The USA Rice Federation (USA Rice) held its third annual “Rice Chef of the Year” cooking contest earlier this summer at the Center for Superior Studies at San Angel, one of Mexico's most prestigious culinary schools.

Twenty-six top Mexican chefs vied for the honor of being selected as the best rice chef in Mexico. The chefs competed with dishes from main courses to desserts and were judged on preparation, originality, and eye appeal by a panel of four judges.

The chefs represented a cross section of restaurants in Mexico City and Queretaro, including fine dining, cafeteria, family style, and industrial kitchens.

This year's winner, Chef Renee Herrera of El Campanario restaurant, won top honors with Trebol de Sabor (Rainbow of Flavor) — a superb dish of spiced shrimp surrounded by a rainbow of rice of differing flavors and colors. The runners-up were Chef Sandra Avila with Tropical Dream and Chef Jorge Alvarez with Rice & Chocolate Cheesecake.

Judges this year included: Kate DeRemer, acting director, U.S. Agricultural Trade Office, U.S. Embassy, Mexico City; Executive Chef Alejandro Heredia of Hacienda de los Morales (one of Mexico's finest traditional restaurants); Chef Ricardo Santín, director of The Gastronomic Institute of Queretaro; and Chef Iñigo Arámburu, the USA Rice Federation's Rice Chef of the Year 2000.

“We find USA Rice activities like these to be of excellent assistance for chefs to learn more about the different varieties of rice, its preparation, and helps us to increase our use of high quality rice — we are leaning the difference. We are also very impressed about rice's versatility — we had no idea about the many ways rice can be presented,” said Heredia.

In all, 60 invited guests attended the event, including members of the print and broadcast television media. Representatives of three Mexican miller/packers attended and displayed U.S.-origin long grain milled rice.

As Rice Chef of the Year 2002, Herrera will appear at various activities in Mexico sponsored by USA Rice throughout the year, such as TV shows, trade shows, and cooking contests.

Mexico has one of Latin America's lowest per capita consumptions of rice. However, with a population of more than 100 million, and domestic rice growers unable to keep up with demand, Mexico has become the largest export market by volume for U.S.-grown rice.

The United States is uniquely positioned to increase sales to Mexico as consumption increases. USA Rice sponsors a wide variety of consumer and food service education programs in Mexico aimed at increasing awareness and use of U.S. rice.