Any recipe developer—from chefs at fine-dining establishments to leaders of fast casual chains—knows that crafting the perfect recipe is long and extensive. In addition to a large time investment, a perfected recipe takes a large financial investment—in some cases requiring that you travel across the world multiple times for the right inspiration and ingredients.
When the pandemic forced my restaurant to shut down and I began on a new venture—developing my own line of Hawaii-inspired sauces—I gained a greater appreciation for how much work goes on behind the scenes to perfect a recipe, including the large financial toll.
That’s when I discovered the ultimate recipe development hack—using payments technology to rack up miles.
For many, recipe ideas stem from trips abroad or a recent meal. In my case, several of my recipe ideas originate from my childhood in Hawaii Kai, a suburb of Honolulu.
Hawaii Kai was an idyllic place to spend one’s childhood—a couple miles away from Hanauma Bay, where my sister and I would swim in calm waters while fish nibbled at our toes. There is a Foodland supermarket at the halfway point between home and the road up the mountain to Hanauma Bay, and on weekends, the perfume of smoke and roasting chickens would nearly reach our house. Huli Huli smoke was a siren call for us to line up – in the Foodland parking lot, but also the backroads of Kaneohe and the edges of the swap meet at Aloha Stadium—knowing that our fingers would soon be oil slicked and blackened, tearing into chicken flesh, seasoned with soy, maybe some pineapple, and a lot of smoke.
I’ve replicated the flavors of Huli Huli chicken at barbecues here on the mainland, tweaking the marinade every time, but since it wasn’t a dish we served at my Philadelphia restaurant—Poi Dog—I did so without much thought, without ever putting on my recipe development hat.
But when I went to Hawaii again after a long hiatus, none of the Huli Huli sauce I found was quite like the pineapple-based sauces I concocted at home. It was impossible to find Huli Huli sauce without preservatives or food coloring.
So, I decided to make my own, standardize my own recipe and expand my line of Hawaii-inspired sauces. However, when I began work on my Huli Huli sauce, I had just paid for two larger runs of my other two sauces, Chili Peppah water and Guava Katsu, which had just made the journey from their co-manufacturers to their distributor. They hadn’t made the money in sales yet, and funds were low.
That’s when I started doing research on ways to cut down costs. As a chef and food writer, I’m constantly traveling—collecting points and spending them. I cringe whenever I have to pay for anything with cash or write a check because I know I gain nothing from spending those dollars—well, other than the thing I’m paying for.
But after finding a payments platform called Melio, I was able to pay for my co-manufacturer to start testing and development with a credit card even though he only accepts checks—allowing me to earn miles that would help pay for a trip back to Hawaii. Months later, when we were ready for our first run, I used my credit card again to make payments to my co-manufacturer. These miles then helped pay for a return trip back to Hawaii to spend time with family—and get even more inspiration for future recipes.
For those working in the food and beverage industry, my story is not surprising. Many vendors and suppliers are still stuck using antiquated payment methods. Writing paper checks is not only time consuming, but it also represents a missed opportunity to earn points and miles that could have been invested back into recipe development.
Recipe development done right takes a tremendous amount of time and money. For my Huli Huli sauce, the process took nearly a year. But by doing your research, you might find that there are a few hacks along the way to help you save up for more trips back to the places you are most inspired by.
Kiki Aranita is chef and owner of Poi Dog, a Philadelphia-based restaurant and catering company that has since been reinvented as a retail sauce company.