New Orleans is known for its world-class restaurants and famous Cajun and Creole cuisine — and there are few ingredients more widely used than rice.

Since Louisiana is the third-largest rice-producing state in the nation, the U.S. rice industry is particularly grateful that rice is served on restaurant menus. Industry representatives personally delivered a collective “thank you” in conjunction with the USA Rice Federation’s recent outlook conference.

The USA Rice Outlook Conference brought together more than 750 rice industry members to hear about important issues, exchange ideas and advance industry education and communication. The meeting also presented a unique opportunity to commend restaurateurs for their use of U.S.-grown rice.

As part of Louisiana Rice Promotion Board’s “Salute to New Orleans Restaurants,” top chefs and restaurants serving U.S. rice were promoted during the meeting and displayed a window emblem with the message “Proudly Supporting America’s Rice Farmers.”

“Our goal is to increase awareness of U.S.-grown rice and to recognize and promote chefs and restaurants who serve it,” said Kevin Berken, Louisiana Rice Promotion Board chairman and rice producer. “I can’t think of a better place to launch this promotion than in New Orleans, where rice holds an important place in our culture and cuisine. We believe that creating a promotion that celebrates our fine restaurants during the rice industry’s largest conference helped accomplish this.”

The U.S.-grown message supports increasing attention to food safety, locally-grown products, and sustainable agriculture at every step of the farm-to-table supply chain — from food retailers, food processors, consumers, policy makers, and producers.

“The U.S. rice industry has a great story to tell and we want to continue to educate rice users about the benefits of buying rice produced by America’s rice farmers,” said Betsy Ward, USA Rice Federation president and CEO.

Many consumers and professionals are unaware that the more than 80 percent of the rice consumed in America is grown here — 20 billion pounds per year, in fact, from six rice-producing states: Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas.

USA Rice’s awareness campaign includes a “Grown in the USA” logo that appears on packages of rice that are 100-percent domestically grown. This allows consumers and chefs to choose from the wide variety of rice produced by America’s rice farmers to the highest quality standards and, at the same time, support the U.S. economy and farm families.

The Louisiana Rice Promotion Board created a restaurant list to make it easy for members to identify popular New Orleans eateries that serve U.S.-grown rice. The Louisiana Rice Promotion Board also provided conference attendees with “thank you” cards to leave for chefs after dining at these restaurants.

“The thank you cards served as a great way for U.S. rice members to show their appreciation to the chef and thank them for serving U.S. rice on their menus,” Berken said.

One participating restaurant was K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, where legendary chef Paul Prudhomme serves award-winning Louisiana cuisine featuring local ingredients, including U.S. rice.

“Growing up in Louisiana, rice was always on our table and continues to play a central role in my cooking today,” Prudhomme said. “I want to know where my ingredients come from and how they are grown — U.S. rice gives me that comfort. I say why buy anything else when you can get the best?”

Louisiana rice producer Jimmy Hoppe was pleased to promote restaurants serving U.S. rice in his state. “As a rice farmer in southwest Louisiana, I’m proud to share information about the wonderful restaurants in New Orleans with members from outside our state,” he said.

Chris Crutchfield, president and CEO of American Commodity Company in California, the second-largest rice producing state in the country, thought the program was a terrific addition to the USA Rice Outlook Conference. “I was able to make all of my reservations ahead of time and dined at several of the restaurants that were recommended,” Crutchfield said.

“I enjoyed speaking with servers and chefs who were excited about the promotion, and I left thank you cards at every restaurant to let them know how much the U.S. rice industry appreciates their support.”

The chefs and restaurateurs were equally excited about the campaign.

Marti Dalton, marketing director for Emeril’s Restaurants, heartily supported the program. “It was a pleasure to participate because Emeril (Lagasse) strongly believes in serving U.S.-grown ingredients and supporting our own farmers,” she said.

“This type of joint promotion sends a positive message for both USA Rice and for our businesses.”

USA Rice is committed to education and promotion to increase awareness about U.S.-grown rice and encourage consumers and chefs to choose it in the supermarket and in foodservice.

Judy Rusignuolo is director, consumer education and foodservice for the USA Rice Federation.