International chefs and influencers visit Wisconsin to learn about state’s agriculture and food

Tour is part of a larger effort by the USDA to promote American-made products abroad

International chefs participate in a cooking demonstration at LiveX in Green Bay
International chefs participate in a cooking demonstration at LiveX in Green Bay on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023. The chefs were accompanied on their trip to Wisconsin by food influencers from around the world. Joe Schulz/WPR

A group of 14 international chefs and food influencers from nine countries have been in Wisconsin this week, learning about the state’s food producers and products.

The tour was hosted by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, or DATCP. It’s part of a bigger effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, to promote American-made products around the world.

The USDA has organized similar tours in other states, such as California and Virginia. All the trips will culminate in a cookbook that will include recipes from international chefs using quintessential American ingredients. Each tour brings together a different group of chefs and influencers.

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In organizing trips to various states, the USDA reached out to DATCP about Wisconsin being a possible destination and received a very warm response, according to Fayrouz Zghoul, senior marketing advisor for the USDA’s Office of Agricultural Affairs in Dubai.

“It was the only state that when we asked, they didn’t even ask us, ‘how many people?’ They were so open and like, ‘the more the merrier,’” she said.

While in Wisconsin, the group — which includes individuals from South Africa, Algeria, Turkey, Kuwait, Thailand, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina and El Salvador — visited the State Capitol, Milwaukee, Lambeau Field, Lakeside Foods, Sartori Cheese, Kohler Corp. and the Oneida Nation Indigenous Foods division. They’re also visiting Mauston, LaFarge, Viroqua and La Crosse.

Chef Euge Aquino, who is a judge on MasterChef Paraguay, said the trip has been much more than just a vacation; it’s given her the opportunity to forge friendships with other chefs from around the world and exchange knowledge and flavors.

“Today, globalization is a fact and this is a way to connect with each other,” she said. “We’re good friends now, we’re having a great time, and we’re all from different cultures.”

She said visiting the Oneida Nation was one of the highlights from the trip, as she was impressed by the way the tribe works as a community to preserve their culture.

“The knowledge they have about their past and their history, it’s actually great,” Aquino said.

International chefs cook in Green Bay
Participating in a cooking demonstration at LiveX in Green Bay are a few international chefs who visited Wisconsin this week as part of an initiative by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that aims to promote American products abroad. Joe Schulz/WPR

Chef Ian Kittichai, known as Thailand’s “Iron Chef,” said he’s learned more about cheese during his time in Wisconsin and described himself as a “big cheese lover.”

“This trip for me has been fun, and (a) learning experience, learning about cheese,” he said. “It seems like other people (are) seeing me on vacation, but I think every minute that we get out of the hotel, it’s work for me because I have so much passion about cooking and learning about ingredients. That was really important for me.”

Ana Yancy Clavel, an influencer and former Miss El Salvador, said one of her favorite parts of the trip was visiting Madison, where the group went to the State Capitol and the farmer’s market.

“This state is amazing, starting with the food and the cheese, of course, the corn and everything else,” she said. “I like the diversity of the city.”

Algerian influencer Khira Boukhari said the tour group has formed powerful bonds during their week in Wisconsin.

“Speaking of me, for example, who has never been away from my family this far, and then all of a sudden, I find myself with a bunch of strangers who suddenly become your family,” she said. “You hang out with them every day, and you share with them one of the most amazing experiences that might not happen again.”

For Ebraheem Al Samadi, a businessman and cast member on Netflix’s reality show “Dubai Bling,” the trip to Wisconsin has been very special. He said his grandfather is actually from Wisconsin, and the hosts surprised him by taking him to the house his grandpa built in 1957.

“It’s very emotional to see this part of my heritage, and seeing everyone supportive and showing us these things also means a lot,” he said. “My mom, she cried when I sent her the photo in front of the house that my grandfather built.”

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