Interview with an Innovator

Reynolds’ Diane Camp: ‘We’ve focused so much on soy and pulses that we’ve forgotten other fruit and veg as a plant-based alternative’

The executive development chef for the fruit and veg supplier tells Tom Lee about the company’s five megatrends and how to turn a mushroom into a scallop.

5 July 2019
chefsfruitingredientsplant-basedrestaurantsvegetables

Camp on Paper – CV

  • Started off in hospitality, cooking for hotel restaurants in South Africa, before moving to Britain and working at The Carlton Club in London
  • Joined Reynolds in 2012 as a development chef, later making it to the finals of the National Chef of the Year in 2014 and winning the Craft Guild of Chefs' Development Chef of the year in 2016
  • Promoted to executive development chef of Reynolds in March

Why does a seller of fruit and veg need a development chef? That’s what we asked Diane Camp, the woman in charge of food development at Reynolds. Working with a range of brands, from Italian household names like PizzaExpress and Carluccio’s to Indian upstart Mowgli, Camp provides companies with a fresh perspective – and fresh inspiration. 

“We work with a lot of development chefs, showing them new products that are on the market, coming with a different slant or approach to menu development,” she explains. “We come along with a bit of blue-sky thinking and go, well, what if you approached it this way? What if you used this ingredient in your mix? We don’t have the end product on the menu, but we certainly can help facilitate ingredients going onto menus.”

Camp first became interested in food through her mother, whose work included publishing weekly recipes for a South African newspaper. After starting out in hotel restaurants, she elected to transition into food development, getting her first job in the field at Reynolds.

After almost seven years at the business, she was promoted to her current role in March, overseeing a team of chefs whose job it is to aid Reynolds’ customers with innovating their dishes. Armed with research, insight and culinary creativity, Camp has based her strategy around five big trends, as she tells Food Spark.

We’ve come up with five megatrends. One of them is plant-based. One of them is our planet – so, being environmentally responsible with regards to packaging. The other one is mind and body – all your free-from movements, be it dairy, gluten, etc. I think people want a lot more transparency – people are questioning a lot more where everything comes from. The other one is new consumer, new behaviour – how Instagram and that whole movement has changed the dynamics of restaurants and promoting yourself. Because we are living in a global village effectively, a lot of people do a lot of travelling so they are exposed to a lot more cuisines, and I think off the back of that people no longer want a one-size-fits-all menu. I think people are looking for more authentic types of restaurants.

For us, coming up with our megatrends and focusing on trends is really new. It’s something that we are definitely going to go with in the future. It’s not just about creating a beautiful dish, it’s hopefully creating a bit more of a reasoning behind it as to why we’re using these ingredients for this dish. It’s about working closely with the procurement team to give our customers far more insight than they would usually get. So that’s the future plan... The megatrends will be reviewed on an annual basis. 

We’ve been working a lot on vegan and plant-based recipe ideas… The most exciting thing, which is brand new to us, is a new mushroom called a desert rose mushroom. That’s been really, really exciting. It looks like tiny little oyster mushrooms clustered to form a rose, hence the name. Our procurement team saw that and thought we’d be interested in it. So we got samples in and started experimenting.

The desert rose mushroom, we did in a tempura batter. We served it with a spicy vegan mayonnaise, to try and keep it all vegan. The batter, instead of using egg, we used oat milk and flour.

Jicama is something we’ve started working with quite a lot. Chow chow or chayote, we’ve worked with quite a bit. Obviously, chefs love being shown wonderful things!

The chow chow, traditionally people cook with it, but we generally shave it with a peeler to get the ribbons and make a salad with it, because it doesn’t really have a flavour, but it takes on flavours really well. So if you mix it with coriander and lime it goes really well with seafood or is just as a nice refreshing salad on its own. I guess it’s a nice substitute for a mooli [also known as daikon].

Surprisingly, the flavour challenge of going vegan hasn’t been as drastic as we thought it would be. For example, we make a white sauce using oat milk instead of normal milk and we’ll use plant-based margarine. We’ve actually been pleasantly surprised with it.

In the free-from area, the one we focus on the most is dairy-free.

It’s been really exciting that vegan cheeses have come on leaps and bounds in the last 12-18 months, so that you can actually mix them into the sauce and it gives you that cheesy flavour. And you learn to use ingredients like nutritional yeast, which again gives that cheesy pop.

I don’t think you’re going to look for the ultimate vegan cheese to put on a cheeseboard. I think it’s more of that comfort food, like finding a nice cheese to melt on a pizza, or into a cheese sauce, or add pieces of cheese in a salad. I think we’ve still got a while to go to get the optimum cheese to put on a cheeseboard. Although, we’ve made a Boursin-like soft cream cheese with almonds that we soaked and then blended. We put garlic powder and lots of herbs and lemon and olive oil in it and it was really tasty actually. So it’s just a case of experimenting really and not being afraid to try those flavours.

I think this whole idea of veganism, you have to be careful, because I think it’s almost becoming, dare I say it, like a religion. I think the trend is going to be more plant-based [as distinct from veganism]. Your more plant-based people are looking to cut down on dairy, to cut down on meat, and are looking for that substitute.

I think vegan, non-dairy cheeses are still going to grow and grow, just like your plant protein burgers that bleed – it’s more aimed at those plant-based diets, where you choose to do meat-free Monday, or you want to cut back on meat proteins but you still want a burger or a pizza… I think that movement will be bigger and more sustainable – and I think it’ll be quite exciting. It will force us to demand a better-quality meat and that there will be more sustainable ways of looking after cattle.

I think we need to go back at looking at fruit and veg. We’ve focused so much on soy and pulses that we’ve almost forgotten that [other] fruit and veg is a plant-based alternative. It’s finding that balance in your diet; not just living off carrots, but about including those and creating a balanced diet.

We work with king oyster mushrooms and turn them into scallops – if you steam them and pan-fry them they look like scallops. We also use pulled mushroom instead of pulled pork. And jackfruit.  We’re coming up with new ideas all the time.

For the king oyster mushroom scallops, we blanch them. We make a miso stock with pieces of seaweed, and we infuse the mushrooms in that mix overnight, so it takes on those salty flavours. And then it’s what you serve with it. We usually do like a nice ceviche mix or a smoked apple puree. It’s never going to replace a scallop, but it’s pretty damn close!

If you mix Chinese five spice in with shredded mushrooms and cook them with a little bit of soy sauce, you can get like a crispy duck association because of all the spices that you’ve used. To the point that we had a Chinese restaurant come in and we served it and the representative thought he was actually eating duck!

We’ve actually cut down on the amount of salt and sugar we use in the kitchen. It’s just been a natural progression. We are more aware of other seasonings to create those levels of flavours that you are looking for. For example, sumac is a great one for that citrusy zing; dried mushroom for that umami flavour; using seaweed to get that saltiness… We use more pomegranate molasses, we use a lot more honey.

At the moment, the most popular request from our customers is vegan food. You have your vegan and vegetarian restaurants that do it really well, but what we’ve noticed is that the other restaurants have had to adapt or create something on their menu that is vegan. We’re in a stage now where if you’ve got a group of friends and one of them is vegan, they will then dictate which restaurant they go to. Everybody is jumping on board this trend ride. So we do get a lot of vegan requests based on the kind of restaurant they are.

It’s almost like vegetarians have fallen by the wayside now, because when you create a menu, you create it so that it ticks every box. If you still like cheese and eggs, but don’t want to eat meat, you still have to choose the vegan option that is dairy-free. To try and please a lot of people, you’ve lost the poor vegetarian! So it’ll be interesting to see how that pans out.

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