American beef and pork took center stage across western Russia this month with high-profile participation in an international culinary competition; the leading hospitality industry trade show, ExpoHoreca; and master classes for Russian chefs.

The Baltic Culinary Star Cup drew top young chefs from Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Russia to compete against one another and develop creative dishes using U.S. beef top blade and sirloin as well as U.S. pork loin. The Lithuanian team won the Cup this year with a dish featuring top blade.

American beef was well-represented by Marr Russia and GrandFoods, two leading importers of U.S. beef, at ExpoHoreca, the 10th International Specialized Exhibition of Hospitality Industry, which drew food industry professionals from the Baltic region’s hospitality sector and abroad.

“The large attendance this year – estimated at 10,000 – could signal a positive change in the HRI (hotel, restaurant, institutional) sector, which was heavily affected by the financial crisis,” says Yuri Barutkin, St. Petersburg representative for the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

Barutkin notes that the financial downturn created a good opportunity for USMEF to successfully promote alternative cuts of U.S. beef, creating new interest among HRI distributors to invest in flank and skirt steaks as well as top sirloin. USMEF also is working to develop interest among Russian chefs in pork loins.

Both U.S. beef and pork received added visibility at ExpoHoreca through USMEF master classes that ran through all three days of the show. American beef striploin and beef ribs as well as pork loins were featured in dishes prepared by leading chefs from top hotels and top restaurants in St. Petersburg who demonstrated different preparation techniques for the participants.

“The master classes featuring U.S. pork and beef enabled us to reach a wide range of professionals and consumers with information about the quality attributes of U.S. red meat, which is so different from our competition,” says Barutkin. “And, as always, tasting the product spoke louder than a thousand words for consumers.”

Barutkin also says that USMEF’s participation in this type of culinary competition is an investment in the future.

“Most of the participants are very young chefs,” says Barutkin. “They are right out of culinary school, so they are developing their skills and reputations, and this is the perfect time to educate them about working with the highest quality ingredients, such as U.S. beef and pork.”

Support for USMEF’s participation in ExpoHoreca, the Baltic Culinary Cup and the master classes was provided through the USDA Market Access Program, the Beef Checkoff program and the Pork Checkoff program.