On Juggling and Balance

BUCRA mills on my way work ~6:45a

Lately, I've been pretty buried in projects and deadlines.

It happens every few months in R&D - you work hard on several ideas to check for viability of a concept, and then a few of them start to work out. It is fantastic when the projects that work out are spread out over several months, but other times, they end up on the same timeline, and you have to figure out how to wring more than 600 minutes from a 10-hour day.

In the case of my current job, we choose to adhere to specific customers' schedules to review certain grocery categories, so we (product innovation) are pressured to complete projects that will line up with the scheduled presentation dates. 

Recently, a really cool concept was presented to us as a "we have this, let us make it for you." We thought, this is great, of course we'll take it

Turns out, the idea is developed, but the depth of the concept hasn't been fleshed out. Fleshing out is needed, and the product developer needs to do that. 

*all eyes turn towards yours truly*

Shared 3rd place with a buddy at RCA's 5K in Denver

Yep, I have just taken on another new project with fewer than 10 business days between ideation and protocept finalization. 

That doesn't sound so bad, but normally, there is at least 3 weeks from ideation to concepting to costing to benchtop testing. We only heard about this idea around March 11th (that's my birthday, so it was easy to remember when I first heard the pitch), so it's not like we've really been sitting around.

Then you might be thinking, Well, it's not quite the end of April, and you have until the end of the first week of May - that's at least another 6 business days. What happened to those? 

I'll tell you: I'm already traveling for back-to-back manufacturing trials for all the projects I've been working on for the past year. 

All of them. Back to back. 

Some of that overlap is due to some project hiccups last year, and some of it is due to the food categories they are, and the customer-scheduled sales presentation dates. Some of it has just been luck of the calendar. 

At least none of them are the same week...

I was whining about the state of the project last Monday to a friend in Washington, and she quipped, "I've done some of my best work in really short times." 


Stopped me in my tracks really quickly. 

Why am I whining about trying to knock out a killer flavor and concept quickly? I love the product concept that was pitched; I'm contributing to a new flavor and a new category in one go! 

Hello, perspective

So yes, my time is tight right now, but it's good. Some lessons have finally been pounded home.

I was able to see that I was spending time at work on other nice-to-do activities and ones that I didn't feel right to pass off (file organization, kitchen management for caterers, consumer response tests/responses, data entry, kitchen cleanup, random meetings to talk about fears in projects - euphemistically called "red flags"). 

I wasn't spending the right balance of time on the activities that will bring the most profit, so to speak. I wasn't paying attention to the entrepreneurship mastermind writings I've been feverishly reading and downloading. 

As Gary Keller and Jay Papasan ask their readers in their book, The ONE Thing,  "What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

The Mentee Podcast's Geoff Woods talks about calendarizing priorities - yes, that's a word and very much a verb - and letting the rest fall into place. Of course, I had to let a stressful project force me into figuring out what my one thing should be. 

Right now, that's working on these formulas and making sure that our products will ship for the manufacturing trials. Oh wait, one thing: formulation! 

After that, I've queued up all the paperwork that's needed for the projects: finalizing the technical documents needed to pass on my work to the teams downstream. Making sure that the vendors and suppliers are entered into the system. And confirming that landing zones for the manufactured product is arranged. And then some other random documents. 

Good thing I've got some time on airplanes for the next few weeks! I should buy the Boingo or GoGoInternet month pass. Hmmmm


Intangible Benefits of Professional Memberships

Not only do the benefits of being an active member of RCA make for a really fantastic annual conference, the connections follow you into trade shows. Right after leaving the RCA conference in Denver, I flew to Anaheim for the last few days of the Natural Products Expo. A behemoth of a conference, it is one of the most significant trade shows that Lundberg Family Farms attends, and nearly twenty of us attended during the trade show week.

I connected with multiple vendors, some of whom do business with Lundberg right now and some who would like to supply us with ingredients in the future. A few folks have asked “How was the show?” I have no idea; I mostly saw it when I was wandering from one vendor’s booth to the next. There were SO MANY PEOPLE and at least as many booths. Whew. I’ll recap that another time.

Anyway, one thing I loved about the week is that I got to connect with some chefs from the RCA. We met up at the Anaheim Packing House, a warehouse building that has been converted into a multi-business venue filled with beer halls, restaurants, ice cream shops, and a patisserie. Several of us gathered there for beer - and dessert, as it turns out. We each seemed to bring a new person to network, and the connections were so fun.

As we were chatting together, we realized that while we have such diverse backgrounds, we can really help each other. First, we bring different networks to the table. In addition, we bring perspectives that can help another look at a problem differently. The experiences that we each have were also different, and that made it really useful to say to another “well, this is how I addressed this problem…”

That same friend from the New Orleans RCA wrote several names and numbers on napkins and gave me some advice on some entrepreneurship and women leadership books. We didn’t get together to whine and cry – we were getting together to share a drink. And this, the community we’ve built, takes care of each other throughout our play time and work time.

I know this seems like a giant advertorial for a professional membership, but I’ve pledged to talk about my transition from line cooking to food manufacturing, and my activity in the RCA and friendships that have blossomed. Shameless plug for joining the professional membership of your industry – it’s worth it when you can make those solid connections.


Toques and titles: Do you call yourself a chef?

At the Research Chef Association Conference 2016, an annual meeting for all RCA members is held, and this year, we received an update on the membership, fees and expenses, and a move to change the membership titles. The first two were received with neutrality and moderate interest.

However, the suggestion to change the professional membership designations was met with some debate. The suggestion was to consolidate the types of member designations from chef, culinologist, and food scientist/food technologist into one "professional" member. Then there would be an affiliate and a student membership.

One chef pointed out that he earned the chef title and didn't want to dilute his role or the membership by including all the other types of professionals. Others argued that combining the membership wasn't a dilution, but several who made that argument weren't traditional chefs who had earned their positions through cooking in restaurants for years. The members present voted, but I don't know what the results were yet.

A new chef friend of mine, Phil S., mentioned that we younger chefs are looking at cheffery differently than the older generations have. Our generation entered culinary school or professional kitchens after the Food Network started raising the celebrity of chefs from being kitchen badasses to actual celebrities. We look at cooking and line time differently, and those in my career have often jumped from line cooking to corporate work fairly quickly.

I don't call myself a chef in most circles, though I guess I'm technically a research chef. I worked for a guy who called himself a chef, but he hadn't actually done any real line time. I did spend 2 years in restaurants, but that's not enough time to call myself a chef in that setting. One company I joined, it turned out that I had more culinary line time than most of the others, but that also didn't make me comfortable calling myself that.

Why: because a chef is the highest ranked person in a kitchen, either a restaurant or hotel food service setting. That position is earned by promoting through the stations and gaining some measure of mastery of those stations. I'm a big proponent of the belief that a boss should be able to do a lot of the work that she asks of her subordinates or at least have the skills to figure those out.

When I was an officer, I tried to work as many of the tasks that my airmen did (an example I learned from the 1Lt who trained me) because it earned their respect and gave me an understanding of the issues they faced. As a leader, my responsibility is to essential empower my folks to do work or to take away the road blocks that hamper their work. The best way for me to understand the resources they need is to have a background of their responsibilities.

What do you think?
What makes a person a chef?
If you're a chef, what do you think of others calling themselves chefs?


Chef Bryan Voltaggio
Professional memberships are not cheap, but some of them can pay for themselves in a matter of a few really fantastic connections. Others can seem like “pay to play” fees that give you access to organizations’ lists but no real personal connections. Arguably, you get out what you contribute, so the more active you are in an organization, the more rewards you’ll receive.

I’ve been pretty active on the Research Chef Association forum this past year. Last year, I earned the Certified Culinary Scientist certification, passing the exam in my first attempt. I connected with some really cool product developers and chefs, including one that I “picked up” at the airport shuttle in New Orleans. To be fair, she and I were both arriving from Seattle, and she looked like she was probably in town for a conference and not a party. Once she got over how freakin’ outgoing I was, we hung out several times at RCA New Orleans, and we have emailed each other all year about a variety of topics.

Another friend is very active in the forum, often providing referrals and connections to other forum members for businesses. Her company is a third party contracting R&D company, so she has connections that often explore categories of food (and thus suppliers and manufacturers) that are outside single category or single food type companies, such as mine.

GNT, Culinex, Lundberg
The forum is interesting because we can ask each other questions that may give a hint about the projects our companies may be exploring, but we uphold a confidentiality for each other that seems more unspoken than official. The safety within that is unique, and it is what pays for the membership investment.

The forum is also a place where we can ask for advice. I met several fellow veterans on the forum, and we were united by a forum request for advice. Jonathan, a current US Air Force officer, reached out to the group to ask for career advice, and several of us responded directly and through the public space.
I chose to respond publically about my transition from the Air Force to the restaurant and eventually to food manufacturing, because I wanted to share my story with the officer on the forum and with the group. My journey wasn’t fun, per se, but it was necessary. I’m starting to see how many of the steps that I took have led me to my current R&D role, but many of them were frustrating.

Chefs at the Aquarium mixer
As a result, I was surrounded by chefs who wanted to share their stories, reframe some of my experiences to show me how these steps were needed, and to give some career advice moving forward. Within just weeks of the first forum conversation, I had struck up friendships with chefs from whom I have learned some significant lessons and taken to heart some excellent insights.

One of the chefs who really took me under his wing quickly was Chef Jeff Cousminer from Stonewall Kitchen. If you follow the RCA (or read last week’s post), you’ll know that Chef received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in the industry and his contributions to the organization. As a past president, Chef Jeff has seen and led much of the growth that you see today and that we younger chefs benefit from. He is also vocal on the forum and was quick to respond to the group about career advice.

In addition, he and I struck up a separate conversation, and he invited me to join a group dinner he schedules at each conference. Through his dinner, I connected with several other active chefs who shared great advice and perspectives throughout the session. I found that being more active and being willing to humble and vulnerable to ask questions, the chefs felt more free to give advice and welcome me into their community.

As a flaming extrovert, I must say that I love the RCA :)