How to become a Development Chef
Every day we are contacted by a variety of different chefs wanting to transition into New Product Development. We have helped hundreds make that career change over the years and have become renowned for our expertise in doing this. We thought we would answer this million dollar question above and share some of our expertise.
Firstly, it’s important to assess whether the Development Chef job is actually right for you. There are many very talented chefs in the industry who do a fantastic job in restaurant kitchens day in and day out. They create fabulous menus, meet GP targets and manage large brigades, but it doesn’t mean they are right for a move into Product Development. Our clients look for three main things in a chef wanting to embrace that career move:
1/ Passion for Food and Culinary Skill
All chefs say they have a passion for food - but do they really? We really do look for people who live and breathe it. It isn’t just their job but their life (no, that’s not sad!). Ask yourself these questions. Do you have experience from a number of well-respected restaurants? Do you have varied experience? This could include fine-dining, AA multi-Rosette standard, Award winning gastro pub, catering business, your own restaurant, high volume banqueting, hotels, delis, branded restaurant chains, even cookery schools. Do you have wide food knowledge, with an awareness across a variety of cuisines? Do you have strong knowledge of ingredients? Are you up to date on trends within food – within the UK and internationally? What is popular on TV and in the media at the moment? Where are the best restaurants in your local area? What chefs do you admire and why? Where are the best markets, food fairs, suppliers in your area? Have you eaten in a really good, even inspirational restaurant recently? Why was it so good? Is there a restaurant you aspire to eat in or a country you wish to travel to and learn more about their cuisine? Does your interest extend to smoking your own meats in your spare time? Or foraging? Learning about Butchery? Have you created best selling menu dishes? Where did your inspiration for these dishes come? Are there new skills you aspire to learn?
That’s a lot of questions. But that is what you are going to be asked and assessed against, so start quizzing yourself.
We look for chefs who can demonstrate real in-depth knowledge of food. Our clients look for this as a given and want to employ people who can drive the food culture in its business and inspire others with their knowledge. You need to become the Food Champion!
2/ Communication Skills
Working in a corporate business environment is very different to working in a restaurant kitchen. At whatever level you start your career in product development, communication skills are hugely important. For the all roles it is essential that you can engage with others in a positive way. Can you inspire others when you talk about food? Too often we meet Chefs who think their food speaks for itself. It doesn’t. You need to be able to articulate what this dish stands for. You need to be able to explain to customers all about flavour profiles, textures, and the way ingredients work together. You need to be well versed in the history and tradition of the cuisine you are illustrating through your dish.
Can you work as part of a team to complete tasks to a given deadline? Can you structure your thoughts and reasoning and convince a Managing Director why a dish should be included in an upcoming range launch? The MD needs to know it is going to make money – lots of it. So the dish needs to excite the customer, taste great, make them want to buy it again and again, and it must provide a good profit margin along the way.
Do you have the softer skills required to sell an idea or product concept to a room of people you have never met? Do you build rapport with others easily? Can you maintain positive relationships with others when you are under pressure? Can you give and take constructive feedback? Can you listen and learn as well as lead? There is absolutely no room here for the Head Chef ego trip.
For more senior roles it is equally important that you can manage others, can carry out professional range presentations that win business, liaise at all levels and flex your communication style to suit the situation you are in. One minute your dealing with production operatives who are in the factory making your product; the next, liaising with suppliers or senior colleagues; and then finally, “selling” your new range to M&S, Waitrose or other major customers at their Head Offices.
3/ Organisational skills
Development Chef jobs might involve more sociable hours than working in a restaurant, but there are still many challenges to overcome. It would not be uncommon for your average week to involve managing a number of projects, having three customer presentations in different locations, new ingredients to source, market research to do, 50 products to prepare and an important internal meeting with the Manufacturing department. So your ability to keep your cool under pressure and prioritise is key.
Our clients look for candidates who can multi-task, whose food standards do not drop despite the lack of time, and for those who plan and organise in advance to make the busy days run smoothly. Are you a natural organiser, who thinks ahead and has unwavering standards for yourself and others? Do you always go the extra mile despite time limitations? Our clients need candidates who are naturally organised and can handle working in a fast-paced environment.
You also need to be able to document anything you do. When creating new recipes, a pinch of this or a dash of that won’t do in this environment. When your product is scaled up to run through a factory, what does a pinch mean? All products need accurate specification so that the recipe can be replicated time and again, with correct measurements and cooking times to achieve the product consistency customers want and expect.
If you have read this through in detail and honestly think this is for you then you already have a chance of transitioning in to a Development Chef role.
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