A look at... Development chefs

06/10/2016 - 09:00
With demand for new foodie concepts, the role of the development chef comes under the spotlight. Sheila Eggleston reports.

Behind every new food product or menu concept is a development chef working like clockwork to perfect it before it goes live.

They don’t have to be a Heston Blumenthal to take the development chef career path, but they have to do their homework to ensure the product they create performs the function it is intended for whether that’s for main menus or bar snacks.

It has to stand out from the rest, which means understanding the end-user via research, analysis of the target market, brainstorming, testing and retesting – with the ultimate satisfaction of creating something that people really want to eat or drink that boosts profits.

Predicting the next ‘big thing’ is like throwing a dice – chefs are never totally sure what it will be, and with consumers who are more savvy thanks to daily TV cookery shows and foodie exhibitions, chefs have their work cut out to produce something exciting.

Development work can be time-sensitive too; a seasonal event such as Christmas is a good example of early planning and dissecting what worked and what didn’t, and this analysis begins the moment the festive season is over. By the end of January, most of the spadework has been done and the finishing touches applied before announcing what’s on offer, which for foodservice operators is usually at the height of summer to capitalise on early promotion.

It’s not unknown either for development chefs to be asked to expand the usage of an everyday ingredient, and coffee is one of the latest. Lavazza wants to do just that and stretch the boundaries of coffee to main meals.

Lee Maycock, who has worked for top establishments such as Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and The Ritz, is now national chairman of the Craft Guild of Chefs.

He runs his own consultancy and says that when he set up his business it was to develop recipes, and he has enjoyed the freedom to travel to expand his knowledge.

“In the 11 years I’ve had my own business, development work has become nearly 50% of what I do whether it’s product development, a concept or a menu,” he says.

Currently he is working on a project for a new London restaurant, which he can’t talk about – as another must for any development chef is total confidentiality. But he admits that authentic cooking styles are involved in the project and he’s even learnt a few new cooking tips.

The length of time it takes for an idea to get off the ground depends on what is required, advises Maycock. “I tell a client I can develop four to six recipes in a day on average,” he explains. “You need time to do research – I insist. With many development chefs, some clients will ask for 12 recipes in a day!

“It’s difficult to choose which project has been the best, but one that I love doing and do on an annual basis is developing 12 seasonal recipes for Game-to-Eat which go on its website. I tie the ingredients into what is in season for each month – for example, what pigeons may be eating like peas and sweetcorn then think about how to marry them with the dish.”

“For anyone thinking of moving into a development chef role, I try to explain that the development industry isn’t just an every day job in a restaurant, plus there are other channels to explore – as well as pubs there are airlines, contract catering, to name a few.”

According to Reynolds Catering Supplies chef director, Ian Nottage, development chefs are unsung heroes. “You create amazing things but you can’t talk about them,” he explains.

This year, Reynolds’ chef Diane Camp won the Craft Guild’s Development Chef Award and was acclaimed for her development work, which included working for leading high street operators from Pret A Manger to Carluccio’s.

Currently, it’s been full on for us, says Nottage: “We’re working on nutritious, plant-based diets, which are big at the moment. Flexitarianism is getting huge so we’ve been working with operators to make vegetarian dishes – not just a vegetarian choice but as appealing as a meat or fish dish.

“We’re experimenting with seaweed caviar, and spending a lot of time working with herbs for sweet and savoury dishes, and more drinks, mostly cocktails and mocktails. For instance, strawberry and basil, and pineapple and rosemary are good combinations.

“We have a few new toys to work with; for example, a Vitamix blender for making healthier smoothies and a Kamodo Joe ceramic barbecue because we are doing lots of smoking, plus more for other things.”

But he can’t talk about them.

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