Why be a development chef? Here’s all you need to know to decide, with insights from Simon Maule, Faccenda Food’s Senior Development Chef.
- You’ll be looking ahead at future food and consumer trends, then translating them into workable products.
Being a development chef is, in essence, about adapting popular ideas from across the globe – for example from restaurants, hotels and street food environments – and seeing how they can work in retail and food service situations.
Simon Maule says: “We’re developing new products – but not completely new. You’re translating, and also developing things like packaging.
“My team has the genesis of an idea, then a larger team takes that to develop it further and bring it to market.”
Development chefs, for example, with supermarkets, also get involved with improving existing products, perhaps making them tastier or healthier, or more appealing to the eye.
- It’s not just older chefs going into development later in their careers
Traditionally the role attracted older chefs who had worked in hotels and restaurants, and were looking for a change. But now, increasingly, younger people are getting into the field, as it’s seen as interesting, exciting and responsible. “It’s certainly not just where you go for an easy 9-5. It’s becoming much more recognised as a role,” says Simon. He says now there are awards, for example from The Craft Guild of Chefs, which help bring more credibility to development as a career.
- You need base skills and knowledge as well as a large pinch of passion and a slug of creativity
An employer will look for natural cooking talent, catering qualifications and solid restaurant or hotel kitchen experience.
Added to that you need to be able to have good working relationships with colleagues across sales, finance, marketing and so on, as you will work with a lot of people. “It’s not just you doing your thing,” Simon says.
“In a hotel or restaurant you can be primarily responsible for the dish all the way through the process until it leaves the kitchen. When you’re a development chef it has to be put together by other people. You have got to trust other people to deliver it,” he adds.
You may also find yourself liaising with suppliers, and perhaps presenting new products to potential trade partners or even consumers, so strong people skills and a great attitude to team work are essential.
- Accept that not everything is going to work
Not everything is transferable. When you’re looking at a product destined for a supermarket, where it needs to have a ten day shelf life, there are going to be limits to what you can achieve. There are ways of getting round this and you need to be creative – for example, a sauce can go in a packet, on the side – but ultimately, there is lots of testing and many things won’t make it to the end consumer.
“You have to learn not to get frustrated as you can get caught up on one idea,” says Simon.
Having the awareness of the bigger picture – rather than being fixated on getting a particular dish to work – is vital.
“If you take a step back and take a more holistic approach you often realise there are other things you can do.
“There’s a wider team and a bigger support network available,” he explains.
- Be curious about emerging trends in production and packaging – as well as food and drink
Technology moves fast and new processes are always coming through. Something you may have tried a while ago could become viable, so don’t be afraid to revisit old ideas too.
“A lot of what we do is test products and there’s a large amount of trial and error involved. Sometimes you have to shelve an idea for a while and come back to it later on.
“You have to look at other sectors and see what they’re doing. You can never have just a narrow view when you’re in development. It’s about being open to new ideas and taking inspiration from lots of different places,” says Simon.
So, which trends are catching Simon’s eye right now?
“There’s a move back to kit formats – helping people cook a great, restaurant quality meal at home. It’s combining a love of convenience with a great experience and excellent taste and quality.
“You really have to up your game in this area now. Traditional ready-meals that you put in the microwave still have their place – but many people, particularly a younger generation, are more interested in food than ever and want something more. There’s also a global awareness and concern for the environment that we have to respond to.
“The most commonly posted photographs on Instagram are of food – that’s a generational shift we can’t ignore.”
Simon adds: “For me street food is very exciting. It gives so many people an opportunity to taste a huge variety cuisines and flavours. For example, American barbecue, Korean and new fusions have all come through that route, and you can see them moving into the mainstream now, beyond restaurants but into supermarkets as well.”
- You will have to work very hard – and prepare, sometimes, to be disappointed. But there’s plenty of job satisfaction to be had.
It’s not simply an easy job of tasting and trips. You do have to keep your head on your shoulders – and don’t ever think you’re bigger than the dishes you’re creating,” Simon says.
You also need patience. In development it can be three or four months before the product you’ve been working on comes out. You’ve moved on to the next thing before it becomes live.
The disappointments are the dishes that never go out. “It’s a shame when something doesn’t make it. That’s always hard – but it happens in restaurants too. You do a dish that you think is great, and no one buys it.”
But Simon reveals the great satisfaction that comes the first time you see something you’ve developed up on the shelf. “That brings a smile to your face. When you see someone picking up one of your lines and putting it in their basket, it feels very good. It’s really nice to know that people enjoy it.”
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