Development chefs are the kitchen maestros that play an influential role in helping operators make vital decisions about their menus, processes and kitchens; the unsung heroes that know every single detail about the equipment their companies provide. As part of a special series celebrating their work, we will be catching up with a number of the UK’s top development chefs. Here, we catch up with Duncan Parsonage from Unox…
With 20 years’ experience behind the stove, Duncan Parsonage is business development chef at Unox UK, working as part of a global team to support customers by assisting with menu and recipe creation, overseeing food trials and furthering product development. He discusses his passion for cooking, the benefits of Unox’s added value services and the extensive network of support that the specialist oven manufacturer has the luxury of tapping into.
What does a typical day entail for you?
I support customers, including casual dining chains, contract caterers, restaurant groups and more, by assisting with their menu and recipe development, working together with their team on cooking recipes and programmes, and providing guidance on further product development and equipment solutions.
I don’t have a typical day or week necessarily, but that’s exactly what I thrive on! My job is extremely varied, but the one thing that’s constant is that I still have plenty of opportunities to cook.
In what ways is your role able to support operators with the kitchen, equipment or menu challenges they face?
I work with end-user customers to help assist with their own menu development and to show how our products can help enhance their menus. Of course, this is made easier due to the wide range of ovens Unox produces, but I can also offer the specialist support that only a seasoned development chef has.
This means I can advise how to streamline operational bottlenecks, improve standardisation, speed up service and investigate equipment solutions while helping to reduce food waste, too. These are all ‘added value’ considerations that a typical chef or buyer might not consider when working on new menu development.
How often are you able to host end-user customers at your development kitchen?
In an average week we typically have two or three presentations at our test kitchen in Camberley. Clients get to see their food items being prepared and cooked live, which really helps to showcase the opportunities. We feel the only way to truly experience the quality of the end-results is by tasting the food.
The benefit of working with a global organisation like Unox is that we also have a global corporate chef team that can assist with regional recipes and trends. Our corporate head chef, Nicola Lai, is based at our European head offices in Italy, where he has a full development kitchen, demonstration arena and six resident chefs.
What do you think operators derive most value from when visiting your kitchen facilities or using your services?
Visiting our kitchen gives a customer access to the equipment with the opportunity to see it in action, producing their own dishes or concepts, while talking through the technology and capabilities of the oven with me in real-time. A client gets to see every feature of the oven and also use the technology provided.
Sometimes these features are overlooked when choosing an oven — having used them they sometimes become the key feature of the client’s solution. You simply can’t beat meeting face to face — when safe to do so, of course.
What would you describe as your favourite part of the job?
The planning, preparation and delivery of a presentation, tailored to the specific needs of an individual end-user. I also enjoy the testing of food items and building of new programmes for the entire oven range.
What has been the most rewarding project you’ve worked on or challenge that you’ve helped an operator overcome?
As company we are focused on helping customers to overcome their kitchen challenges and this is a key thread throughout all of our NPD. Probably the most rewarding project was with a manufacturer end-user. They installed our latest 16-tray bakery ovens as a replacement for their old models and in doing so it enabled them to reduce bake times by as much as 15 minutes on certain items. They have bought 22 ovens from us to date and have plans for more in 2021.
What impact has the pandemic had on your role or the way you carry it out?
I’m not going to deny it’s been a challenge, but overall I’ve been extremely fortunate. We switched some demonstrations over to virtual ones to make sure that we continue our services to clients. It also came at a time when Unox has launched some innovative new equipment including the Multi.Day Hot Vacuum system, so it has given me the opportunity to spend a lot of time in the kitchen getting the best out of our new products.
What piece of equipment have you most enjoyed having in your development kitchen over the past one to two years?
Without a shadow of a doubt it’s the Evereo hot fridge, which has defined hot holding in the industry. This is a precision cooker, hot holding and slow cooking device all rolled into one, which gives caterers the option to cook and hold food at service temperature for days or weeks, without the traditional energy-intensive process of blast chilling, cold storage and regeneration. The reaction when presenting it to prospective new clients or our dealers is always one of amazement – it certainly gets people talking. Also, our Data Driven Cooking package on our ovens is one of the best in the world.
Speed, flexibility, energy efficiency, new ingredients – there are so many things that have a part to play in menu development right now. What do you expect to be big trends that operators will need support with over the next 12 months?
From our point of view, energy efficiency is always high on the agenda. For example, the Evereo only needs a three-pin plug to operate, with no need for water, waste or extraction. We can demonstrate that with quality ingredients, anyone can deliver great food without the need for a kitchen in some cases. Given the current situation, precision hot holding is a fantastic benefit to be able to offer as it enables busy kitchens and dark kitchens to cope with the peaks and troughs of customer demand while maintaining a quality food offer. Also, our new Bakerlux Speed.Pro accelerated cooking / convection oven is a superb piece of equipment for operators in these challenging times.
Chef’s Choice: Evereo
The Evereo is the stand-out piece of equipment in Unox’s extensive range, as far as business development chef, Duncan Parsonage, is concerned. “It is described as the ‘hot fridge’ and has the unique ability to preserve food for extended periods of time, safely and while maintaining quality,” he explains.
“It can be used for hot holding prepared foods, either under vacuum or in sealed containers at service temperature, thus speeding up service, minimising wastage and improving quality.” The Evereo can even be used for slow cooking, dehydrating and precise cooking too, much the same as you would with a water bath or circulator.
Inside Unox’s demo kitchen
Unox’s demo kitchen has everything it needs when presenting to customers, including an example of bakery, convection, accelerated cooking, combination and hot holding as permanent fixtures. If anything else is required, it can simply be brought in from the warehouse next door.
The test kitchen allows customers to find the best solutions for their requirements and is supported by Unox’s development kitchen in Italy, which employs six passionate chefs, speaking multiple languages.
Address: Unit 1, Camberley Business Centre, Stanhope Road, Camberley, Surrey, GU15 3DP (01252 851522)
A global business focused on cooking
UK business development chef, Duncan Parsonage, is part of a global team of national development chefs at Unox, which also includes corporate head chef Nicola Lai who works out of the company’s global HQ in Italy. Nicola has been a corporate chef for seven years, working with thousands of customers undertaking demonstrations and establishing cooking processes.
Nicola, what do you most enjoy about your role?
Working side-by-side with chefs from everywhere in the world and sharing our recipes and the new processes we discover on our equipment. It’s great to help clients find solutions to their challenges and to look at their faces when our team suggests a better cooking process than the one they previously used.
Unox is renowned for its range of commercial ovens. How does your role assist operators with their cooking challenges?
We are surrounded by great chefs and kitchens, with new trends every week. But it’s very rare to find someone that decides to invest time on improving the quality of cooking.
Many people use ovens in their most basic way but the fact is the oven is one of the most innovative pieces of equipment, able to help daily operations in the kitchen even if there is no Michelin-starred chef. I, along with my colleagues around the world, am here to help chefs achieve the best results.
How can your facilities and services help operators get the most out of their ovens?
In seven years I have never met a chef able to exploit every single feature of their oven, purely and simply because no one has taught them how to do it. Once a chef finds the first cooking programme they like, they stop looking for a better result. I love being able to help make a difference to that.