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. First up today is Paul Patel from Welbilt…
Paul Patel has been with Welbilt UK for 12 years after previously serving as a chef at Pennyhill Park Hotel. It was in that role that he was introduced to Merrychef and learnt that it was recruiting for a development chef.
The rest, as they say, is history. He reveals why menu adaptation is keeping him busy, his delight at helping a pub operator turn a profit from takeaway and the value that a Welbilt masterclass can deliver to any foodservice operator.
What does a typical day entail for you?
My day-to-day duties heavily revolve around supporting Welbilt UK’s network of customers and dealers. No two days are the same, which is great. I could be responding to requests for culinary support one day, to training users on our range of equipment and organising product demos the next.
I particularly enjoy menu development work, both for independent operators and key accounts, as ultimately my goal is to help our customers get the most out of their Welbilt equipment, enhancing their business offering in the process.
In what ways is your role able to support operators with the kitchen, equipment or menu challenges they face?
Being a Welbilt development chef is as much about providing customer consultation as it is providing culinary support. In fact, one of the first questions that we ask an enquiring operator is what their specific challenges and end-goals are. Is it a need to speed up service? To expand their menu? Or better utilise kitchen space?
No matter the challenge, we are on hand to help the operator find the right solution for them, whether it’s investing in a high-speed Merrychef oven, or looking at a multiple equipment solution.
What do you think foodservice operators get most value from when visiting your facilities or using your services?
Our customers certainly gain the value of our experience when attending a Welbilt masterclass; after all, most of the culinary team are chefs themselves, therefore, they understand the real-life challenges and needs of today’s chefs. This real-life understanding and knowledge — paired with the chance to see and touch Welbilt equipment in person — makes for a truly unique and insightful experience.
What would you describe as your favourite part of the job?
Without question, the best part of being a development chef is helping our customers and seeing them leave our facilities happy. This part of the job has never been more satisfying than now given that many operators have relied heavily on our support in 2020 in order to successfully adapt menus and service style to these ‘new normal’ times.
What has been the most rewarding development project you’ve worked on or operational challenge that you’ve helped a customer overcome?
A recent project that stands out in my mind as being especially rewarding was with an independent pub. This pub had decided to expand their takeaway menu in order to maintain business throughout lockdown. Demand for these takeaway dishes was much higher than expected though, which resulted in a whole host of operational issues, such as fulfilling orders and battling with Covid-19 restrictions.
After assessing these challenges, we provided the customer with an ideal solution: the Convotherm Mini 2-in-1. This model has since allowed the pub to increase its takeaway capacity without taking up valuable kitchen space, has helped harmonise staff patterns by utilising various cooking features, and allowed them to reorganise their labour pool in order to adhere to current Covid-19 guidelines, including around social distancing.
What impact has the pandemic had on your role or the way you carry it out?
Pretty much all aspects of hospitality are centred around providing a face-to-face experience. This includes my role as a development chef which has now taken a largely, virtual twist – a turn which has, in fact, been a rather smooth transition thanks to the help of modern technology.
From online seminars and virtual training sessions, right through to a good-old fashioned phone call, the Welbilt Culinary Team has been on hand to help, whatever way possible!
You must get to work on a lot of new equipment and products. What piece of equipment have you most enjoyed having in your development kitchen over the past one or two years?
It’s safe to say that Merrychef high-speed ovens are a firm favourite of mine given that the Merrychef brand is where I started my Welbilt career. I have therefore seen the Merrychef portfolio go from strength-to-strength; constantly innovating and pushing the bar higher with accelerated speed developments. Arguably, though, the most exciting piece of equipment in the range right now is the brand new Convotherm maxx range.
Building on the experience we’ve developed from our existing Convotherm 4 family, the maxx has been designed to offer just the right amount of technology and features, at a surprisingly competitive price. I truly believe that the Convotherm maxx is set to be a gamechanger in the combi market.
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?
Not so much a trend, but it’s certain that operators will be looking for consolidation in 2021. As such, we expect operators will want to continue learning about how they can make the most of their existing equipment. For those that are looking to invest in new equipment, we expect flexible equipment models will be top of the agenda; after all, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that being prepared and flexible is a must!
Chef’s Choice: Convotherm Maxx
For example, with its latest combi model — the Convotherm maxx — chefs can cook, steam, roast, bake, convenience fry and regenerate hundreds of dishes and snacks; dishes which are guaranteed to be perfectly cooked thanks to the maxx’s Self ClimateControl system. “With sophisticated features such as these, operators of the maxx can be confident that they are getting best value from their combi oven investment,” he says.
Inside Welbilt’s development kitchens
Welbilt operates its own development kitchens in Guildford and Sheffield and has access to a number of dealer kitchens, including one in Dublin, which are regularly used for hosting free end-user masterclasses and culinary development sessions.
The Welbilt UK culinary team consists of five development chefs, each of whom are responsible for coordinating their own schedule. Within each of its development kitchens you will find models from its whole range of brands, including Merrychef high-speed ovens, Convotherm combi ovens, Garland induction units and Crem coffee machines.
Each development kitchen features screens for culinary presentations and cameras for live-streaming demos, while the set-up can be configured to bring in specific models for customers to trial by request. Welbilt also regularly reconfigures its development kitchens in order to showcase its latest models.
Before Covid-19, the company was running face-to-face masterclasses and training sessions weekly. These have now been temporarily reduced, with customers encouraged to utilise various virtual methods instead.
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