Becoming a corporate chef doesn’t necessarily mean trading in your apron for a seat on the board.
When Claire Menck began her latest job two years ago, she felt as if someone had lifted a heavy weight from her shoulders. Suddenly, she was in the kitchen again, developing, mixing, tweaking, tasting—using her creative muscles and doing what she loves to do.
Menck is the corporate chef for Emmi Roth USA, the U.S. branch of Swiss cheese company, Emmi Group. There are three aspects to her job:
No. 1: Creating recipes for the company’s website.
No. 2: Working with retailers to incorporate Emmi Roth’s products into their dishes.
No. 3: Collaborating with large food manufacturing brands to incorporate the cheese products into their refrigerated or frozen meals.
Cooking is Menck’s passion, “but one of the things they don’t tell you in culinary school is most of your creative work ends once you start moving up because you start doing all the admin stuff like inventory management and P&L,” she says. “That means very little time left over to be in the kitchen actually creating.”
A move into the corporate world brought Menck back to doing what she really enjoys.
For 33 years, Menck worked in restaurants and culinary schools but was missing the kitchen. In 2014, when Emmi Roth came calling, “It seemed like such a dream to be able to go back into the kitchen to find products that make clients happy. I didn’t want to push paper around any more.”
Another thing she loves about her job is the variety. Menck now works with food scientists and travels around the country working with different people. She also makes her own schedule and often works through the night if a creative mood hits her. “I love to create this structure myself,” she says. She also gets most evenings and weekends free, which is a definite plus.
Barilla’s Lorenzo Boni also moved back into the corporate world because, like Menck, he wanted to spend more time in the kitchen, but also to have a better work-life balance.
After spending 16 years working in top restaurants in Italy, plus a three-year stint in New York City, he’d reached the point of owning his own restaurant in Bologna.
Then, he began working part-time for Barilla, the colossal pasta/sauce company, which is headquartered in Italy, and, by 2004, he had sold his restaurant and moved to Chicago to work for the company full-time. There he develops recipes and works with people who aren’t immediately involved in food, such as employees in marketing, sales, and the foodservice team.
“My job is the perfect combination of cooking hands-on and also doing a lot of other things that have nothing to do with cooking like organizing events and PR. With Barilla America I’ve found the perfect combination of cooking and working with clients, food scientists, and kids,” Boni says.