Waitrose executive chef: ‘How do we get to a place where we are cooking and not manufacturing?’

By Caroline SCOTT-THOMAS contact

- Last updated on GMT

In an ideal factory, everything would come together as it does in a restaurant kitchen, Moore said.
In an ideal factory, everything would come together as it does in a restaurant kitchen, Moore said.

Related tags: Food, Cooking

No one wants their food to be ‘manufactured’ – and unsurprisingly that’s a challenge for those in the food manufacturing business, says Waitrose executive development chef Jonathan Moore.

Moore’s job involves guiding the retailer’s innovation strategy, travelling the world looking for trends that could appear on the UK market 18 months or more down the line, and then working with manufacturers to translate global restaurant and street food trends into supermarket products.

“The role is really constantly looking at where those beacons are coming from,”​ he said.

For food companies, one beacon in particular has become difficult to ignore: Most consumers want simple, freshly cooked food – and they certainly don’t want to eat something that seems ‘manufactured’.

“For manufacturers, the problem is the future looks non-manufactured,”​ he said. “How do we get to a place where we are cooking and not manufacturing?”

Layers of flavours

Some manufacturers have started to address that question, but in general, food factories have been set up around volume and efficiency, while restaurant chefs tend to work by adding layers of flavours and ingredients.

“You need to ask how you do that as a manufacturer,”​ Moore said. “…If you were building a factory today, you probably wouldn’t build it as they are set up now. They are still being built like they were 20 years ago.”

He suggested that an ideal factory might include a section dedicated to cooking and reducing flavours, while another might be dedicated to roasting spices, and “everything comes together as a kitchen”.

The finished product should not look manufactured, but “personalised, made for me”, ​he said.

Food Vision 2015

Jonathan Moore will be talking about food as fashion, and giving consumers what they want (before they know they want it), at Food Vision, taking place in Cannes, France from March 18-20.

From concept to finished product

In a supermarket product, Moore said that might mean taking a traditional Southeast Asian dish and adding some pickled radish on the side, or allowing consumers to personalise the flavour with fresh herbs.

“It is sometimes looking at a signature flavour and asking what story or theme you can build around that,” ​he said, suggesting that liquorice, for example, could be used in a range of surprising ways, from desserts to beer.

And on a trendspotting trip to Sydney, he discovered that chefs there were cooking over a range of different woods, which made him think about how to incorporate those flavours in marinades or other barbecue ingredients.

Moore says he finds identifying national and international food trends relatively easy, looking for the signals that encourage further exploration, “tasting and experiencing and immersing yourself in that food world”.

“The difficult bit is working out which trends you want to go after. The easy bit is looking at all the trends and saying ‘hey, look at all of that!’”​ he said.

“Lots of people work with customer insight – and I am interested in customer foresight. What are we going to be doing on the horizon? … What’s a fashion and what’s a fad?”

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1 comment

I vote for cooking...but please make it healthy

Posted by Victoria Hassani,

I applaud Waitrose for their attempt to bring a higher degree of satisfaction to the prepared food shopper and I agree with the philosophy of this article, that the consumer is looking for RTE meals that are bespoke and customised.

One thing I found missing in this article is that we in the food industry also have the duty to nourish our customers and our community, not just feed them.

Nourishment means providing balanced, nutrient dense dishes as opposed to feeding, which mainly implies energy dense (calories) prepared foods. We have enough of the latter and need more of the former.

Waitrose does a better job than most at nourishment but I think all links in the food supply chain can bring nutrition higher up on their respective priority lists. Otherwise, we will end up with more and more children who are obese and fighting Type 2 diabetes at a younger and younger age, eventually leading to shorter, less productive lives than the generation before.

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