My day in the SK development kitchen always starts with a very important job – making a coffee.
Us chefs love coffee. When you have worked in a restaurant during a service, it’s what keep you going.
Since becoming a development chef with SK three years ago, I have managed to get a handle on my caffeine fix, now it’s just the 12 cups a day – only joking, it’s actually down to just a couple!
Over coffee, I will chat with Sean, Olly and Jane, the other development chefs. There is normally an anecdote or two and always a joke, or ten, from Olly.
Believe it or not, I don’t get straight to cooking. No, for me, its computer on to check emails. And before anyone says it, yes, chefs know how to use computers!
It’s actually a very important part of the day because we’re always copied into emails from the New Product Development (NPD) team, and inevitably there are actions for us to pick up, such as a request to make tweaks to recipes or preparing dishes to take to present to our supermarket customers.
Then, the real fun begins. The radio is put on. Jane’s in charge so it’s always the local radio station TFM (don’t tell her but I am an Absolute 80s fan myself) and we fire up the ovens and stoves ready to make the magic happen.
At any time, there will be various pans on cooking a sauce, frying some onions or preparing a stock and in the oven, we might have new dishes for testing on the NPD team when they come into the kitchen for a tasting panel.
At the start of the NPD process, it’s not uncommon for the panel to sample 20-30 dishes. Only a few may ever reach the supermarket shelves, but you never know until you try them first, so it’s nice to have some willing guinea pigs, although when you are eating onion bhajis at 10am on a Monday morning, you will understand why we never order them when we’re at an Indian restaurant!
One of the biggest changes I had to get used to when I moved from a restaurant kitchen to a development kitchen is how scientific the process is in the latter. If you have watched programmes like Great British Menu or Masterchef, you will see chefs piling butter in a pan to flavour something and throwing in salt without a moment’s thought.
That doesn’t happen here. We’re making food to very high technical specifications set by our supermarket customers, so everything needs to be weighed to the point of a gram. With the move by the supermarkets to lower salt, lower fat products, you can see why this is so important, so you’ll never see me throwing salt in from a height without having weighted every speck beforehand!
Put it this way, there’s a reason why the software we use for recipes and ingredients is called ‘Recipe Professor’.
After a quick bite to eat (not an onion bhaji obviously) I often take a short drive to one of our production sites. I am the main link between the development kitchen and the sites, so here it’s about ensuring the recipes that first started life in the kitchen can be scaled up for mass production and that they are made and taste the same.
Later, back in the kitchen, we will turn our thoughts to the future, so I am already working on products for summer 2020 and even beginning the process of planning our Christmas 2020 range. A year may be a long time in politics, but’s that’s definitely not the case in NPD!
At the end of the day, it’s computer back to check the emails again and start planning for the next day. The chefs in the development kitchen also contribute to a weekly chef’s blog, so often after I have been given the theme for that week, I will prepare a recipe to go with the blog. I really enjoy this because Katie (our marketing guru who oversees the blogs) allows me to let my imagination run wild, although she still has to rein me in every now and then.
Then it’s home to cook for myself and my wife. I tend to keep it simple midweek but at the weekend, believe it or not, I love to cook. A. Lot.
So, that’s a typical day in my life as a development chef with SK. This doesn’t happen every day, but worth mentioning here that another important part of the job is visiting customers to present new recipes/dishes.
Recently I travelled to London to present a vegan dish to a supermarket customer and before you ask, no, I didn’t sit with it on my lap on the train, protecting it with my life and shielding it from the world so rival supermarkets would get a glimpse. I am not Willy Wonka!
No, it went ahead of me by courier and I was reunited with it in the development kitchen of the said customer, where, alongside other members of the team, I was responsible for presenting it, and by that I don’t mean on a paper plate. A lot of theatre goes into supermarket panels so we will often dress a room to compliment the dish(es) we are presenting.
You always feel a bit anxious in these situations because you want so badly for something you have made to make it to the supermarket shelves. When this does happen, there’s no better feeling in the world. My proudest moment to date was seeing one of my dishes being advertised on a bus shelter.
How good is that?