Name: Darren Massey
Company: Standex FSE
Role: Development Chef
Years in role: 4
It’s an early start for me today as I am store training in a large supermarket based in Acton. Before leaving home I feed my chickens and grab a bowl of Weetabix — in that order! Standex’s office is based in Theale but I live in Geddington in Northamptonshire. It’s convenient for the major motorways and A roads, which is important as my job is national.
I’m training the store staff on a new oven before the department starts cooking for the day. Depending on the store requirements, I tend to stay for the first few cook loads and help them with the change over and set-up. I’ll also support and deliver that particular customer’s polices and operating procedures, coach the staff, and help them maintain a high standard of food offer.
I also provide an independent report back to their HQ, which helps them to monitor standards and operating procedures. In my role I probably use six or more different items of equipment in any given week, although recently I have been spending a lot of time working with our new CombiKing combi oven.
With the training done I head off to the next appointment, which means checking calls and emails while I’m on the move. Calls come in from customers and associates for cooking and oven programming advice throughout the day. As the company’s development chef I work closely with Steve Loughton [Standex’s managing director], the sales team, the engineers in the UK, and the new equipment development team in the US. I have found that because we all work closely together and depend on one another, our actions have to be considered, as they impact each other.
We have just put our first tabletop rotisserie into a department store retailer in Milton Keynes and theatre cooking is new to them and their customers, so I meet with their head chef to understand their requirements. I assist with product preparation, which in this case is a marinade for the spit-roast chicken portions.
Secondly, I test cook the product, adjusting the parameters and profiles of the oven to get the desired finish. This normally takes a couple of attempts because each customer will have their own preferences for finished cook colour. Once the customer is satisfied I train the staff and take notes away with me to produce operating and recipe guides for them. It’s important to log these notes accurately so we all know what the oven temperatures and timings should be for products. New staff often change timings to suit themselves!
Just arrived back at my own Standex development kitchen in Reading, where an afternoon of customer supplier validation awaits. I’m test cooking for another leading supermarket retailer and have been given a proposed new product line of vegetable and meat samosas. My job in this instance is to develop a cook programme that meets their qualitative and quantitative operating polices and standards. This involves test cooking the product, including extended hot-holding stages, in our BKI merchandisers.
During this process I compile temperature data, operating guidelines, load profiles and special requirements, and assess the quality of the products in line with our customers’ expectations. They will then accept this data for the new product and it will be cleared to roll out in the stores. During the hot-holding stage I compile the validation data for the customer I was testing the products for and use the time to complete the operational and recipe guides for the Milton Keynes customer’s staff restaurant I visited earlier in the day.
I’m off to support another of our new retail clients by visiting an associated food supplier. This involves recipe building, programming and operating procedures. It’s a major poultry supplier in Brackley, which is on my way home, so I’ll get back about 7pm.
Q&A: Talking work
Your industry background…
“I worked in hotels, restaurants, banqueting venues and contract catering, progressing to head chef level. Then I retrained and became a chef lecturer and taught in a college for a few years before becoming a group executive chef for a large restaurant and brewery company. After that I took up a role in the catering equipment market.”
Describe your role in one word…
Your main objectives…
“To support our customers and our internal team through food and equipment development and operational support. I might also be on hand to help at exhibitions or trade fairs.”
Favourite part of the job…
“Working with people and sharing the knowledge I have on food and how the application of our equipment can benefit them. I also like being at the forefront of new equipment development. I recently spent some time with our new Italian manufacturing partners and their culinary team in Venice, and they have been here to the UK as well. It’s always great to share new experiences.”
Hardest part of the job…
“Managing the expectations of our core customers in retail. They operate in a very pressured environment so can be quite demanding of us at times.”
On working with distributors…
“I am totally available to support the distributors and, through them, their customers’ operations. This could involve store openings, product training or menu development.”
A recent highlight…
“One of our customers recently held a two-day internal fair for all their mainland European buyers and my role was to talk about equipment usage from the operators’ point of view — fortunately they all spoke English! I’m proud to say that we won an order worth six figures from one of the countries a couple of weeks later.”