Technical Questions for R&D Chef Interviews

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Joined Feb 12, 2018
Hello Everyone,

I am not sure if this is the proper area to post this thread but I am looking for help in understanding some technical questions that a company should ask when hiring an R&D Chef/Food Scientist and the reason why those questions are important.

We are expanding our current raw commodity business (Almonds) and moving into flavored products and now need an R&D chef. The chef is primarily in charge of coming up with new variants and flavors whether sweet or savory and the ingredients and process for doing this. The products will be packaged.For this role I do not have the technical background to ask good enough questions for assessing technical skills.

It would be of great help If I could get some ideas for Technical questions so that I can screen candidates as best as possible. Thank you
 
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Joined Sep 26, 2017
I'm not sure what kind of scale you're talking about, but I worked as an R&D chef before.

At the place I worked at, the R&D department have many workers, each with different jobs.

As a chef, all I did was coming up with new items and testing them (cooking, tasting); meanwhile, another worker was recording the ingredients and steps.

Once I was satisfied. I sent the new item to a tasting panel. Once the testers approved, another worker begun costing the item and adjusting the ingredients and steps to fit within budget, while still retaining the taste and concept of what I created.

Once that's done, yet another worker wrote up the manufacturing procedures, keeping in mind the equipment available in the manufacturing plant. This worker then visit the plant and showed the workers there what to do.

At the same time, a separate department handled the lab work concerning the shelf life, nutrition, and such.

The first batch of the product got back to me and the tasting panel, and if we're happy, the marketing department would take over and handle the rest.

So, all you really need is to find a modernist chef. As in a chef that cooks food with the help of science and chemicals.

You don't really need to ask any technical questions. Just ask what kind of food s/he cooks and find out if s/he is good at problem solving in regard to food and cooking. Any modernist chef will be more than capable of handling a R&D job.

You definitely do not want an old school chef that cooks only with experience though (as in knowing what to do and can do it well, but cannot explain why s/he does it that way).
 

kuan

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Joined Jun 11, 2001
It's near impossible to find expertise in both. A chef is not going to be familiar with the different types of processing required. A better fit would be a chef hired in as a technician and a food scientist who has experience in a couple of platforms, like thermal and extrusion, another technician more on the technical side and another food scientist who has experience in a couple of other fields like starches and baking. Then you need a person to oversee all of that.
 
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Joined Oct 1, 2006
Hi Justin18,

Recommendation- Search for "Water Activity".

From dealing with manufacturers, this is the single most critical element of shelf stabile food items. Follow the bread crumbs and search for all the peripherals involved in manufacturing and packaging of food. Things like vapor pressure and equilibrium relative humidity. You should be able to glean some good technical questions from what you find. I would think you would want to know about this aspect of production more than what flavors someone can develop.

U.C. Davis- "For a food to have a useful shelf life without relying on refrigerated storage, it is necessary to control either its acidity level (pH) or the level of water activity (aw) or a suitable combination of the two."

Chefs are great at flavors but good luck finding a chef that can oversee Lab operations for spoilage factors and bacterial and/or mold growth.

USDA info
Raw Almonds 4.7% water
Dry roasted Almonds 2.53%Water

Sounds like a fun project!

Good Luck!
 
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Joined Oct 10, 2005
Whoa! Since when do "Chefs" have expertise in "packaging"?

Do you mean working with large corporations developing new packaging methods and materials?

Do you mean that the "chef" is to source and purchase packaging equipment, and design work flows and packaging lines?

Do you mean the "chef" has extensive marketing experience and can design packaging and relevant packaging sizes to meet any criteria for your distributer/sales team? Oh, and advertising labels too?

Do you mean providing exact nutritional charts and labels for each item/packaging size?

Do you currently have bar codes for your items?
 
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Hi Everyone,

Thank you for the inputs. I will take all of these into account. Much appreciated!

Best,

Justin
 
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I'll say that this sounds like a fun job in whatever permutation it ends up being. You don't say what location it is in but the job sounds like a great opportunity for exploration and learning more about the food industry, at least related to almonds anyway.
I can't say I like the term "modernist" chef but I suppose it's one way of encompassing the necessary traits in a single term. I'm not even sure a Chef is required as this is an exploration of a single ingredient. Someone who is endlessly curious and open minded who loves learning ( and eating) and gets along well with others, whatever their background might be a good fit. As everyone has pointed out, it takes a team anyway and lots of input from many areas.
 
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Wow! I think I'm hearing that R&D Chef/Food Scientist doesn't exist. On the contrary, this is large field. You should have no problem hiring someone. If you lack the technical or food science questions for interviewing someone, than simply ask the potential hire to explain in detail, his or her complete detailed job descriptions and accomplishments of previous employment stated on resume.
You can keep your posture of employer and still learn from applicants about your potential needs. Most of those that are in demand are usually a marriage of Experienced Creative Chef coupled with a foodie who posses a scientific background and is explicitly focused on State, Country, and World guidelines. Through experience and a number of accomplishments they assimilate the marketing process. As with just about everything in our world now, this is not one-stop shopping. Expect to job out professional marketing, exposure, buyers, etc.
I have worked and been associated with this field on a couple of occasions. Just my personal opinion. I would seek out a person, partnership, small group, before I would consider retaining a company who specializes in this field. The more promises I receive, the more my radar increases. HTH's
 
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I remember something called "Barriers to entry" from a business class.

Sounds like you are going head to head with Blue Diamond Almond products and trying to take their shelf space away. They currently have 16 flavors in production. Current flavors include, Sweet Thai Chili, Sriracha, Habanero, Blueberry, Wasabi and Soy, honey roasted Chipotle, etc. They also have several crackers too. That's a tough nut to crack! sorry...

I would like the challenge of developing an Almond product that does not have that level of significant competition. Maybe something involving defatted, toasted Almond flour in a confection of some sort. Maybe a layered wafer. If your Almonds are organic, I would look at availability of other organic ingredients. Maybe the answer is in using the oils for something.

As I said before, sounds like a fun project! Almonds are delicious!

Good luck!
 

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