Chef Peter Sidwell
Making Nutritional And Taste Magic
Appear Where You Didn’t Expect It
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, March 20, 2022
The London Produce Show is only a few days away now and we’re especially excited to be joined by chef Peter Sidwell, who will be giving a live demonstration.
Peter is an expert within the food industry specializng in strategy, branding, concept development, new product development, food based content creating for brands and clients. He also works as a public speaker on food and business. He’s also a TV chef, presenter, cookery writer and owner of an award winning food development agency with a successful cookery school, development kitchen and media studio in the Lake District.
He is also a brand ambassador for Symphony Kitchens, Kitchen Craft and California Prunes.
Peter has been working as a consulting development chef for several national and international food companies, creating products, concepts and offers. He recently completed a long term contract with the award winning Westmorland Group, an innovative motorway service station group in the UK.
We asked Steven Loeb, Contribution Editor at Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine to find out more. Peter spoke to us about how the attitudes around food are changing, what he’s most looking forward to at the London Produce Show, and how we can make food healthy without sacrificing any of the flavor.
Q: We’re so happy to have you at the London Produce Show and Conference. It sounds like it's going to be an exciting time and it sounds like you're going to be doing a pretty impressive presentation. You're going to be cooking on stage, is that right?
A: This will be my first time cooking on stage for a couple of years, so it's really going to be really nice to get back to doing what I love doing, which is just cooking and talking. I mean, since lockdown, I've been doing digital presentations in my studio kitchen. I've done loads of that, but it'd be nice just to get out and do it again. I love to cook, I love to talk about what I'm cooking at the same time. It's the perfect job for me.
Q: I can imagine doing that digitally over Zoom, it can't really be the same experience as doing it live.
A: No, it's not the same but, in some respects, it's allowed me to take control of my career a little bit. I've done quite a bit of TV and things like that, and it’s like if you don't live in Hollywood, it's quite hard to be an actor and in the UK, if you don't live in London, it's quite hard and challenging to maintain your TV cooking career. So, when lock down hit I invested in broadcast equipment and now we broadcast our own live cookery show every Saturday morning on Facebook and YouTube and Instagram. It just means that I can do what I want to do, I can cook what I want to cook. So, I'm cooking ostrich this Saturday morning and why not? Because I can! Because we have ostrich farms here in the UK now and it's super lean, it's super good for you. And then I'm making a very low sugar flapjack as well. So, those are the two recipes that I'm making on Saturday morning.
Q: It sounds almost like the pandemic democratized the space a little bit. Is that how you’d put it?
A: If you didn't pivot and make some significant changes, I always think everyone was moving where we are now, we just did it in two years, or six months really in lockdown; we made that shift in six months instead of six years. Everything was accelerated towards digital. The older generations are buying online, more online banking, online shopping, entertainment, and so on and so forth. Everybody accelerated, because we had to, and if you didn't innovate and embrace and change, you ended up becoming an Amazon driver. I mean, that's the growth area; I've got so many chef friends of mine who are now Amazon delivery guys because their restaurants are bust, which is no fault of their own, it was just circumstance. But, luckily, I made a big change quite a few years ago and started working with California Prunes and making sure that I found people who needed what I did. And if you go out and find those people that need your skill set, you can build a business around doing that.
Q: And it also got rid of the gatekeepers, in a certain sense. To be on TV, you had to be in London. Now, you could just broadcast from your own house, be on YouTube, be on Facebook.
A: I have two staff that work with me, one edits on the hoof, and then the other one does the post edit and the uploads, and it live broadcasts. And it's just a really interesting time now, having to work with agents and TV commissioners, network commissioners, all that stuff, all gone, don’t need ‘em. I do what I need to do and I work with sponsors who want what I do and they help commercialize what I do. It’s a bit like cable all over again.
Q: You mentioned some of the things that you do, like being on TV, but what do you want people to really to know about you before you take the stage in London?
A: I've done a lot of work in product development. So, new product development is an area that I've always made sure I've kept a foot firmly placed in the commercial world. When you're a chef in restaurants and things like that, that's where you cut your teeth, you train, you learn your trade, and then you start to make strategic decisions on your career. I've always kept a foot in product development; I like supermarkets, I like shops, I find them really interesting places to be from a product development chef's perspective. All I've done is blend NPD with media and just put them all under one roof. So, my ability to produce, innovate, test, develop, create, and then once I've done that bit of the business, I can then communicate that to the world, depending on who I want to talk to in what language. So, I would use LinkedIn to talk about product development and innovation and procurement and fat reduction, sugar reduction, all these interesting things that I can do with a client's product. So, I can take California Prunes and I can work out how to reduce the fat in a cake by 50% by using prunes as a product, which is quite innovative, but the consumer doesn't really care about how I do it. But LinkedIn, B2B, they're fascinated and if you have the ability to communicate and talk the right language to the right audience, then you've got a message. And that's what I do, I bounce from consumer to business to business, and that ability to go from one to the other, and that's why I've been quite successful working with American produce. So, I've worked for the Department of Agriculture via the Embassy in London and done some direct work with them and American products. I've worked with California Prunces for five or six years now, innovating, being gastronomic, and creating amazing dishes as a chef, but then also putting my jacket on and working on product development, weights, measures, testing, pushing, prodding, and pulling, to try and create something that tastes amazing that has a nutritional value to it.
I have to stay on the trends. Like, plant-based food is huge, it's growing and growing and growing. But, for me, it's like, ‘that's great,’ but we need to understand, what are we eating? What are people doing to replicate meat? Or can we innovate with real products, like a prune, a dried plum? How can we make that what its characteristics are and then how can I apply that into a product for some good use? Not just because I'm trying to shove a prune in that recipe. I'm going on stage at the show and we're going to make the most amazing Korean noodle dish but for the barbecue sauce I've removed all the sugar, so there's no added sugar in that at all; I'm using prunes for my sweetness, my fruitiness, and my texture. That's how I'm going to be working on that product as a product development chef, and at the show I'll be able to talk about why I've done it and how I've done it. Why have I gone for a Korean noodle dish? Well, kimchi is massive, gut health is a really significant message, so I'm understanding the consumer market and trying to jump on that with a new innovative solution. And, most importantly, it tastes blooming amazing. It's delicious, it’s really, really good, it's easy to make, and we've removed so much sugar out of that, easily. And we've added a high level of nutritional value with the fiber that's coming from the prunes.
Q: People are definitely more conscious of what they're putting in their bodies these days than they used to be, that's for sure. And they're taking a much more active role in their own health. It sounds like that’s really changed your own approach to food and cooking as a result.
A: As a chef, I used to chuck butter and cream and sugar into everything; that's what chefs did. Now, we have to really think, and when I work with different clients on different projects, those things are out the window, I'm not allowed to use those anymore. I've got to really think and apply my culinary skills and my curiosity as a chef, as to how is that going to work? What's it going to do? How can I balance it? And then you've got to think about how that works in a production environment. The more processes you add to a product, the more expensive it becomes in production in a facility. So, I've got to travel all the way through that product until it gets to the consumer, so that I can be really conscientious and I can go back to the client and say, ‘Look, this is the product, let's reverse engineer this all the way back to the prune that's growing in the orchard in California.’ As a successful development chef, you have to be really aware of that, the whole journey, and understand the what, the why, the how and make it taste amazing. Be on point, be on trend. The consumer needs to want it. Otherwise, what's the point? Can't make them buy it, you got to try and innovate and be quick and agile and that's why we keep everything under one roof. So, we have product development, we have laboratory analytics that we can access, we have media, food photography, recipe development, film, photography, video, and audio. So, we do podcasting for clients, we create audiocasts. So, it's that whole multimedia suite that clients want now. They don't just want a recipe and a photo; we can go live for you on Instagram, on LinkedIn, we can talk to buyers and consumers on LinkedIn. Or we can talk to consumers on Facebook or Instagram or YouTube. We can video; I'm doing some work for Florida Grapefruit at the moment, so we're creating some really engaging video recipes for them. But what we're also doing for their blog post is creating audio clips. So, we're doing a short podcast on each recipe. So, all those top tips, those little nuggets of golden information that I sometimes take for granted as a chef, because I just do it, whereas my team will be like, Pete, how did you do that? Why did you do it that way?’ We need to capture that, because that could be the difference between success and failure in a recipe. It's not just come down to ingredients or method, there's often little nuances and tips and tricks and things like that that chefs have, and we've just found lots of platforms to do that and capture it for clients.
Q: Is part of this getting the chefs out there and cutting through the noise. There's a lot of competition in this space and obviously a lot of people are competing for the same eyeballs and the same ears. So, is that part of what you're doing is helping your clients get out there in front of the right audience?
A: 100%, it's all about understanding who your audience is, and that comes down to marketing. Who your audience is or who you want them to be. If you haven't got who you want then how do we get what you want? As a product development chef, I have many hats now and I have to be able to help clients grow their audiences and grow their engagement and things like that. But it all comes down to the product.; you got to work with that product, you've got to understand its characteristics and what it can do. I've traveled around various places in Europe and things like that and I'm always tasting different produce and things like that. The opportunity that I got to go to California and walk through an orchard and actually taste the raw product was really, really interesting and it was a lightbulb moment. You think about it, ‘oh, yeah, it's actually a plum.’ You forget that it's plum. Do you call them dried plums in America? Are they?
Q: We call them prunes.
A: In different parts of the world, they refer to them as different things. But to taste the raw product is really helpful to then understand why it becomes a prune and its nature and its characteristics. As a successful chef, you're as good as the produce you've worked with. So, it's really important to understand your raw produce before you even begin any kind of cooking, in my opinion.
Q: To be honest with you, I don't know how they make prunes. It's never something that I've ever learned, nobody ever taught me that, and it's not something I've ever really thought about. But it's probably important to know that if you're going to eat it.
A: I think so, yeah. It's natural sugar content. It’s sweetness off the tree, then that contributes to how it dries, and then water retention, and then removal of the water and then you end up with that soft, chewy, almost winegum type texture. And that texture I can use in food innovation and that food pairings is a really interesting one that I've done quite a lot of work on. What foods work with other foods. So, when I take the California prune, what flavor profile compliments it or contrasts it? For me, that's just combining it together and then throwing it out there and letting other people create amazing dishes as well. So, we do a lot of flavor combination work. For example, prunes and dark chocolate worked really well, prunes and walnuts work really well, we know those. But then if you were to take mint and prune, they work really well together. And salted anchovy and prune work really well together. You would take, perhaps, a dark craft ale and prune, they work. Fennel and prune work really well together. Then once you can start playing with combinations, then you can start to innovate and create dishes that inspire people to use that product. That's my job.
Q: There must be a lot of trial and error there because I would never assume that prunes and anchovies will work together. But you try it and you see if it works. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't.
A: Absolutely. That’s the saltiness of an anchovy and then, once you then dive into the world of saltiness, you then go to miso and you go to feta and things like that. All of a sudden, you're like, ‘we've got all these options I never knew I had.’ It's all about the combination of flavors and that was something when I moved from restaurant cooking to product development cooking, it was all about taste and innovation and things like that. That's where you need to understand your product and its flavor combinations and all the opportunities that you might have. So, you really need to know ingredients to be able to be a good product development chef and these are the things that I want to talk about at the Show while I'm cooking. The Produce Show is such an important place for a certain caliber of chef to go to. A lot of chefs go to restaurant shows and things like that. Whereas, for me, I want to go to produce, I want to see the produce of the world, and how can I play with it?
Q: Are there different varieties of prunes? Does it depend where they're grown? Does that change the taste of the prune?
A: There are certain types of plums that are suitable to become a prune, and it's about the sugar content. There are three or four key areas in the world that grow prunes: obviously, California for me, I've been working with them for a long time and they're just the best quality. They really are. So much work goes into making sure that that product is top quality.
Q: Do you think your culinary expertise can impact the consumption of produce? Do you think that it can be increased?
A: For sure. I'm almost that front-facing person that can inspire you to try new things. And it's very much understanding food trends and where things are going and why we're doing what we're doing and with what. A lot of these things happen in restaurants, and then they filter down into the home, and then from the home they filter down into the supermarkets. I always think the supermarkets look at what we're doing in restaurants and things like that because they know the consumer has gone to the restaurant. For example, in this country, burrata is quite popular now. Five years ago, burrata wasn't really that popular, unless you'd been to Italy and Campania, that particular region, and you knew what you were looking for. Now, because of Instagram, burrata is mental, everyone wants burrata! And it's understanding, How can I jump on that? How can I be part of the conversation?’ And, for me, travel is the best way to learn and experience new things. Obviously, we've not been able to do it for a couple of years but, as a chef, you have to get to a point where you've learned a certain level of culinary ability, and then, thereafter, it's about ingredients. I need to find the best, the most delicious, where can I find it? Like, at the moment, I've got wild garlic growing in the woods around me. Rather than the bull garlic that you'll be familiar with, we have a green leaf here. So, it's like big, massive basil leaves, big elongating ones. They're delicious, but they're wild; you can't commercialize that. And it's finding that amazing product, and I've got it for four weeks in the north of England, I'm going to enjoy that. I'm going to run with it for weeks, and then move on.
It’s just finding amazing, interesting products, and then understanding what the consumer is looking for, what are they wanting? Everyone says that they’re time poor at the moment. How can you take four ingredients that are amazing and create a delicious dish? That's what everyone loves around the world, not just the UK, and we are a global marketplace now, more than we've ever been, because of iPads and everything else, which makes it easy to have a global audience. If I think back, I think my first TV show was 15 years ago, it was a UK program for a UK audience. And then it got sold around the world afterwards, because it was about the UK. Whereas, now, when I go live on a Saturday morning, I have viewers in America, East Coast, West Coast, Tasmania, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. And it's, like, ‘wow, all by this flick of a switch.’ And what I cook then affects what they'll go and shop for that week. What produce I’m buying affects what those consumers do and what they’re looking for. And then knowledge is power. ‘What can I do outside of that recipe? What can I do with this bulb of fennel? I don't really know, I've done what Pete told me. Now, what do I do?’ And if you understand the role of produce, then you can start thinking about how it would work, or what to do with it, what works with it, what flavors work and things like that. So, when I'm on stage or on camera, I try to talk about its flavor and its characteristics, and what else you could do with it to expand it’s appeal.
Q: It's really interesting to think about people using fruit more in cooking, because honestly, that's not really something that you think about too much. Obviously, it’s used in pies, or in duck l'orange, stuff like that, but you didn't really think about fruit necessarily being a staple of that level of cooking. And so it seems like your goal is to get that down to the consumer level where they will incorporate fruit more into their recipes.
A: For me, as a chef creating recipes, I look at how I can add nutritional value to a recipe so that it's the best bang for its buck you can possibly get. If I can make that easy for you, it's an easy decision for you to make, and then we start to build a trusting relationship. I can then grow on that and I can build and build and build. We all like food that's not good for us, but how do we make it as nutritionally valuable as possible? And what I've learned with California Prunes is fiber is absolutely the beginning of everything, because if you aren't getting sufficient fiber, you won’t absorb the nutrients that you're then eating through the day. So, let's get that bit right first, and then you will reap the benefits of adding this and this and this and all of a sudden, you think you're having junk food, but you're not, you're having something that's loaded with nutritional value, and you didn't know you were eating healthy. That's the way we win.
Q: Because it tastes good, and it's good for you.
A: ‘Tastes good; is always first for me; if it doesn't taste good, it doesn't pass stage one. Then that comes with the theory of flavors. We sit around a table and we think about what's going to work with it. ‘Okay, so if that's going to work, then that could take us there or there or there, because that ingredient opens up the next door.’ So, like a puzzle, you add one product in and then it leads us to, ‘Well, let's go through that door there.’ And then we'll go through that one and we'll see where it takes us. All of a sudden, you've ended up with, I don't know, a Greek dish or an Italian dish or whatever it might be.
Q: And so those recipes for California prunes, they're available for consumers? How do they get those recipes?
A: On the California Prunes websites, I create a lot of the recipes there for them and the Korean noodle dish, and then after that, I'm also making a Florida Grapefruit, California Prune muffin. So, I've reduced the fat by 50% and I've reduced the sugar by 30% by using California Prunes in my baking. I've created what I would call a ‘prune butter,’ so it's half prune half butter, or margarine, whichever you choose. So, straightaway, I've reduced half of the saturated fat but what I've added is a huge nutritional value injection into a muffin. Then we've glazed it with Florida Grapefruit and ice and sugar to make it just delicious. What it isn't is a healthy muffin, what it is an amazing muffin that tastes delicious and we've added nutritional value and taken some of the bad stuff away. We've all had a bran muffin that's supposed to be good for us. Whereas with this, we've worked out the building blocks of how to bake a cake and then we've played around with it through trial and error, we've removed 50% butter. In the development kitchen, I pushed that to like 80% and realized that's too far, so we reigned it back. And then with sugar, I was able to reduce 30% of the sugar and the bake without the molecular structure of the bake being compromised. That's all just about trying and testing. And then once you've got the formula, then you can add all the flavors.
Q: You’re making me want to go and check out some of these recipes and make some of them with these California Prunes.
A: I can send you the recipes, no problem.
Q: Fantastic. Is there anything else that you think I should know about you or the prunes or what you're going to be doing in London?
A: Like I said, I'm really looking forward to just getting back on stage and doing what I do. I can't wait to see all the produce that’s there. I haven’t been to the show before, so it's going to be a real eye opener for me. But it's the most interesting part because it's the beginning of the product is the ingredients. If you haven't got good ingredients, you're never going to get anywhere. You're as good as the produce you buy. I often say to people, ‘good cooking starts with better shopping, so you should start with really good shopping first. You buy the best that you can work with that.’