If you haven't figured it out, our team likes it hot. Sriracha, ghost peppers and flaming snacks rank high in the office. So it was good timing when we had the opportunity to head over to Melissa's Produce headquarters and discuss the business (and his love of Hatch chiles) with Robert Schueller. As public relations head for Melissa's, Robert's wealth of knowledge makes him an ideal subject for this week's OTL.
[Editor's Note: Produce featured in the photograph include Dutch yellow and ruby gold potatoes, a trio of Muscato grapes, sweet young coconuts, California green Keitt mangoes, tiger figs, scorpion chiles and dragon fruit.]
What is your current title, and what are you responsible for? Director of Public Relations is what is on my business card. Cooking Light magazine calles me in their credit page as the "produce guru", but most reporters call me a produce expert. We know Melissa's Produce also publishes books. Tell us about how the hatch chile one came about. Last year, after the season (early October), owner Sharon Hernandez said we had to produce a cookbook for 2013. We published in June this year; the rest is history.
Do you have a favorite fruit and/or vegetable? Favorite fruit this week is black Muscato grapes. Favorite vegetable this week is edamame (although technically a legume).
Favorite places to eat. Most sushi bars.
We spotted Melissa's on foursquare; when did social media become integrated in your business? About four years ago, we started with Facebook and Twitter.
What is your most popular item? Melissa's baby Dutch yellow potatoes.
When is hatch chile season from? August through September.
What percentage of the produce is organic? Can't say (we are a private company), but it is a growing number since the early 2000s. Most undervalued ingredient: Cherimoya - if only America knew about it.
Favorite meal growing up: Spaghetti and pizza-- weren't they everyone's? And all desserts.
Strangest thing you've ever eaten: Monstera fruit.
Tell us about the chefs working behind the scenes at Melissa's. Five corporate chefs are on staff. Their job is to educate Americans by creating recipes. We post them on our site, share them on social media, print them on our packaging/labels and include them in cookbooks. We've completed four cookbooks, and three more are coming in the next few years.
One food you can't live without. Hatch chiles. They are so addictive, and only available fresh for two months. Then I stock up my freezer in September.
Your earliest food memory: I remember at age five eating cabbage rolls at my grandmother's house. I always looked forward to eating there.
What did you have for dinner? Last night I had a spring mix salad topped with Italian dressing and fried wonton strips. I dropped in a few Muscato grapes. Hummus and pita bread on the side.
Your most recent food find: Melissa's sweet Kapia peppers (their season has already started).
Best culinary tip for the home cook. Hatch chiles, roasted and skins peeled, dropped on a flour tortilla with cream cheese spread and garlic salt. It's a "Poor Man's Burrito". In the Southwest, they may call it a "Tailgate Teaser".
What's the newest food trend being done in restaurants? Hatch chiles are HOT, especially this year. USA Today cited recently that the New Mexican chile is the #1 most iconic food in the USA this year. Other new trends include sweet, young coconut, newer varieties of kale (like kale sprouts), cotton candy grapes and Ojai pixie tangerines. In the future, we see California green Keitt mango, tiger figs, finger limes, dragon fruit and Korean pears.
You're making breakfast. What are you having? Breakfast is usually a mixture of the best tasting fruits we have in the office. We have produce bins around the office. Today I had green Muscato grapes, Saturn peaches and some tasty honey punch plumcots.
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What is your beverage of choice? Fruit smoothies-- banana, frozen blueberries and perhaps a few other seasonal fruits with a little juice. Mix for 10 seconds in a Magic Bullet.
Weirdest request (and did you do it?). A full banana tree with ripe bananas. They couldn't pick it up. However, I was able to send a variety of bananas and banana leaves.
To learn more about Melissa's Produce, visit www.melissas.com.