Development Chef Experiences
Below are some examples given by Chefs that Focus Management Consultants have successfully placed into Development Chef Roles. They discuss how they found the transition, what they consider the challenges have been, and what major differences were experienced in the new working environment.
"I have loved the transition into development and am already feeling very settled. My advice to anyone taking the same move would be to take it slowly and keep it simple. I was all too excited to do everything straight away and over load myself with work. There is a lot to learn on the business side, costing products, nutritional results and customer presentations, this takes time so don't rush!!
I’m in a very well established company and luckily for me all my colleagues have been very helpful in getting me settled within the site. I love that we are able to take a product from the mere beginnings of a sauce in the NPD kitchen to a full product on the supermarket shelves. The chefs here, are at every process through this journey so it’s very interesting and there is a great sense of job satisfaction.
I think I'm still in the early stages in my development career so currently there isn't a lot I could say I would change. Its still a very busy day to day lifestyle but with a lot better working hours. I can see how this job wouldn't be for every chef but I think it takes at least six months to get a grip on what is expected of you, so my advice would be to give it time and take it slowly."
Junior Development Chef, Norfolk, Pan Asian Ready Meals
“I found the transition from the world of restaurant service to New Product Development was a tough process. It’s taken 6-12 months to get my head into it and now I believe I have arrived somewhere. I’m now more comfortable in this role as a Development Chef, and although certain commercial aspects took a while to grasp I have a much better overall understanding of the product development industry.
There are certain traits of being a good chef and having high food standards that work well in this environment albeit there are still lots to learn that you don’t consider within a foodservice role. I’m now a year into the development role and I am definitely more consumer aware. Customers in restaurants are led by the Chef’s menu, whereas in retail, customers are leading the thoughts and ideas and there are many more people to appeal to and satisfy.
I am client focussed and keen to build client relationships, as is demanded much more than in the restaurant sector. In this environment you have to stand up for your food a lot more, especially when presenting new concepts, explaining the food and its origins. You need a natural ability here, as well as learning how to communicate in a very different working environment. The Development Kitchen is more intimate and informal with banter, whilst visits to the board room are more corporate and demanding.
I am involved with food trends with the retailer customers. I find that working in a restaurant can be quite narrow and not as many types of cuisines are offered. Usually there is one style of food, and the latest menu ideas follow that trend. Here I am involved with different foods and processes, and am exposed to much more choice and creative freedom, even if there is a tighter product brief and budget to manage. The hours are better than when I was working long days and weekends, and the money is better too!
Not really a negative, but there are different pressures in this job compared to the restaurant kitchen. It’s more mentally tiring than in the restaurant for one thing. The corporate pressure with targets and financial implications make this role stressful in a different way to the physical exhaustion of a foodservice Chef role. The expectation here is to be professional all the time; the adjustment from the kitchen environment makes this a real challenge at first. You have to maintain a professional stance at all times to get on with clients.
In terms of working with Focus Management I received a superb service! Imogen was excellent. We talked three months prior to getting the position about new job possibilities and my suitability. She was true to her word and followed up when a role became available she felt would match me. Excellent support and advice throughout the application and interview process. The rest is history… and the future I suppose.”
Development Chef, East Midlands, Chilled Ready Meals.
“When I began the role, initially I had few expectations. I knew it would be a new experience in NPD but I was hungry to take on anything and so I was willing to learn and adapt to the new situations and working environments I would be involved in. There were lots of IT systems within Frozen and Chilled food development that I had to learn, which was interesting as I had never had this software as a Chef in a restaurant before.
There is lots of travel to factories that of course I had no experience of in my previous roles. The personal hurdle I had was my Indian passport, but the company was great at working out all the legislation and administration, which was a refreshing experience – not many of my previous employers would have gone to as much trouble to have had me involved in their work because of this.
The first few months was difficult, getting used to systems and the way the recipes worked. Items I had never used before in ready meals such as starch and various ingredients that were part of the production process was an eye opener. The team here is good and provide great support, especially when it came to the subtle recipe differences or ingredients that I had to consider when cooking on a larger scale. In restaurants you can work with various spices and experiment with heat in the dish. But retail expectations were challenging as the Buyer’s palettes were different compared to that of the chefs and restaurant customers. We have to consider everyone whilst still offering high standards of flavour that represent the dish well.
If I had to choose a part of this role I would change, it would be the travelling. Sometimes I am getting on a train or plane at 5am and get home after 10pm. Days are longer in this role and perhaps mentally more stressful than physically compared to foodservice
The best thing about being a Development Chef for me is the return of a social life! I now only work days, and the weekends I have all to myself. I also really like the exposure to new software for costings, as well as being involved in much more serious commercial activities. I can see the advancement opportunities and career progression in the long run. It’s a clear structure and one day I would want to be an NPD Manager. My ethnic strengths lend well to ingredients and creating strong aromatic flavours so I believe this role is perfect in utilising my main skills here.
The end goal is much more fulfilling for me in my product development job. I have definitely made the right career choice.
FMCL- The service was great. I’ll never forget Imogen’s support and the way she advised me as I was new to the industry. My efforts were well coached and supported.”
Development Chef, Staffordshire, Indian Chilled Ready Meals
"From a restaurant kitchen to a Product Development kitchen, the environment is similar with a room full of chefs and appliances creating dishes and experimenting.
But the Development Chef work is more detailed and in-depth, requiring much more reading and research, and carrying out all the processes thoroughly. It’s basically evolving in all the processes from product concept to launch. There are many areas to go through before this happens compared to that of the restaurant kitchen.
The key challenge being to create a product to not only meet budget requirements but also succeed in the market place. Getting from A to Z before products are launched is very different. In a restaurant kitchen we can create a recipe one night and sell out the same dish the next evening.
I have found that a Development Chef is not only responsible for new products but also updating existing products, sourcing ingredients, and initially managing suppliers; basically everything from taking the initial brief and translating the wants, needs and wishes from the clients, all the way through to launch onto the supermarket shelves.
Of course, there are a series of hurdles to overcome before your recipe is in the market. The best recipe or product can fail if just one thing goes wrong (costing, packaging, logistics, commercials, launch delays because of art work, QAS, microbiology tests etc). This can make the role really quite stressful at times. The issues of a product failing after months of work is far greater than when a dish doesn’t really do well in a restaurant – and the impact is huge if it goes wrong after launch or if customers don’t buy it.
One of the best things about being a Development Chef is the challenge itself; creating a new product would be my “baby” i.e. how I do it, what I do to it. It brings out all the attributes of being a professional chef and adds more."
Product Developer, Bakery and Desserts.
"The transition from a Head Chef role into a Development Chef role was a massive learning curve. From weighing a perfect recipe to converting the kitchen products to a factory level production was an immense challenge. Plus working with a wealth of experts in respective fields extending from “field to fork”.
The differences between an operational restaurant environment to that of a Development Kitchen for an NPD team are vast. There are positives as you have a 5 day week with weekends and bank holidays to yourself which is unheard of for most chefs.
In a restaurant kitchen attention to detail regards to the food was immensely important. In the Development kitchen the same extended to raw material scoping, relevance to the core competency of the respective factory, recipe creation with an eye to commercial constraints and technical feasibility. Creating the best food on the plate with the cap on raw materials and price is a greater challenge within food development for the clients we work for compared to that of the diners within a restaurant who are more accepting of our food suggestions. I also find the relationships can be stronger, working in partnership with retailers and foodservice operators in designing food they are putting their names to.
In terms of changes within the NPD world I have noticed since becoming a Development Chef that the competition is huge. Consumers are ever increasingly adventurous with their food choices and so the balance between creativity, daring and appealing to the masses is far greater. Celebrity chefs endorsing retailer food brands such as Michel Roux, Heston Blumenthal and Jamie Oliver to name a few is prevalent. World food trends and application converted to factory application – eg. waterbaths, PDX, needle injection brining, NPD on fields with seeds and leaves, in- house smoking, tandoor oven with belts etc.
The influx of global and regional cuisines, the strong message for local produce, strict guidelines for salt/fat/calorie levels – all are on message at the moment. All of these developments have impacted greatly within New Product Development teams.
The best things about being a Development Chef are the working hours, in-depth industry knowledge and know how. The sense of achievement that the nation is eating products created by you is quite extraordinary. The disadvantages (if any) of being within a Product Development role are that there can be constraints when the productive flair is curtailed so products can fit into either technical or commercial prospective, or both.
In terms of the experience I have had working with Focus Management Consultants, the journey so far has been a dream come true as both my relevant big jobs have been possible by the way I had been presented by FMCL to my new employers."
Senior Development Chef, Bespoke Product Development.
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