Ray Lorimer, Controller & Executive Chef, Unilever Foodsolutions

Peter Evans

Peter Evans

Executive Chef 6th June 2009

IN ASSOCIATION WITH

This month's Featured Chef"¦

Ray Lorimer

Classically trained as a chef and caterer in the Army Catering Corp over a 25 year period.

Ray is responsible for all Culinary Development, which includes: new products, both in UK and Europe, sales force training, hygiene and HACCP training, food photography and general industry interface and support. Ray was classically trained as a chef and caterer in the Army Catering Corp, over a 25 year period, starting with a two and a half year chef apprenticeship in 1967. Ray was head hunted by Caterplan/Bestfoods in 1992 on leaving the Army, and set up the original Unilever Food solutions Culinary Services team. Seven years later Ray was head hunted back to the Army, as a Supply Logistician to set up a new Logistic Food and General Supply Operation for the United Nations Peace Keeping Force in Cyprus. Ray keeps himself fit by regular running which has included four London Marathons, one Great Northern Half marathon, five Three Peaks 24 hour challenge, seven other mountain marathons, and a 26 mile charity marathon, across Hadrian's Wall. Ray has recently completed an International Culinary Arts degree at Thames Valley University, where he was awarded a first-class honour. Ray, first and foremost thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us today. "Delighted." It's fantastic to be here. I don't really know what I was expecting, but what I have seen today has just been unbelievable. Fantastic facilities. State-of-the art kitchens. As I said when we were walking around, I know a number of chefs who would love your working environment. So maybe we can start by you telling us a little bit about your role here. "OK, I am Executive Chef of Unilever Food solutions. I also have another title, which I don't use externally, as it's more for internal purposes. I am the Culinary Controller, which means I control culinary services, which is slightly larger than my actual team. I have a team of 5 chefs and those chefs have varying backgrounds, ages and experience. Also there is a sales force of about 50-60 guys, mainly chefs with chef backgrounds, and 5 chef-coaches who have more than just a sales role - they have good chef backgrounds so I can ask them, on occasions to give me support if I need it." OK, and obviously, Unilever is a worldwide company and has some famous brands underneath it, such as Knorr"¦ "Yes, other brands include Hellmann's (mayonnaise), Marmite, Bovril, Colman's "¦ Pot Noodles (laughter), Pepperoni, PG tips and Lipton tea. They say that in the UK, a product from Unilever has a footprint in 98% of all houses. That's from our foods, our retail part of the business "¦ Persil, Ice Cream - Ben & Jerry's. The list goes on "¦ it's a huge multi-national company." Yeap. "A great company to work for, I must say." Yeap. Now a lot of our members will know brands such as Knorr through its association with the Chef of the Year competition. Our regular contributors to The Staff Canteen include previous Chef of the Year winners, such as Simon Hulstone and Steve Love. You do a lot with your Chef competitions and your brands are very prominent in that sort of arena, aren't they? "Yes, it's been deliberate. Historically, I've been with the business for 17 years. I joined when I left the Army and in my second year I met a young student chef called Simon Hulstone, who was with the Chefs and Cooks Circle going to Canada"¦" Yeap. ""¦ with the British Team and they came back with a Silver. I remember meeting them at Heathrow Airport on their return at 4 o'clock in the morning, because we were the supporting sponsors, and I wanted to say "?Well done'. It's great to see that after 12/13 years Simon is still at it and he is now a recognised Chef of the Year with a Michelin-starred restaurant. We have a strong tradition from the days of CPC (Cater Plan, Best Foods) where we've always tried to nurture the youth of catering, because that's where it all starts." Yes, of course it is. You mentioned the Army. Now, obviously, your career started in the Army. "Yeap." And you started off as a Chef, and I would imagine that that is a very traditional, classical base? "Yes." ray-lorimerI believe that if you can do the classics, you can then move on to anything. "Yes, one thing we touched on earlier was that we do Business Development. We have a team of chefs - my background is catering - but we use our skills and knowledge to develop ideas and concepts. Rather than just selling a box of soup we consider: "how can I sell it as part of a package to a customer?" So what we have is a training concept, which we call "?Classic meets Contemporary' and "?Classic' is going back to my early days as a young trainee chef when I was taught all those classic skills from Escoffier to the Contemporary skills. Now the "?Contemporary' skills are what you see today on the TV, it's the pretty plates. But when I joined the Army I was 15 years old. I was an apprentice, I completed a 2 ½ year apprenticeship; learned to be a soldier; learned to keep fit; became educated (because I was a little s**t at school). I actually didn't join to be a chef, I joined to be a mechanical engineer." Very similar!! (laughter) Chef: Mechanical engineer! "Yes, well I was good at all the technical bits at school. You know - metalwork all those things. So they said "?Well you can join but there is a three-month waiting list before you can join to be an engineer, but you can go in at this point into another branch and do your training, and then three months later you'll be an engineer.' So, I asked who I would join in those first three months and they said "?Oh, the Army Catering Corps', and I said, "?What do they do?' (laughter). I didn't have a clue, Christ, my mother, she was not a cook, and I think all I ever had was porridge and once I even had a packet of crisps in two slices of bread! So there was no catering background in our family - my father was a miner. So I did my three months basic training expecting to become an engineer and move on to a place called Arborfield, but 25 years later I was still in the Army Catering Corps, or the Army Catering Services as it was. A mistake to start with, but a really good mistake as it turned out." Absolutely. "And a great, great education as well." I guess we would all love to be 15 or 16 again, but if you could turn back time would you still look to do an apprenticeship? "I am going to be controversial, I believe that guys of 15 years old should go and start work. I don't believe that they should stay on at school for that period of time. I think that if a youngster is not academically minded "¦" You aren't going to learn it then. ""¦ No, you're not and apprenticeships give them the opportunity to go out and learn something. I would love to see proper apprenticeships come back." Yes. "I did 2 ½ years, as I said earlier I was a little s**t at school. Clever enough but I just didn't develop. I was a late developer. But I developed then in that 2 ½ years. Perhaps if the Government put money in other directions and if I could maybe turn the clock back and "¦" Yes, I think, sadly the Colleges aren't what they were. I think there are some good apprenticeships out there now, some of the bigger, more established places are doing good apprenticeships, but it is a bit hit and miss. "Yes, Birmingham, Westminster, Thames Valley, to name a few"¦ (apologies for those that I have forgotten). I can't speak for colleges in general, but I just miss the real apprenticeships - 2 ½ years - which I had as I think I benefited so much from them." Yes, and I guess the Army gives you great discipline and personal discipline as well. Does that help in the role you do now? "Personal discipline, I remember at 15 years of age I got fined 10 shillings for under-age drinking. (Laughter) I actually never got caught but the Sergeant Major said I had been. So I just said "?Yes, Sir' and then after a couple of years I was a cook in Ireland. Nothing changes - there is always trouble in the world. But yes, personal discipline - you learn how to cope with a crisis, you know if you bugger-up the potatoes then plan X comes into play!" Yes. OK, Ray, so how did you get from the Army to the role you are in now? "Good question. Over 25 years in the Army one thing I wanted to do was to keep one foot in civi street because I always knew I would come back out." Yeap, and often, a bit of a generalisation but people from the forces often struggle to adapt back in industry. "Yes, that's true." Not all but some. "Yes, you can't generalise but it's true. I sort of worried about that when I left. I was forty when I left, so 15 to 40 is a long time especially if you get to know people. I also entered into competitions. My speciality, if I am being honest, was sugar. I saw that someone in the Army had just done this lovely sugar work and I thought I needed to try and do it myself. So I became pretty proficient in cakes, royal icing and sugar. But also I was a lecturer in the Army, and I taught for three years. I taught basic cooking, all under the City & Guilds banner, so 706/1 and 2 as well as Pastry Advanced." OK. "I prided myself at the time - I was one of the youngest instructors to teach Advanced Pastry work. But I did it for just three years because I was very single minded and I said "?I'm moving on' then. So I never went back to it in the real sense. I moved on within the Army system." OK, so what happened when you left the Army at 40? "I went to a company called Caterplan." OK, They approached you? You approached them? How did that come about? "They approached me. I was doing some special work for the Army in my last couple of years. Although I didn't realise I was leaving, I just left. Spur of the moment decision, the Army Catering Corp got disbanded; and then I thought "?Ummm, maybe it's time for me to move'. So I told my wife one day that I was leaving and she said "?What!!', and I left, but within a couple of weeks, although I'd put out some CVs I was approached by this company called Caterplan." Fantastic. But you went back to the Army, didn't you? "Yes, that was 7 years after." Right. "With Caterplan I'd got the 7 year itch (laughter)" You don't normally get those in your career, do you? "No, my boss had been great. I still get on with him now, but there just came a period when I wasn't getting developed and the Army were looking for officers to go back on short tours to Kosovo and Eastern Europe where there was some trouble breaking out. I was still on the reserve, so every six months I looked at it and then they came back and I got offered to spend 6 months in the Falklands, followed by a new role in Cyprus for two years for the United Nations as a Supply Officer. I ended up going out to the Falklands with the Penguins for 6 months. I actually put on 2 stone in weight; I was quite fit in my Army days; got a little (Laughter) let's just say I had lost my fitness; went back to the Falklands, lost the 2 stone; did a lot of marathons and between now and then I have been doing about a couple of marathons a year for charity since. Yes, so two years United Nations in Cyprus - Green line; Blue Beret; great role. Diplomat! (laughter). Fantastic." ray-lorimerRay, we were talking earlier as we were walking around that many chefs see development as a whole different market, it opens their eyes. A lot of the companies we go and see, maybe the Goldman Sachs etc, even yourself and Sodexo - the environment that you work in is like night and day to most hotels. What sort of advice would you give to someone who wants do come into this sort sector? Is it - start to be a chef and then develop into it or what? "It's an interesting one. I have recently completed a degree - a food degree." Well done. "Thank you. And I am also going back and forwards to colleges and universities and I think actually students are starting to realise that there is a role in development. My advice would be to go outside and get some experience, although having said that I have one chef working for me, he's been with me 6 years, and he was 20 years old when he started, so he'd almost just come out of training. But more and more now there is a huge development opportunity and I would say it's more for the guys out there that have had maybe 10 good years of some really good solid chef work. I think you have got to have some background." Yes. "I can't speak for everyone, but I think you have got to have some background, solid names and good references." Also, Ray, I would imagine your role is not just about what you can cook. I would imagine that you have to be quite a good administrator as well? "Yes, I am probably the worst cook on my team (laughter)." ray-lorimer But you have got so much else to think about - how can I package and sell this. It's not just about doing one portion. It's about how do you take it further. "Yes, I try and develop my team. I am a mentor. Sometimes they think I am a bit of a s**t but, you know, that's life you can't always be perfect. The role, certainly, is a chef role for the chefs, but also business development. My guys have to be more than chefs. When I interview people I am looking for a passion for food; a good background, but I have also taken students on for a role too because you can develop those guys and mould them into the role that you want. In Foodsolutions its business development, so the chefs do cooking but they also talk to customers and they help customers set up packages, whether it's with jus or Knorr stocks." And, I guess, finally, I couldn't come and talk to you today without asking about Marco. "Marco?"(laughter) Yes, I'd probably never be allowed back in The Staff Canteen. I said to you earlier that if we put any post or thread appears on The Forum that contains Marco it just goes BOOM. It's one of the most subscribed threads we have; it generates the most debate, the most conversation. For the last two years we've created a poll - who is the most influential chef and it's been a who's who of chefs - Marco; Raymond; Gordon Ramsey - and Marco just wins it hands down by a country mile. "Yes, I am not surprised." Beating the likes of the Roux Brothers, and let's be honest they are "¦ "His mentors" "¦ Exactly. They are serious people in the food scene. What's it like to work with him? "It's interesting, two years ago he dropped a remark (not sure whether it was a give away remark) but he dropped a remark to Mark Lewis, who was doing the Caterer at the time when he had been doing an interview. He'd been asked what his thoughts were about convenience within the industry and his comments at the time were "?Knorr stock cubes, f****** great product." He claimed that he always cooked his vegetables in it, didn't he? "Yes, that's right and so I saw this and if nothing else if you are not quick you're dead, so I had a quick chat with a couple of marketing people and said we should talk to Marco. Between ourselves, Foodsolutions, the retail side of the business and one of their marketing managers, we got in touch with his agent and went and spoke to him at the Jumeirah Carlton in Kensington. It's one of his favourite places to meet. So we went there and met him - the great man and it's now two years. I have worked with him on numerous occasions and I have to say he is a great guy to work with. He really is, and the other beauty is that my chefs all work with him and support him when he's doing photography; we've been to Hell's Kitchen - had the opportunity to sit in and watch it for a while. He has his critics but he is a gentle giant. A big man, but softly spoken." But he's got that stare? "Yes, but we took him up to Scotland for ScotHot and they loved him up there. He'd only just walked into the exhibition area, and I'd taken him through the back door, thinking we'll get him in this way and get him to the stand - within seconds you could hear this: "?Hey, Marco are you going to give us a photograph?', and that was it." I know, we saw him at The Chef of the Year and I thought nothing ventured nothing gained. So I went over and I introduced myself and I gave him a Staff Canteen card and I said "? You've won a poll' and he said "?Thank you very much, what an honour it is to be voted for by my peers' That was the first time I had ever spoken to him and I was just: "?WOW'. I don't know what I was expecting really. "Yes, he is a really nice guy." I was Mr No-one to him, he didn't have a clue who I was "¦ "On that occasion anyone who asked for a photograph, got one; anyone who asked for an autograph, got one and it was the same up in Glasgow." ray-lorimer We were very clever, while the press and photographers were photographing him we went out and photographed Mister Ishii. "One of Marco's fans in Scotland said: "?I really like Mister Ishii' and I said: "?Why?' and she said: "?It was just something about him on his programme', so I said; "?Hang on a second'; I took my mobile phone out and dialled his number: "?What's up, Mister Ishii here"¦' I said: "?Hi Mister Ishii, Marco's planes on time; Oh, by the way I have one of your fans here - she would just like to say hello'. I then passed the phone over to this girl; she was just over the moon." Yes, but I think with Marco, where you guys have been incredibly successful is that he captures the chef market and he captures the housewife market. "Yes, absolutely." They both love him. "Yes they do, and our sales figures show that as well." Good. Ray, one final question. You have had a very long and distinguished career, what keeps you motivated? "That's an interesting question, I think life just keeps me motivated. I'm no youngster (as you have probably gathered) but I don't refer to myself as old; I keep fit "¦" Age is a state of mind, isn't it? "It is a state of mind. I am 57 years young. I run; I don't drink - I haven't done for a number of years; it was a lifestyle change and if I am honest I think there is too much drink around in our industry." Yes, it's a tough industry. "I just enjoy life. I have just recently re-educated myself. I have completed a degree and am just waiting for the results." Great, let us know. "It's in International Culinary Arts - one that I think my peers should start thinking about. A BA honours degree. It's a lot of work; you need to give up time; weekends and your company needs to support it. But if your company values you, they'll do it. Yeap, never stop learning." Ray, thank you very much for speaking to us today. It's been fantastic. Thank you. "Pleasure."
Peter Evans

Peter Evans

Executive Chef 6th June 2009

Ray Lorimer, Controller & Executive Chef, Unilever Foodsolutions

IN ASSOCIATION WITH