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 industry’s top development chefs. Here, we meet Philippe Laruelle from de Buyer…
A career in the hospitality sector always beckoned for de Buyer’s development and demo chef Philippe Laruelle given that his parents bought a hotel-restaurant when he was just five-years-old — he later took it over and transformed it into a gourmet restaurant and cooking school.
The expansion of the business into catering led to his involvement with various French and international culinary associations, allowing him to connect with fellow chefs and brands such as culinary utensils and cookware specialist de Buyer, which he joined five years ago. He explains why having a kitchen next to the company’s factory is so productive, the importance of speaking the language of chefs and the long-term R&D project that has implications for the planet.
What does a typical day entail for you?
One of the key things about my role is that no one day is like another. It varies between working closely with de Buyer’s R&D department — testing a new product, discussing the development of a new one or improving an existing utensil from the range — supporting operators in developing new equipment or travelling in France or abroad to train our sales teams and distributors or do cooking demonstrations.
As a development chef, I’m in charge of creating new recipes for new products or new packaging. The marketing team involves me in product photo and video shoots that will be used on our packaging or online platforms. I easily adapt to what is needed from me by the company, our partners and customers.
In what ways is your role able to support operators with the kitchen, equipment or menu challenges they face?
My training and my broad professional experience in many areas — cooking, pastry, catering, professional and retail — as well as my involvement with culinary associations allow me to speak the same language as the operators I meet; I understand their expectations and their struggles. Combined with my knowledge on materials and the de Buyer products, I can give them the right advice that will allow them to save time and gain in efficiency and productivity.
For example, we created the L’Ecole Valrhona perforated tart rings which, coupled with de Buyer’s perforated trays and perforated mats, give pastry chefs an improved final result — nicer caramelisation while reducing the cooking time by 20% to 30%. Similarly, with the increase of restaurants turning to takeaway service this year, de Buyer’s pressure pastry syringe Le Tube, the great alternative to the traditional pastry bag, speeds up the preparation time and guarantees consistency and accuracy in the sauce portions for each dish prepared. This means the teams in the kitchen work faster, are more productive and save money.
What do you think operators get most value from when visiting your facilities or using your services? Is it the access to new platforms or equipment for example, or perhaps the bespoke menu development support you can offer?
One of the main assets of my kitchen is that it is located at the heart of the factory. When chefs and operators visit us for the first time, we always begin with a factory tour as this is a great way for them to discover and understand more about the importance of using various materials in our product range. I often share the errors I made myself in my own restaurant to create a conversation around how they can become better chefs through a better understanding of materials and their use.
For instance, we talk about why they should use steel cookware instead of non-stick cookware depending on their needs. Knowing both sides of the industry means I have the tools to support them in their own cooking journey. Our showroom, located right next to the demo kitchen, displays every single product from our catalogue — over 2,500 items — which is a great way to show our visitors the breadth of our product range.
What would you say is your favourite part of the job?
The core part of being a chef is about sharing, whether it’s sharing a dish or one’s experience. The other aspect that I love is the research and development. My role is to help imagine and create the new culinary products of the future that will facilitate the cooking process. New ideas come from various sources: exchanges with other chefs, our R&D team coming up with new concepts or a chef coming to me to develop an improved version of an existing product that we offer.
What stands out as the most rewarding project you have been involved with from a new product development perspective at de Buyer?
I am quite proud of the knife that I helped design; it’s the FK2 precision carving knife with a short and flexible Santoku blade that is now in de Buyer’s catalogue. The advantage of working in the factory with the R&D team on-site is that it gives us the flexibility to keep on improving our products.
Another rewarding project was developing the Geo-forme, our all-in-one rectangular mould range for pâtés en croûte, created with chef Fabien Pairon MOF. We are continuously enhancing this product. These experiences allow me to meet fantastic and inspiring chefs with whom we regularly work to develop new and better products.
What impact has the pandemic had on your role or the way you carry it out?
I usually travel one week a month abroad for training and demo sessions, so the pandemic has halted this type of activity for now unfortunately. We have welcomed a few clients in our showroom, but I am currently more involved in testing products and supporting our marketing team in creating recipes for our new website until my normal activities resume.
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?
At de Buyer we are focusing on a long-term project around developing products and materials that are ‘cleaner’ and more environmentally responsible. This is a very interesting area of research for the company and we are collaborating with schools and research centres.
It is in de Buyer’s DNA to preserve the environment — first locally, as the factory is set in the beautiful Vosges mountains in France, and overall as a way to create products that are more ethical and require less energy, to leave a cleaner planet to future generations.
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?
I believe the new trends that operators will face next year are around a new way of consuming, i.e. consuming more locally with better quality products, being more aware of the impact of our consumption on the planet and reducing food waste. Consuming differently also involves cooking differently – shorter cooking time at the right temperature in order to keep all the nutrients of the food.
At de Buyer, we have already directed some of our research into this area with solutions emerging through the use of copper or steel, for example, allowing us to cook with less fat while shortening the cooking time and reducing the energy consumption. This year’s pandemic has also shown operators the importance to better manage their costs, food quantities and food waste. We have solutions to support restaurants in these areas, such as Le Tube for an accurate and controlled dosage, even with low-skilled staff.
Chef’s Choice: Carbone Plus
“Maintenance is very easy and it adapts to all heat sources. It is very versatile as you can cook every type of food with it: steak, potatoes, omelette. Each steel pan will also get natural anti-adhesive properties once seasoned. If well-looked-after, chefs should be able to keep their steel pan for life.”
Inside de Buyer’s development kitchen
Set overlooking the beautiful Vosges mountains, de Buyer’s demo kitchen is equipped with semi-professional high-end V-Zug induction hobs and a premium oven as standard. However, every training or demo is adapted to the operator with the relevant modular equipment based on what they are looking for.
The demo kitchen is at the centre of the de Buyer factory, which allows the culinary team to be very reactive. If a new product is tested, it can quickly be modified and retested again. The demo kitchen features standard multimedia and technical equipment, including a TV screen, optic fibre broadband and the possibility to film demos for use on social media platforms.
Address: 25, Faymont – 88340, Le Val d’Ajol , France (+33 329 30 6612)
UK: Signature FSE, 7 Magazine B, Ordnance Yard, Upnor Road, Lower Upnor, Rochester, Kent, ME2 4UY (01634 931055)