Midwestern chef, international solutions: Champion barbecuer plays with subtleties. (Chef Sessions).
Nestled in what was once the gateway to the plains, now among the most affluent areas in America, is the hub of Danisco's U.S. operation. One might not think of Kansas City as a cradle of culinary creativity, but here Danisco offers another successful recipe between kitchen and lab.
Danisco corporate chef Dan Turner is a decorated veteran of culinary honors. Turner, who got his culinary start as a Navy cook during the Vietnam War, is now a full professor of culinary at Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, Kan. JCCC has developed a world-renowned reputation for culinary excellence, including a second-place award in the worldwide Culinary Olympics held in Germany last fall.
Turner himself is a heralded innovator. After a stint serving the discerning palates at Greenwich, Conn.'s well-connected Indian Harbor Yacht Club, he moved to the Midwest for family reasons. Since his arrival, he has been recognized as Kansas City's chef of the year (1995) and his team won one of the Midwest's most heralded awards as Kansas state barbecue champion in 1997. He has been at JCCC for 13 years now, and the restaurant management program has risen to a ranking of sixth in the country during his tenure.
About four years ago, Danisco executives sought out Turner to bolster the Danish company's product development team.
"We wanted new, creative, artistic ideas," says Steven L. Mallory, group leader, culinary and meats for Danisco, who was the impetus behind recruiting Turner. "It was really customer driven. We wanted a chef to help with creative projects that didn't fit in other categories."
Because of the changing landscape of the ingredients game, Danisco was looking to bolster its link with finished products and help its customers create products that matched the needs of today's time-challenged consumer.
"We had to make higher-quality products that were more realistic for food," says Dan Berlin, industry manager, culinary. "In certain areas, Chef Dan's influence fit in quite well from the start. One of the things we were not doing in the past was come up with these ideas that are really out there, but are good-tasting."
Pass the short- and long-chain acyl triglyceride molecules, please
Naturally, there was a learning curve to be developed between Turner, a towering, independent, creative man, and the regimen of an ingredient company. Mallory says that at the onset it was a challenge to assimilate the freewheeling creative practices in the kitchen--chefs are known for improvisation--into the precision needed for an ingredient company. Turner is the first chef at Danisco, so they decided to learn together.
"Initially it was a bit rocky," admits Mallory of the relationship. "He came from a totally different background. We flied to get him to understand the parameters we had to work in, but we also wanted him to keep his creativity. That's a challenging combination."
"It takes time to develop this type of relationship," adds Berlin. "There were differences between Chef Dan's definition of food and our definition of food. We started by introducing the types of ingredients he needed to use. It became a learning experience for both sides."
Turner was confident that the transition would fit into place. It became a matter of drawing on his skills as an innovator and professor.
"I have always had real interest in science, and I am constantly wanting to learn," says Turner. "I know from my teaching experience that you need to keep very accurate notes. A lot of times it's all about the proportions. It was just a matter of figuring out what I had to work with here and then just having some fun with it. I have spent the last 27 years preparing food and thinking about food. You can find subtleties in a Big Mac if you how to look for them."
"One thing that really helped is that he is a teaching chef, and consistency is important," says Mallory.
"It's really free-flowing as far as ideas go, though," says Turner. "I am always looking for more variety in flavors. I can do things here I couldn't even think about in a regular kitchen."
In some ways, the transition offered some stability to Turner's own creative strengths. By using a standardized set of ingredients, he was able to standardize concepts regardless of how "out there" they might be.
"The thing about fresh ingredients is that you never know what you are going to get," says Turner. "Here, I know that if I need an emulsifier, it will behave the same way every time."
He adds that the Danisco line of products has added to his creativity by expanding the tools he has to work with--in ingredients, hardware and resources. Turner regularly interacts with the technicians, scientists and other employees in the Kansas City location.
"If I have a question about one of the ingredients, I can just walk around the corner," says Turner. "Or people will stop by here, and we'll just get to talking about food. The lab guys can share their ideas, and I can share recipes. Both sides benefit from that, and it doesn't have to be formal. It's just about good food."
Turner. a member of the Research Chefs Association, also brings Danisco the wealth of information inherent in the chef community.
"We share information among other chefs," he says. "If I am working on something that just isn't going light, I can get on the list serve and ask one of the chefs out there. It's a real community. and everybody is willing to help."
Kitchen time shortens pipeline time
Although the onset of the relationship may not have always gone smoothly, any difficulties soon became lessons, and both sides found a pattern for growth, offering fresh perspectives and shortening product development. Turnaround time for a project these days is a fraction of the time of days past. Customers want demo products ASAP.
"He picked up on the science behind it and at the same time gave us lots of benefits," says Berlin. "He greatly speeds up our ability to come up with novel concepts and cuts our development time by one-half or one-third. We will set the framework and have Chef Dan work on the flavoring, texture modification, etc. Then we all work together to keep the costs in perspective. No matter what we present to a customer, we still have to meet their cost demands."
When dealing with customers who may not know exactly what they want, or when those wants simply won't fit the bill as described, Turner offers Danisco and its customers the ability to step back and assess the plausibility of concepts from a trained culinary perspective.
"A lot of our customers are going to fresher now," says Berlin. "It challenges the processing quite a bit, but there are things Chef Dan came up with that answered those needs very well."
"He really is able to bring us back to reality on a lot of projects," says Mallory.
'And he gives us an honest opinion," adds Berlin. "I don't want to just develop [product] and send it off. I'd much rather work back and forth with the customer. Chef Dan helps that process quite a bit."
And Danisco can extend its service offerings to customers in select cases.
"We have had many major customers come in who don't have the means to do their own product development any more, says Berlin. "Chef Dan gives us a number of options for this too."
Nevertheless, Turner's unbridled creativity is a valuable asset to the product development process.
"Occasionally we want him to go down [to the kitchen] and run wild," says Mallory. "He will always come back with something we can learn from."
New tastes, new trends
When preparing a new concept, Turner and Danisco are keeping the prevailing consumer trends in mind.
"Consumers are reading labels," Turner says. "They don't just want something that tastes good. They want something that tastes good, that's good for them."
"We have a pretty strong focus on developing natural ingredients," adds Berlin. "It is mostly consumer driven. They want cleaner labels, fresher, more natural ingredients."
And consumers want time too. Turner says he is happiest in the kitchen, but many Americans don't have--or want--that luxury.
"As any culture gets older they start appreciating the arts, including the culinary arts," says Turner. "Cooking has become a hobby to more and more people, but they still would like to sit down with their families and not have to spend hours in preparation."
Turner calls this approach "speed-scratch," the ability to combine the wholesome desire to create natural foods with expedience.
"We are trying to make their life easier by condensing the time they need to spend in the kitchen," says Turner.
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|Title Annotation:||Dan Turner, corporate chef, Danisco A/S|
|Comment:||Midwestern chef, international solutions: Champion barbecuer plays with subtleties. (Chef Sessions).(Dan Turner, corporate chef, Danisco A/S)|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2002|
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