A Day in the Life of a Corporate Chef
When Claire Menck began her latest job two years ago, she felt as if someone had lifted a heavy weight from her shoulders. Suddenly, she was in the kitchen again, developing, mixing, tweaking, tasting—using her creative muscles and doing what she loves to do.
Menck is the corporate chef for Emmi Roth USA, the U.S. branch of Swiss cheese company, Emmi Group. There are three aspects to her job:
No. 1: Creating recipes for the company’s website.
No. 2: Working with retailers to incorporate Emmi Roth’s products into their dishes.
No. 3: Collaborating with large food manufacturing brands to incorporate the cheese products into their refrigerated or frozen meals.
Cooking is Menck’s passion, “but one of the things they don’t tell you in culinary school is most of your creative work ends once you start moving up because you start doing all the admin stuff like inventory management and P&L,” she says. “That means very little time left over to be in the kitchen actually creating.”
A move into the corporate world brought Menck back to doing what she really enjoys.
For 33 years, Menck worked in restaurants and culinary schools but was missing the kitchen. In 2014, when Emmi Roth came calling, “It seemed like such a dream to be able to go back into the kitchen to find products that make clients happy. I didn’t want to push paper around any more.”
Another thing she loves about her job is the variety. Menck now works with food scientists and travels around the country working with different people. She also makes her own schedule and often works through the night if a creative mood hits her. “I love to create this structure myself,” she says. She also gets most evenings and weekends free, which is a definite plus.
Barilla’s Lorenzo Boni also moved back into the corporate world because, like Menck, he wanted to spend more time in the kitchen, but also to have a better work-life balance.
After spending 16 years working in top restaurants in Italy, plus a three-year stint in New York City, he’d reached the point of owning his own restaurant in Bologna.
Then, he began working part-time for Barilla, the colossal pasta/sauce company, which is headquartered in Italy, and, by 2004, he had sold his restaurant and moved to Chicago to work for the company full-time. There he develops recipes and works with people who aren’t immediately involved in food, such as employees in marketing, sales, and the foodservice team.
“My job is the perfect combination of cooking hands-on and also doing a lot of other things that have nothing to do with cooking like organizing events and PR. With Barilla America I’ve found the perfect combination of cooking and working with clients, food scientists, and kids,” Boni says.
His quality of life is so much better now, he says, and he even gets to see the sun. He’s able to spend plenty of time with his wife and 9-year-old daughter, and while he works around one weekend a month, “that doesn’t batter you too much. If you always work when everyone else is enjoying life, that’s hard,” he says. “Owning a restaurant is brutal—it’s 24/7 you are on.”
The recipes Boni develops are for the product packaging, for the company’s website, and for new product launches. He also works with clients such as Amazon Fresh to provide recipes using Barilla’s product. On the restaurant and hotel side he works with chains to implement line cook training with Barilla products.
But perhaps the people Boni loves working with most are children. He helps chefs in school districts optimize their use of Barilla’s products, and he runs hands-on cooking activities with kids in schools. “It’s about the experience of cooking fresh food and showing them how easy it is,” he says.
Having spent more than 20 years working in restaurant and hotel kitchens, Mark Adair is enjoying the job he started 18 months ago: vice president of R&D and corporate chef for World Beer.
The hours he worked in the restaurant industry were too much, he says—around96 hours per week at his last hotel restaurant job. “My family would come to the property for lunch and dinner just to see me,” he notes.
Now, he spends about half of his time in the kitchen, though it’s very different, he says. “It’s not taking care of consumers in the immediate sense, as in a restaurant, but in the long-term sense, developing food.” Adair works hard to ensure the food served in World of Beer’s 70-plus locations is on trend and complementary to the beer the locations are pouring.
He spends around 20 percent of his time talking to brewers and chefs at craft breweries like Dogfish Head and Stone Brewing. “I pick their brains about the flavors and textures they’re bringing to the beer world.” The remainder of his time he spends training the company’s young culinarians.
Adair wanted the ability “to affect the world in a greater way rather than in just an independent restaurant,” he says. “It’s a bigger picture—you don’t have your individual stamp on the food like you do in an independent restaurant, but you’re affecting food across the world.”
A recent Sunday found him in his home kitchen, cooking while Skype connected him to the brewery chefs for Dogfish Head and Stone Brewing. The trio were working on food to match new fall beers.
“We created dishes together at the same time. It was an amazing exchange of thoughts and ideas,” he says. “We could develop recipes that really resonated with our customers.”
Being a people-person, one thing Adair loves about this job is the access it gives him to consumers, which helps him hone what he’s creating. He loves developing recipes in World of Beer’s taverns, then getting feedback on the dishes directly from the customers and from the chefs on the food’s execution.
However, everything is a trade-off and there is one thing Adair misses from the restaurant world: the family. In restaurants you really become part of a family because you’re working many hours with the same people. “Now I meet great people and have friendships but you don’t have those bonds,” he says.