef Council’s Lauren Scheller and Tiffany Selchow covered the beef lifecycle with tips on decoding the many labels on beef packages and the nutrition beef offers us.
The beautiful outdoors greeted us as we stepped off the bus at Heiden Land and Cattle for a tour of the Heiden family’s feed yard. The seventy-six-degree weather made for a perfect backdrop as the students walked to the feed mill which steams and flakes corn, the bins of different grains and hay while learning how all these ingredients were mixed to provide the cattle a complete and balanced diet. Paul Heiden guided the tour to the cattle pens for more learnings the daily cattle care. This was followed by a detailed look at the working facilities which are used to tag, treat, and care for animals when they are first entering the feed yard or if an illness arises, which isn’t too common. Paul shared, “The care of our animals and the land we use is our top priority, and we are always excited to show off our feed yard to future chefs!”
Last chance for photos with the steers was given and then it was back on the bus to leave rural Buckeye and head back to the center of the 6th largest city in the United States. These culinary students left the Arizona Beef Council Gate to Plate tour armed with first-hand information straight from the feed yard owner and packing plant manager’s mouths. Honestly, we don’t think there is a better kind.
ABC board chairman Wes Kerr emphasized, “The Arizona Beef Council places immense value on the relationships the Gate to Plate Tours provide to cooking and nutrition influencers, such as the students at the Arizona Culinary Institute. We need to continue to be their first reference when faced with questions about how beef is raised or how it fits on a menu.” This tour is made possible by the Federation Initiative Fund, supported by beef councils in states where there are more cattle than people, and the Arizona Beef Council.