By Hannah Dressen
My name is Maxwell Fluck; I am a culinary technologist at OSI Group, LLC. I am an alumnus of Southwest Minnesota State University with a Bachelor of Science in Culinology. I graduated in the spring of 2013 and have held several positions since my graduation, working my way to my current position.
After graduation, I took an internship with Checkers/Rally’s, working with their development team. The experience that I received while working with the team there was of great value to me, as I was able to learn what it was like to work for a large scale restaurant chain. I was also introduced to many food and ingredient suppliers and made connections with them that I continue to maintain today. Through my work during that internship, I met many corporate chefs from those supplier companies and have become good friends with many of them.
When my internship ended at Checkers/Rally’s, I started working in a restaurant to gain experience in areas where I lacked some knowledge. I also worked in a large scale kitchen for a corporate business that served about 300 people at breakfast and lunch on a daily basis. While positions such as these were not my end goal, I understood that I had things to learn and these roles gave me the opportunity to grow in different ways. While working in the restaurants, I was continuing to look for a full time culinary position. I used my connections from the internship at Checker’s/Rally’s to secure an opportunity working for meat processor Ed Miniat, LLC.
As an intern at Ed Miniat, I learned a lot about the process of sous vide cooking. I was able to extensively use functional ingredients, flavors, seasonings, and other various components for the meats. I was taught about using injection, tumble marinating, and how those affect the final texture and flavor of the product. I was also able to take advantage of learning about the best ways to present products and how to showcase a single, particular item. I learned the ins and outs of food photography and how to make products look their best in photographs. While working for Ed Miniat, I continued to expand my network and make connections with customers and even some competitors. It was through these connections that I was able to get the position that I have now, at OSI.
In my short time with OSI, I have been exposed to a variety of products and processes that I hadn’t been exposed to before. As a company, we are always evolving and growing, allowing us to keep adding to our diverse offerings. Our core offerings include everything from sausage and beef patties, whole muscle proteins, batter/breaded items, salsas, sauces, and a variety of beans. I have been able to work on several different platforms, which has allowed me to grow and learn in many different areas.
My position is quite a diverse one; I do a lot of things. I develop new products, manage internal cuttings, create menus for internal and external lunches, host customers and suppliers, manage products through pilot plant tests and full scale tests, work with food stylists and do food photography for presentations. I also work with suppliers to develop recipes and formulas, support customers in cuttings, and manage new suppliers.
I have been in my current position for just over a year now and I know that I still have a lot to learn here. The teams that we have at OSI have been great with everything. No matter what project I am working on, I know that I can find someone who has some experience with that type of project and is willing to help. I have had a great mentor throughout my time here, Chef Christopher Hansen, and he has been there whenever I have had questions. He has been a guiding hand throughout the whole process, and is never hesitant to offer positive pressure and to challenge me when I have rushed things. He also has always been there to offer suggestions about how to improve products and processes.
Chef Christopher and I have been working together on a new mentorship program at OSI. We are starting this mentorship program to provide graduating students (juniors and seniors) in related fields the opportunity to experience what it is like to work for one of the leading food providers in the world. Such an internship will provide the students with a real-life look at what businesses expect of them and what their customers need. We are really excited to start this new program.
I have had a roller coaster of experience in the past couple of years, going from internship to restaurant job, back to internship, and on to a career. If I have anything to offer as far as advice to people who are just starting out in the industry, it would be this: meet as many people as you can and make as many connections as you can. You never know who is going to be hiring or asking your connections who they know or can suggest as potential candidates. I would also advise you to keep in touch with as many people as you can and genuinely care about what they say, because people can tell when you are not being genuine or outright faking interest. Make connections and do not burn bridges. This industry is small and, chances are, someone already knows who you are or has heard something about you. It is up to you to make that a positive impression.