Chef Profile: Career Path Insights

Jun 28, 2022, 21:23
Chef Profile: Career Path Insights

Chef Profile: Career Path Insights

31 January 2022

Tommy McDonald
Executive chef and author of "Field Roast; 101 Artisan Vegan Meat Recipes"
Greenleaf Foods/Field Roast Grain Meat Co./Lightlife Foods

By Lisa Parrish, GMC Editor
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Editor’s Note: The new, monthly Chef Profile: Career Path Insights will focus on professional chefs from various facets of the foodservice industry. Culinarians answer questions delving into their views of current foodservice developments and how culinary students can obtain positions within their industries. A goal of this series is to introduce students and instructors to a plethora of foodservice career options. Click here to view the previous profiles.

In what foodservice area do you work?
I work for Greenleaf Foods which is a manufacturer of plant-based meats and cheeses under the brands Lightlife Foods and Field Roast. In my role, I support the different facets of the business from a culinary-focused perspective, including: 

  • Product development: I work in tandem with the product developers to give feedback on performance, texture, and overall flavor of the products which they are developing.
  • Marketing: We communicate with consumers about our products through fun, creative, high-color campaigns in print and social and digital media. To do this, we design delicious recipes with beautiful photos to inspire folks to incorporate our products into their cooking. It helps to give shape to a rapidly growing category that many are still getting acquainted with.
  • Sales: Much of my time is spent with our sales team, telling the story of our products, as well as the benefits of plant-based cooking and eating. For our retail customers, that also means helping that retailer pass the story along to their customers. And, with our foodservice customers, it means helping them identify how our products fit into the flow of their menus and kitchens.

Where do you see your area of the foodservice industry in five years?
It is an exciting time to be involved in the plant-based foods movement, which is only going to continue to grow as a lifestyle and way of eating. If we're reading the trade winds right, they are all blowing in the same positive direction. When I first started with the company, almost 10 years ago, it was a radical idea to market vegan food to meat-eating consumers. But today, it seems to be commonplace throughout the category. As consumers continue to examine the net health benefits of reducing their consumption of animal products, coupled with the reduced environmental impact of eating more plant-based products, I think we will continue to see more and more people embracing the category. Our job is to continue to work to improve our offerings, create more value for our customers, finetune flavor and performance, and incorporate cutting-edge ingredients and processes into our formulas. I am proud to help contribute to this growing movement.

Describe two current trends you are seeing today.
The first trend is really exciting because I get to sound like a total hipster and tell everyone I was into it before it was cool, but some of the best chefs in the world are embracing plant-based eating. With Marcus Samuelsson curating an entirely plant-based menu for the Met Gala this year. To Gordon Ramsey testing the plant-based waters with his beautiful aubergine steak recipe. Incredibly, earlier in the year Eleven Madison Park Executive Chef Daniel Humm, whose restaurant earned three Michelin stars and was named on the 2017 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, announced the restaurant would be going fully plant-based indefinitely. And this was all in the last 12 months!

The second trend I see, which has been happening for a long time and continues to grow: consumers are interested in what they put in their bodies and genuinely care more about how the food they eat is grown/made and its impact on the planet.

Because the category is still taking shape, there is some confusion and uncertainty about what makes up many plant-based products. This is why we have gone into every product formula we make to remove unnecessary additives in an effort to demystify their ingredient statements. Thankfully, we have always held very high standards for our ingredients and suppliers..

What steps would you advise culinary graduates to take in securing a position in today's foodservice market?
My advice would be to find an opportunity with an employer you can be proud to be a part of. Get to know as much as you can about the company and its history. Visit a location as a customer if you can and evaluate your experience. Also, make sure you can discuss compensation with them comfortably. Make sure you can make ends meet on the salary, as there are many opportunities out there that will compensate you fairly. Don't feel like you need to settle for less than you should be making out of the gate.

Please describe one surprising event in your professional life that made a valuable impact on your career today.
I had just left a position with my employer of seven years to take a job under an incredible chef in Seattle that I was very excited about. At some point in between finishing up my old gig and starting the new one, I went to a baseball game with a good friend of mine. I meet an eccentric gentleman who made "vegan charcuterie" and sold it at local grocery stores, restaurants, and actually at the ballpark itself. We talked for most of the game and I tried one of their "traditional (plant-based) frankfurters" at the stand in the concourse. I never ended up working for that amazing Seattle chef, but 10 years later, we still make those frankfurters in our manufacturing facility in Seattle! If you ever catch me at a Mariners game in Seattle, I'd be happy to buy you a frankfurter, and talk vegan charcuterie....