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. Today, we meet Paul Hickman from Middleby UK…
Paul Hickman grew up on a small holding on the south coast of England, where his parents reared animals and grew crops. Even at a young age he knew the culinary life was for him, inspired by the hours he spent in the kitchen with his grandmothers learning how to cure meat, bake bread and make butter with cream from the dairy and preserves with produce from the garden.
After gaining his qualifications and working his way up the ranks in industrial catering, Paul joined Lincat as a chef demonstrator some 20 years ago and now serves as culinary director of Middleby UK Foodservice Group. He discusses why he loves to make equipment come alive, the supermarket foodservice project he will never forget and his involvement in a product launch with a difference.
What does a typical day entail for you?
Even after 20 years working for Lincat, no two days are the same! I rack up over 30,000 miles each year traveling between Lincat, Middleby UK and end-user sites to deliver product training and support on menu development. Each week I will usually land at Middleby UK and Lincat at some point! In addition to this, I play an integral role in product development at Lincat, so there are always products in development to provide input on.
Having recently been promoted to culinary UK director, I am now on a new and exciting path to deliver the Middleby 1 Culinary vision. Our goal is to deliver a culinary-driven, industry leading experience across all the Lincat and Middleby UK brands. Training the newly appointed Middleby 1 culinary team of eight chefs, which includes myself and Rob Fairhurst — who previously concentrated on Middleby UK only — and upgrading the showrooms and development kitchens to deliver this vision is a major focus for me at present.
In what ways is your role able to support operators with the kitchen, equipment or menu challenges they face?
I have just a few years (ahem!) of culinary experience and with such a vast portfolio of brands at my disposal I am in a great position to find solutions. For specialist challenges it is fantastic being part of the Middleby family as this opens so many doors. I have a massive network of chefs around the world that I can reach out to for advice.
How often are you able to host end-user customers at your development kitchen and what typically are the main reasons they use the facility?
We have two busy development centres, located at Lincat and Middleby. We will normally have visitors in at least one of the centres each day. Typically, end-users want to experience the equipment and work on it with their own menu products, which of course we are always happy to facilitate. Some of our larger chain customers use our facilities for product training for their teams or to produce video guides they can distribute across their estates.
What do you think operators get most value from when visiting your facilities?
The initial reason for the visit is predominantly to see our equipment or for assistance with menu development, however what they leave with is so much more than this. Having visited either of our sites, operators see what goes into our equipment, the scale of operation and the passion and professionalism of our staff, as well as experiencing our values and ethos.
What would you pick out as your favourite part of the job?
It is difficult to pick out one favourite part, however spending time with industry colleagues and customers, learning from them and looking for new ideas is something I always enjoy. I don’t know it all so it is good to listen.
What has been the most rewarding customer project you’ve worked on?
One of the projects which has given most satisfaction is working with one of our major supermarket chain customers to simplify the cooking process in its in-store café kitchens. We needed to ensure consistent quality and continuous workflow for breakfast and lunchtime service in the cafes, regardless of location and who is operating the oven. With the introduction of combi ovens into the kitchen, I worked on a system whereby meals are categorised and colour-coded — with each type of dish having a different preset for climate, time and oven temperature — making it quick and handy for staff.
What impact has the pandemic had on your role or the way you carry it out?
It has been a busy time working with operators to look at how they can re-utilise current equipment and adapt their menus to be able to offer takeaways and grab-and-go food options. While I would say we have seen an increase in telephone, email and support over apps such as Zoom and Teams, we have still conducted quite a lot of training at customer sites – at a safe distance of course!
What piece of equipment have you most enjoyed having in your development kitchen over the past one or two years?
Being involved in the development of CiBO from conception to launch was great fun. CiBO is unlike anything we have developed before. It was great to be able to play around with it and see what it could deliver. I am genuinely surprised how flexible CiBO is — it is still interesting to see people’s reactions to the quality which comes out of it. We now have CiBOs around the world and it is fascinating to see how operators are using it for everything from sandwich production, as a simple salamander, through to producing stir-frys.
What do you expect to be big trends that operators will need support with over the next 12 months?
In busy kitchens, with workers with a mix of skill levels and languages, I believe equipment which is flexible, easy to use and delivers consistent and repeatable results will continue to dominate the conversation. With rising energy costs and climate change, efficiency and lifecycle costs will also be key areas operators want to address.
Chef’s Choice: Josper Charcoal Oven HJX-45
“The unit combines the functions of an oven and grill with a closed lid, the high temperature seals the food while smoking and grilling at the same time,” he says. “In this way you get the great favour, with fantastic texture and juiciness. It is a really interesting piece of kit with unique results.”
Inside Middleby UK’s development kitchen
Middleby UK has a spacious 700 square metres to play with and its demo facility includes equipment from more than 50 well-known brands, including Beech, Blodgett, Carter Hoffman Concordia, Desmon, Evo, FriFri, Hoffman, Houno, IMC, Josper, Lincat, Nieco, Perfect Fry, Pitco, Synesso and Wunderbar.
All the equipment is live, making it a fully working showroom, but the space is completely flexible, enabling it to reconfigure the layout for events or when new pieces of equipment are added to the line-up.
It also has a fully-functioning barista café to enable it to demonstrate products from the likes of Concordia, as well as a bar which allows it to showcase products from IMC and Wunderbar. Specialist education days, around themes such as ventless cooking, burgers, pizzas and bakery, provide a medium for customers to see how kit can be utilised for different concepts.
Address: Middleby House, Unit 15, Bridge Bank Close, Off Yewtree Lane, Stonecross Park, Golborne
Wigan, WA3 3JD (01925 821280)