What top chefs want you to know about today’s food culture
As foodservice industry professionals, we must have our finger on the pulse of food trends. Many of us are chefs or foodies, or we work closely with team members who are to bring that passion into the products we create. It's important to understand flavor trends but also food culture, and today we’re talking with Emmanuel Laroche, Author of Conversations Behind the Kitchen Door. I've recently read the book (which I highly recommend) and reached out to Emmanuel to offer some insights for our blog subscribers. It's no surprise that he recently received the “Gold Literary Award” from Reader Reviews for the Cooking Category.
Q: Congratulations on the publication of your book Emmanuel! What inspired you to write about American chefs and their stories?
Thank you so much! I'm thrilled to have this conversation and talk about my new book. Food has always been a passion of mine, and it all started when I was a child in France. My mother taught me how to make a Quiche Lorraine from scratch when I was just a little one, and from that moment on, I was hooked. Growing up in a family where food was an integral part of our daily lives, and in a country with a rich culinary heritage, made me realize how important it is to understand and appreciate the people who produce, transform, and share their passion for food with others. When I came to the United States, I was often teased by my French family and friends about the absence of culinary traditions here. At that time, I wasn't able to properly answer them, but now I can.
As a marketing executive at Symrise, and the host of the podcast "flavors unknown”, I've had the privilege of speaking with over 100 chefs from around the country. These conversations have been the foundation for my new book, "Conversations Behind the Kitchen Door." It's a way for me to bring more people to listen to my podcast and share my love of food. Both the podcast and the book are personal projects, and the pandemic gave me the time to write it. It's been an incredible journey, and I'm excited to share it with others.
Q: The lessons and insights you share are set up in an interesting way in the book. Can you tell us more about why you took this approach?
I chose to segment the book into seven chapters based on the most common themes that emerged during my conversations with the chefs on my podcast 'flavors unknown'. Each chapter is a result of over fifty dialogues with awarded culinary leaders from various backgrounds and cultures, who shared their personal stories in a simple, honest, and transparent manner.
For example, in Chapter 5, "Creative Decisions," the focus is on innovation and the chefs' creative processes. Readers will get to explore the seven paths of the chef’s creative approach that they typically follow. This chapter offers a glimpse into how each chef approaches the creative process, how creativity shifts through the seasons and over the years, and exciting current dishes they are working on. Additionally, readers will learn how chefs balance simplicity with complexity and why creativity is sometimes easier within parameters. The principles and approaches shared by the many chefs interviewed can be applied to all businesses seeking innovation.
Another fascinating chapter is Chapter 4, "A Mosaic of Cultures." In this section, I delve into the diverse backgrounds of the chefs and how their cultural influences have shaped their culinary styles. By exploring the importance of cultural diversity in their cooking, people will gain an understanding of how these chefs blend traditional and contemporary techniques to create unique and innovative dishes.
Q: What is the number one thing you learned from speaking with all of these acclaimed chefs?
While writing the book, I had the incredible opportunity to speak with so many talented and acclaimed chefs. It's hard to pick just one thing I learned from them, but I'll give you a few highlights.
Firstly, when it comes to leadership, the chefs I spoke with emphasized the importance of respecting the entire ecosystem. This means respecting the ingredients, the farmers and ranchers who produce them, their mentors, their teammates, and their customers. It's all about creating a culture of respect and collaboration.
When it comes to food, the chefs reminded me that produce reaches its peak in terms of maturity and flavor at specific times of the year. So, it's important to cook with local, seasonal ingredients and support local farmers. Not only is it better for the environment, but it also results in more delicious and flavorful dishes. Lastly, I was blown away by the collaborative nature of the new generation of chefs. They showed me that the future of cooking is all about working together and sharing knowledge and ideas. Q: What other lessons might be applicable to our readers who are in the food industry but working for larger corporations, either national brands or their suppliers?
My book is packed with insights and principles from the many talented chefs I had the pleasure of speaking with. And these principles can be applied not just to independent restaurants, but to any food business looking for an approach regarding innovation and creativity.
One chapter that I think will be particularly useful for readers in the food industry working for larger corporations is "Creative Decisions." In this chapter, you'll learn about the chef's creative process for developing menus and finding inspiration. I identified seven common paths that chefs use in their creative process, which can be used on their own or in combination. Whether you're trying to come up with a new product idea or a new marketing campaign, these approaches can help you tap into your creativity and think outside the box.
Another chapter that I think will be especially helpful for those starting out in the industry is "The Kitchen as a Metaphor for Life." Here, you'll find valuable advice on setting goals early in your career and finding mentors to guide and challenge you. I discuss the main qualities that make a great mentor and share eight pieces of advice that any mentor should give their mentees. Whether you're just starting out or looking to take your career to the next level, these lessons can help you achieve your goals and find success in the food industry. Q: What is next for these chefs, and how do you or they see the industry evolving for the future?
I'm so glad you asked about the future of the industry! It's a topic that's very close to the hearts of the many talented chefs featured in the book.
One thing that really stood out to me is the resilience of these chefs. Despite the challenges they face, they keep on going and find new ways to adapt and thrive. Many of the chefs I spoke with believe that the restaurant industry and the food industry as a whole is broken and that the pandemic only highlighted the inequities and issues that were already there.
They also see signs that things are starting to change. The pandemic opened people's eyes to the need for fair wages, diversity in people and products, a better work-life balance, and better ways to address mental health issues and addiction. The current model simply isn't sustainable, and it's up to all of us to think about the bigger picture of the total ecosystem, including farmers, restaurants, employees, and customers. Before the pandemic, the independent restaurant industry didn't have a collective voice to represent them. But many chefs were resourceful and found ways to survive, while unfortunately, a lot of restaurants permanently closed. But despite the challenges, chefs are committed to taking care of others. Now, it's time for them to find solutions to take care of themselves and create a more sustainable and equitable food industry for the future. Q: Well these are amazing insights - where can our readers find the book and subscribe to your podcast?
I'm glad you're enjoying the insights from my book. If your readers are interested in learning more, there are a few places you can go to find it and stay connected. Firstly, be sure to follow me on social media! You can find me on Instagram at @flavorsunknown and on LinkedIn. I post regularly about my podcast and other food-related topics, so it's a great way to stay connected and get updates on what I'm working on.
Speaking of the podcast, "flavors unknown" can be found wherever you listen to podcasts. It's a great way to hear from chefs and other experts in the food industry and learn more about the stories behind the food we eat. And of course, if you're interested in getting a copy of my book, "Conversations Behind the Kitchen Door," you can find it wherever books are sold online or on my website at https://flavorsunknown.com/conversations-behind-the-kitchen-door/.
If you order the book directly from my website, I'll even sign it for you! And for every book sold on my website, I'll donate $1 to Chef Jose Andres's association, World Central Kitchen. For companies that value innovation, respect for people and products, and a shared passion for food, it's also a great addition to any promotional marketing initiatives. It's a versatile and long-lasting giveaway that offers more value than traditional swag.
Thank you again for your interest in my work, and I look forward to staying connected with everyone!
Thanks to Emmanuel for again for sharing what chefs want you to know about food culture today!