By: Karen Diep
Featured Culinologist: Allison Rittman, Chef Consultant at Culinary Culture
Can you give us a little background on what you do at Culinary Culture? What’s a day like for you there?
My day to day work is something different every day, which is one reason I love my job! One day we may be in the kitchen developing gold standard prototypes for a presentation to a foodservice chain, the next day we might be in a focus group trying to gain insight into a product that is going into a test market, or we may be in a manufacturing plant working with the operations team to commercialize a product. Our clients range from a sauce manufacturer to chain restaurants, a start-up QSR, to a peanut company, you can see how it is something new every day!
How did you become interested in working as a consultant? Was it your goal to be a consultant?
I was approached by a company that recruited me to become a consultant, I never planned that career path. My goal in college was to become a veterinarian, so I never actually meant to become a chef at all. I’m glad I fell in love with cooking and I ended up in this career, I enjoy my work!
What are some challenges you face as a consultant? Is it harder or easier than working in a standard research kitchen?
I not only have to manage my team, but my clients, the projects and their expectations. I don’t have a large group to help with HR, finances, etc., to assist with the tasks outside of working as a research chef that I deal with on a daily basis, so I am good at juggling. I don’t think it is any easier or harder than a typical research kitchen job, just different.
As a consultant, what are some issues that you see in the industry? In your opinion, what can the industry improve on to make our food better in both restaurants and grocery store shelves?
Sometimes just being a consultant from outside the company can lend expertise. You aren’t stuck in the “we can’t do that” or “we already tried that” box. I try to lend a fresh eye to the projects I am involved in. I truly believe with the right people you can make just about any vision happen. The biggest obstacle I have seen is time to market. If companies would slow down on the projects that could truly be game changing for the company, they could get a huge win over time, versus producing a mediocre product quickly. Be willing to spend time and thought to special projects that could be something truly unique, while moving forward quickly on projects that you can do easily.
What skills do you think are essential in the industry? How about as a consultant?
There are some skills that can be taught and some that cannot. Having solid culinary and food science skills is a must, the basis of all else. Being a person that others want to be around is important, it helps build networks and personal connections. Anticipating problems before they need solutions can also save a lot time and money. As a consultant, the same skills are needed, and time management is essential.
What advice can you give to people entering the field?
Work in a restaurant! I don’t care if it is a fast food place or fine dining. This can help you understand your future marketplace from a unique perspective. You also need to practice culinary skills to master them. Become a foodie if you aren’t already. Read industry magazines to see what is happening, Lucky Peach, Sabor, Culinology, etc. Eat out and try new places, it can be cheap food from a hole in the wall, just get out there and taste.
Working in the restaurant, you perform many tasks. Which one do you love the most and which one do you love the least?
I actually love the end of the shift clean up, all the stress of service is done and you can relax and when you are done there is a shiny, clean kitchen ready to go again. My least favorite is anything that keeps me out of the kitchen!
What are you looking forward to most at the upcoming RCA Annual Conference and what tips can you give to people going for the first time?
Personally, I can’t wait to see the Campbell’s Trends presentation. They blew me away the first time I saw it, and it only gets better every year. The Frito Lay general session looks so interesting, and Gerry Ludwig is pretty amazing too. There were some great pre-conference sessions this year to choose from, I signed up for the Asian Street Food Tour, I am hungry already! So much to look forward to. Don’t miss the educational sessions, they are top notch! Tips for first timers- meet as many people as you can. This is a fun, energetic group of talented people who want to help each other out. It is rare to find such a group of like-minded, amazing people, so make new friends, join in as much as you can, and ask lots of questions.
Are there any trends that you’re forecasting for this year? What can we expect on our store shelves and tables at restaurants?
I love the ethnic trends that are coming on board, Harissa, Gochujang, Chermoula, Chamoy, etc. All bold flavors I would love to see hit mainstream. I am also obsessed with authentic Nashville Hot Chicken, I would love to see this pop up in retail.
Do you have a favorite food city or food country? (Just want to know for those of us who love to travel)
Sydney, Australia is my favorite food city, you can find anything there and the markets are amazing. I also love Austin, TX. It is where I live, I may be bias, but the food scene and food trucks here are incredible. Nashville, TN also has a great food scene. How can I pick just one? Traveling is the best way to experience new cuisine.