Dai Llewellyn, development chef at Waitrose

The Staff Canteen
Dai Llewellyn

Dai Llewellyn discusses his role as Development and innovation Chef at Waitrose and his own inspirations with regards to pursuing a career as a Chef.

Name: Dai Llewellyn

Role: Waitrose development and innovation Chef

Bio: Presenting dishes and ideas to Waitrose from chilled meals to dips and snacks, Dai is Waitrose’s development and innovation Chef who started out within front of house and is classically trained but decided after working within restaurants that he wanted a change and become a development Chef.

Follow Dai on Twitter here: @Chef_daillewe 

How long have been in the role?

I have worked with Waitrose for three years. I started as a development Chef working for a food manufacturer presenting dishes and ideas to Waitrose from chilled meals to dips and snacks. I then progressed to my current role and I’m now working with many suppliers developing new ideas and products.

Where were you before?

I have a classically trained background and I always wanted to own my own restaurant, so for me I wanted to know everything about the industry. I started front of house, working my way up to restaurant manager before leaving that role and coming back the following day to the same restaurant as a commis Chef and started life in the kitchen. I then made the leap from Swansea in Wales to London because the restaurants and diversity fascinated me, I wanted to be a part of it and really pushed myself to see what I could do.

I started in Aubergine and that’s really the point where I started learning. Not only about food but what being a Chef is all about, always working in the correct manner, never taking short cuts and taking part in the banter. I had a great sous Chef at the time who is now a head Chef at a Michelin star restaurant who took me under his wing and was immensely passionate and inspiring.

 I went from there to work for Bryn Williams at Odette’s in Primrose Hill. Again it was an awesome opportunity to learn and progress. Bryn is, without a doubt, the most driven and passionate Chef I’ve worked for. He changed the way I thought about food, coming from the heavy French style using expensive ingredients he taught me how to bring dishes together in an uncomplicated, lighter way where taste was everything. I owe him and the team who were there at the time a great deal.

When did you decide that becoming a development Chef was the route for you?

It was by chance really, I was speaking to someone who mentioned product development as a career and I did some research and the more I found out the more I wanted to be involved. It’s never easy leaving your comfort zone but the time was right for me to make the change. 

How many years before starting with Waitrose?

I spent three years working for different suppliers learning the in’s and out of food manufacturing. It’s mind blowing when you first walk into a production kitchen and see the sheer scale of what’s going on. I went from making the sauce in a saucepan to making them in 150 kg batches which, at first was difficult to get my head around, but it soon became normal practice and it now enables me to understand the procedures involved in developing products.

How did the position come about?

It was through working with Waitrose suppliers that I was given the opportunity to progress. A position became available and I jumped at the chance to be a part of the team.

Do you work with Will Torrent?

Yes, I don’t have a part in the development of the products Will works on, that’s his expertise and knowledge, but we are a small team so we all bounce off each other in idea sessions. It’s great to have someone of Will’s and the whole team's talent in the kitchen to continue to learn from.

What does the role entail, what products are you working on?

Development to me is all about getting great food and products into Waitrose for people to enjoy. But that is only one part of what the job is all about. I always have to stay on top of what’s going on with food trends, restaurant openings, new ingredients, technology, packaging, what people are buying and what they are not.

Development starts off as a number of thoughts:  "I’d love to do this or this would be great". Then it’s up to us to go away and work on those ideas and bring them to life.

There are so many factors to think about when developing products. In the kitchens I worked in we made everything from scratch, fresh every day. Now I can be tasked to develop products that have to last a few days on the shelf and still taste great. We have to think about nutritional targets, cost, transit, food safety, allergens and how it will be made on a larger scale.  

It’s immensely satisfying and humbling to see an idea that made it from your head to the shelf.

Products at the moment…..well we have just completed our Christmas Press Show for 2015 so next we will be working on Christmas 2016. It’s so important to stay ahead and organised.

Do you think this type of work is promoted enough? Too much emphasis on restaurants?

Now I think it is more so than when I was researching. There are degree courses that offer year long placements within food manufacturers and retail companies which are invaluable experience as well as restaurants themselves having menu development kitchens.

The key for me personally is to have good grounding be it in university or in a restaurant, you never stop learning and improving as a Chef but it is so important to have that initial training and to have a mentor that inspires you. Although there is a flip side where you can become hugely successful with just an idea and a shed load of the drive. I worked for a company called Charlie Bigham's who’s head (Charlie) started the company to provide great tasting meals in stores, he wasn’t a Chef but he started from the ground up and now the brand is incredibly strong and he still lives by the same ideals. To make great tasting food.

What would you say is the best thing about your job?

I absolutely love what I do, I love being a Chef and that will never change, the best thing about my job now is the variety and diversity of cuisines we cover. In development you are not tied to one cuisine or area, we can one day be working on Authentic Mexican and the next it’s Italian or Korean. There is so much to learn and get inspiration from and that to a Chef can only be exciting.

If you could go back and & change anything what would it be and why.

Two things really, one more topical than the other. Firstly I would have better-explored university courses and education, for me, I just wanted to work and push on but there are so many great opportunities to be had through certain courses and graduate schemes.

Secondly, I would like to change my age slightly and have worked for Marco in Harvey’s days, I still watch the clips and love to see the motivation and determination in his eyes, they had such an awesome team.

Top 5 tips

1. Respect- both for ingredients and your peers

2. Drive – Keep going, everyone makes mistakes but always learn from them

3. Taste – Always taste your food and be open to criticism

4. Graft – Put the work in and it will pay off

5. Love what you do – If you don’t it will always show in your food, time for a career change.

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The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th April 2017

Dai Llewellyn, development chef at Waitrose