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. This time it’s Michael Eyre from Jestic Foodservice Solutions…
After finishing catering college and spending 10 years in the pub, restaurant, hotel and event catering sectors, Michael Eyre began his first development chef role with Bakers Pride. That set him on the path to co-founding Jestic Foodservice Solutions and, some two decades later, he continues to spearhead its ever-expanding culinary operation. He discusses how the business is set up to provide tailored support, his fascination with frying and the buzz he gets from working with innovative operators.
What does a typical week entail for you?
I’m part of the senior leadership team here so it can be anything from board meetings to testing equipment! I love being in the kitchen on a daily basis and we’ve now extended the size of the culinary team here to five people.
I am very fortunate that it’s a fun and varied role, from on-site training, development sessions and demonstrations to looking at new equipment manufacturers and carrying out development work with customers on new and existing equipment. I’m also involved with marketing and organising trade shows.
In what ways is your role able to support operators with the challenges they face?
Menu development, equipment trials and on-site equipment trials are important parts of what we do and we work very closely with a good number of the high street chains. The acquisition of ServEquip 10 years ago led to us getting Henny Penny and we started working with the likes of KFC and JD Wetherspoon on frying, in particular.
I learned an awful lot about frying and the importance of oil management, and we try to impart that to our customers. It’s not just about frying though. We’ve just taken on Mibrasa, the charcoal-fired oven brand, which is exciting. That, along with the other almost 20 brands in the portfolio, means we’re kept busy.
How often do you host end-users at your test kitchens?
The year before lockdown we had about 190 visits to the test kitchen. These included staff and engineer training programmes. We could have new or existing customers come in to look at new equipment, or existing customers retraining and relearning on existing equipment. A lot of concepts stay but their staff come and go, so we’ll run training days for customers. But overall, it could be anything from a one-man band wanting to look at a blender to a chain looking at full kitchen fit-outs.
We deal with a lot of the big fast food guys, such as KFC, Domino’s, Sam’s Chicken and Papa John’s. The likes of JD Wetherspoon, Wagamama and Nando’s are also customers of ours, and we love dealing with them. We are very open and honest, and we try to share as much knowledge as we can without sharing any proprietary information.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
I still love messing about in the kitchen. Trying to make existing equipment do different things is probably my favourite thing — it’s great to push the boundaries on what you can do with something that’s previously had another job, and working out different ways of using it.
What has been the most rewarding project you’ve worked on with an operator?
When we first acquired ServEquip I started working with JD Wetherspoon on their frying programme. Their processes were going okay but I could see some challenges they were having with the fryers and the potential for some big wins. We sat down with them and basically rewrote their entire frying programme. It was a really interesting project, but also a steep learning curve because we’d literally just got Henny Penny on board!
What piece of equipment have you most enjoyed having in your development kitchen over the past one or two years?
I still learn more probably about frying than anything else. To a lot of people it’s a smelly metal box in the corner that’s got oil in it, gets thrown away when it’s dirty and then topped up! We all love fried food, whether it’s chilli squid in Wagamama, KFC’s fried chicken, or beef dripping chips with your steak in a Goodmans. Helping customers get the most out of their frying equipment or selling them new frying equipment to get the most out of their fried products is always a winner for me.
I also love making great pizzas and cooking on charcoal, but seeing somebody’s product change so dramatically just by one or two simple tweaks and a little bit of oil management is incredible. Over the last few years, blending and understanding Vitamix has been a huge eye opener for me, too. I always thought blending was blending, but it’s not! Vitamix took all their culinary guys to Barcelona for three days of blending — I didn’t know I could blend for three days, but I can! Learning about the different shapes of containers and blades, and the way that ingredients emulsify and blend, was fascinating.
What do you expect to be the big trends that operators will need support with over the next 12 months?
Deliveroo, Just Eat and the delivery providers have really helped a lot of businesses through this pandemic, or have certainly enabled them to continue trading. I think operators are consolidating, trying to continue what they are doing to the best of their ability to get through this as best they can. I don’t see much changing for at least another six to 12 months, but if I had to pick something that will continue growing it would be plant-based diets.
Henny Penny Evolution Elite open fryers use innovative filtering and oil level technology to extend oil life, improve product quality and reduce overall oil consumption and costs.
Jestic culinary director, Michael Eyre, says the intuitive i-control system incorporates 10 programmable cook cycles, idle and melt modes, and load compensation, while the fryers feature a smaller fry vat, allowing product to be cooked in 40% less oil. “The Oil Guardian automatic top-up level sensors monitor the oil level and add fresh oil as needed from the self-contained reservoir,” he says. “I can’t wait for the next generation.”
Inside Jestic’s development kitchens
Jestic’s 2,500 square feet development kitchen in Paddock Wood, Kent, boasts three specific demo areas for fast food, restaurant and bakery operations, each equipped with a dedicated line of products from its portfolio of industry-leading brands.
This includes Keating Griddles, Alfa Pro, Mibrasa, Rotisol, Rosinox, Henny Penny, Moduline, Sveba Dahlen and Wood Stone, ensuring there is a solution for every conceivable application. Throw in the latest equipment from names as Irinox, Frontline International, Metro, Vitamix and Carlisle Foodservice Products and most kitchen challenges are covered.
Jestic regards its development kitchen facilities as a fundamental aspect of the support it provides customers and therefore demonstrations and development sessions are tailored specifically to each operator’s requirements, allowing them to focus on menu development, refresher training or new product insight.
Meanwhile, the acquisition of Malibu Corporation has enabled it to open a second test kitchen, in Manchester. Spanning 1,100 square feet, it offers full culinary and kitchen design support, and is conveniently located for operators, dealers and consultants based in the north.
Address: Units 3 & 4, Dana Estate, Transfesa Road, Paddock Wood, Kent, TN12 6UU (01892 831960)
8-9 Harp Road, Trafford Park, Stretford, Manchester, M17 1SR (0161 874 5400)