Internship: Land O’Lakes Test Kitchen

By: Erik Jones

My name is Erik Jones. I’m 25 years old, and in my final year of school at Southwest Minnesota State University getting my Bachelors of Science in Culinology. I have 9 years of experience cooking professionally in many different segments including hotels, resorts, fine dining, quick service, catering, and more.

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Comparing the functionality of a Land O’ Lakes customer’s scratch-made butter sauce with Butter Sauce Base

As the Foodservice Test Kitchen Intern I worked under Mark Petchenik, the Corporate Executive Chef for Land O’Lakes. He has been working in the professional foodservice world for over 35 years, and is a Certified Research Chef. Land O’Lakes, Inc. is a member-owned agricultural cooperative based in Arden Hills, Minnesota. It was founded in 1921, and has always been a top-quality, highly recognized brand in the dairy industry. We are a nationally distributed, broad line dairy manufacture. The Foodservice Division includes products for professional foodservice outlets like schools, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, and more. The Test Kitchen supports R&D, Sales, and Marketing with product development and support. As the Foodservice Intern, my first task was to get comfortable with the product line. Land O’Lakes offers many natural, processed, and value-added dairy products; it’s a lot more than just butter, which is what I kept having to tell my family and friends all summer.

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A cheese stuffed dinner roll using Land O’ Lakes Extra Melt Cheese

One of my main projects was to support to two specific products: Cream Sauce Base and Butter Sauce Base. As a chef these products were essentially new toys, and I had a lot of fun playing with them. I did evaluations where I put the products through abusive tests to ensure they functioned as they were supposed to. This is one of the reasons Land O’Lakes employs chefs; we know what foodservice operations will be doing with the products. So I put the products through a worst-case scenario gauntlet of all the abuses professional kitchens might put them through: microwaves, broilers, mixing in acids, etc. Doing these tests gives the sales team the confidence to go talk to professional chefs and assure them that our products really do function the way Land O’Lakes say they do.

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Comparing Land O’Lakes Butter Sauce Base. Each is from a different time during the production shift, and we’re making sure they all function the same

I was able to travel to attend sales call with a Land O’Lakes customer. There I went into one of our customer’s working kitchens to cook directly with the corporate chef and staff making their recipes with our products. Having a chef there walking-the-walk and talking-the-talk gives the customer confidence in the products, and also shows that Land O’Lakes provides them with support that others are unable to provide.

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A cream sauce recipe using Land O’Lakes Cream Sauce Base for a vegetable. This recipe will be used for a K-12 customer, meaning it has to meet very strict nutritional specifications

This summer I also did recipe development to help support current and potential customers. For example, the Cream Sauce Base can be used as a low-calorie, low fat, low sodium replacement for mayonnaise in salad dressings. This can be exactly the kind of functionality being sought after in healthcare foodservice operations. I developed a number of recipes that customers can use.

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A big part of this internship was learning how to work in a 9-5, corporate setting. Attending meetings, learning how to communicate within a cross functional team, project management, and designing/giving presentations were just a few of the skills I learned this summer.

Overall, Land O’Lakes was a fantastic experience, and any Culinology student would be lucky to have the experience of working there.

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