Red’s Hot Women internship: THE FOODIE EXPERIENCE

New blog

Posted in Uncategorized by Katie Bryson on May 26, 2010

Check out my new blog Feeding Boys and a Firefighter and join me on my mission to try and fill the bottomless pits that are Matthew, Sam and Arlo!

26-03-10 – Last Day

Posted in Uncategorized by Katie Bryson on March 26, 2010

Well it finally came around – the last day of my internship. I almost didn’t want to go in so it wouldn’t have to end – if that makes any sense at all?!

The office was full of talk about the Delia and Heston three minute ad that aired on TV last night.

By 1pm the rhubarb and pork figures were in! Delia’s rhubarb brulee recipe had inspired customers to buy a massive 42,000 units of rhubarb. Heston’s tip for cooking roast pork had sent people into stores for a whopping 19,000kg!

I imagine those figures will be increasing by the minute!

The main task today was helping out with a big event that Maria had organised for all the partners at Head Office promoting the Delia and Heston campaign.

Neil and his trusty food team cooked up hundreds of portions of roast pork which they served in bread rolls, and mini pots of rhubarb brulee (blowtorching the top to make the yummy crust).

Loads of partners turned up and there was a great atmosphere, so it was a lovely way to finish my internship. I manned the raffle so got the chance to talk to pretty much everyone there.

I was really overwhelmed when the Food Team whisked me off to an office to present me with a card and some thoughtful pressies – totally unexpected.

I’m going to really miss everyone and have felt so welcome and included. It’s only been four weeks but I feel like I’ve been working there for months. It’s going to be very weird not going back on Monday.

The team have gone out of their way to make my month varied and interesting.

I feel that as well as the valuable insight into the way Waitrose operates, I’ve gained so much from a personal perspective.

It was quite scary making the decision to take voluntary redundancy from my long standing job and career at the BBC. It was a comfortable pair of shoes that I could have kept on my entire working life.

However I took a deep breath and decided to make a change. The internship at Waitrose has given me a renewed confidence and self belief that I don’t think I could have got anywhere else.

I’ve made some great contacts, worked with some fantastic people, learnt a lot about the food industry and above all confirmed that I’m ready to get myself a new career!

Thanks again to everyone at Waitrose for making my month so amazing. You’ve not seen the last of me I hope! Thanks Red Magazine for the opportunity and a HUGE thank you to my friends and family for supporting me and reading my blog!

25-03-10 – Mucking about in the kitchen

Posted in Uncategorized by Katie Bryson on March 25, 2010

Today was a real treat – I visited the Queen of Hearts bakery in Oxford who supply all manner of tasty treats for Waitrose.

It’s not a place to watch lots of machines in action, it’s all about skilled workers doing most of the work by hand.

After a breakfast of freshly baked warm scones with butter and jam it was down to business.

I saw Easter cakes being lovingly iced and decorated, juicy pies getting their tops on and best of all the Easter cupcakes getting piped with butter cream and special sprinkles on top – my kind of place!

The objective today for the Waitrose team was to brainstorm ideas with the Queen of Hearts  to come up with new products. It was absolutely brilliant being included in the discussions and I really felt like everything I’ve been seeing over the past month is really coming together now.

We headed down to the development kitchen at the bakery for further inspiration.

Stacey the NPD Manager had laid out loads of empty pastry tart cases and all manner of different fillings and toppings. Then we were allowed to get stuck in and come up with all kinds of creations to help inform the development process.

What a treat! Between us we came up with a myriad of delicacies that we had no idea whether they’d work or not. They were put in the oven to cook while we headed back upstairs for further discussions.

Getting a product from concept to shelf is a fascinating process, and one that requires not only creativity but also a fastidious eye for detail and commercial prowess.

Seeing the Product Developers in action at these meetings, I’ve really got a grasp of the level of detail they must go into to achieve the special results that Waitrose products demand for their discerning customers.

The last thing to do was to sample the results of our crazy kitchen session. It was surprising what had worked and what was a disaster! But we were all quite proud of our little creations!

I adored getting stuck in with the food today and experimenting. I also loved being surrounded by hundreds of cupcakes – my little food obsession!

Last day of my internship tomorrow – I can’t believe it’s almost over!

24-03-10 – The taste of Morocco workshop

Posted in Uncategorized by Katie Bryson on March 24, 2010

Today I got the chance to take part in a Taste of Morocco Workshop that Waitrose’s Executive Chef Neil Nugent and Food Creative’s Lawrence Brackstone were leading for some of the Brand Development team.

I’ve eaten in a few Moroccan restaurants in London over the past decade, but never seriously dabbled in cooking the cuisine at home beyond using cous cous in a few chicken and salad recipes.

Neil runs these cookery classes for the team once a month to help them widen their culinary knowledge, inspire them and perhaps apply it to projects they might be working on.

Neil and Lawrence both demonstrated a variety of Moroccan dishes and talked us through their significance and history. The most surprising thing about the cuisine is, that while spices are an important element of the dishes, it’s a delicate flavour not a gobsmackingly hot one as you might expect.

I’m a big fan of mixing fruit with savoury dishes so really adore the combinations I tried today – especially the Lamb Tagine with apricots and almonds that just melted off the bone, and also the Chicken Tagine with pears and honey – really delicate and light.

The cooked salads – Zaalouk and Takouk – like a kind of cold ratatouille were really delicious, as was the Harrira soup – a chunky lamb and vegetable broth that is traditionally the first dish eaten after the fasting of Ramadan. I could eat soup for lunch every day and not get bored so it’s great to find a new one to try at home!

Next we were split into groups of three and it was our turn to do some cooking. Each team was given a different recipe to follow and once we’d come up with our dishes we circulated around the room sampling everyone’s efforts.

It was a great way to try even more of the cuisine, but also to get a bit of hands on experience. Our group made Seven Vegetable Tagine – lots of chopping involved here! But once we’d prepped our ingredients it was just a question of sweating them in a big pan with a combination of spices, adding some stock and very strong salted lemon and letting it cook.

It’s a lovely way of cooking that’s pretty simple, healthy and with really tasty results. I’ll definitely be adding a Tagine to my kitchen gadget wish list after today!

23-03-10 – The food hall experience

Posted in Uncategorized by Katie Bryson on March 23, 2010

Today was a truly indulgent day – I’d been really looking forward to it and it didn’t disappoint!

My first mission, set by Mark Himsworth, Product Manager of food halls, was to scope out the food hall at Selfridges. Tough gig. I mooched about for an entire hour drinking in the buzzing atmosphere, and myriad of niche products.

I picked up a tube of Umami Taste No 5 (also available at Waitrose) which I’ve been dying to try out, bought some quirky Japanese panda biscuits for my four-year-old and did some research at the Lola’s cupcake counter. http://www.lolas-kitchen.co.uk/ I’m an avid cupcake creator so love seeing what the professionals are up to.

Other delights were the delicate macaroons of every pastel shade, glittery magic cakes from Konditor and Cook http://www.konditorandcook.com/products and sparkling wine with gold leaf in it! How much fun you could have with an unlimited budget.

So by now I was fully in the zone and ready to hit the John Lewis food hall on Oxford Street. http://www.johnlewis.com/Shops/DSTemplate.aspx?Id=531

It’s a more conservative offering than Selfridges, but a world away from a regular supermarket. The perfect looking fruit and veg is all in lovely baskets, there’s a special room just for cheese, the most perfect looking meat counter and a great wine area.

What also makes the experience so special are the products in the food hall that you can’t get in regular Waitrose supermarkets. Hand made ravioli with venison centres and a massive range of artisan breads – the list is endless.

The customers there are never just doing their weekly shop. They’re picking up something delicious for lunch, and later on they’ll come back and get something special to take home to whip up for supper. It’s a well heeled crowd with money to burn.

Mark was there to set up an amazing line of gourmet chocolates by Austrian company Zotter. http://www.zotter.at/en/home.html

It’s organic, fair trade, and comes in hundreds of flavours – you can get pretty quirky combos like chocolate with bacon bits, or how about cheese, walnuts and grapes?

There’s a fabulous range of drinking chocolates too. It’s not powder but fingers of sumptuous flavoured chocolate that you drop into a cup of steaming hot milk, wait for it to melt and whisk it up. Amazing. I’ve tried it tonight – bourbon and vanilla – lush!

So we assembled the special display, loaded it up with chocolate and then rearranged it a lot until we were happy with it!

The chocolate attracted a lot of attention from the customers. Even before we’d finished putting it all out, people were asking us about it and swiftly putting it in their shopping baskets.

The packaging is super funky and the combinations so unusual that it’s bound to be a hit.

It’s been amazing getting an insight into Mark’s world. It’s taken months of work and preparations to get Zotter chocolate into the food halls, so it was great to be there for the grand unveiling!

22-03-10 – Behind the scenes with Publications

Posted in Uncategorized by Katie Bryson on March 22, 2010

I decided to have a day on familiar ground in the world of Waitrose Publications. With my journalism background and passion for food it felt like a logical place to gather contacts and get a feel for how things work.

The department is buzzing with the Heston and Delia project and the imminent launches that surround it.

The first full length advert featuring the foodie twosome is due to broadcast on Thursday, so the Partners are fastidiously getting everything ready. It’s such a high profile campaign that the attention to detail is beyond crucial.

Alongside the ad, Waitrose’s high quality magazine Waitrose Food Illustrated will be relaunched as Waitrose Kitchen and a special Waitrose Weekend newspaper will be hitting stores for the first time.

I was lucky enough to get a sneaky peek at both today and got to meet both Editors. I’m an avid reader of WFI so was curious to see how it’s changed. I’ll not give too much away, but I’m looking forward muchly to chopping out loads of the recipes and giving them a try – I’m such a food magazine addict and have a never-ending thirst for new recipes to road test on my hungry boys!

It was also cool to see some of the people featured in the magazine from the team at Waitrose who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting during my internship.

The weekend newspaper is a great idea. I can imagine leafing through it with a nice a cup of coffee after doing the weekly shop. Waitrose customers are total foodies, so getting a weekly dose of food news will help them stay ahead of the game!

I also had a good rummage around the Waitrose web offering today. Waitrose Live is a really flashy site that’s as close to reading a glossy magazine as you’re going to get. It’s beautifully put together and full of great meal ideas, tips and videos. http://www.waitrose.com/waitroselive/spring09.aspx

My Waitrose is a cool part of the site that personalises the whole experience. I’ve signed up and started my own recipe scrap book and taken part in foodie debates and votes. http://www.waitrose.com/mywaitrose/register.aspx?rp=/mywaitrose/index.aspx

Courtney, who looks after the web side of things asked me to research and write some food news stories which I happily got stuck into. It was heaven browsing around to see what’s new in my favourite world.

Among the more mainstream events I found a great offbeat foodie gathering happening this weekend – London’s supper club scene are hosting an underground Farmers and Craft Market in someone’s house – how cool is that?!

They say it’s going to be “a mashup between an edgy cool entrepreneurial anti-establishment anarchist fair, Borough market and…a school fete!”

Some of the stuff on offer sounds intriguing including, knitted kitchenware, a talk on making cheese in Peckham airing cupboards and the current holder of the speciality trophy for the Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championships, will be showing how to make the perfect bowl of porridge and selling spurtles!

Sounds surreal and sublime all at the same time. http://www.marmitelover.blogspot.com/

I’m off to the food hall at John Lewis Oxford Street tomorrow to help launch a new line of chocolates – fabulous!

  

 

 

 

 

18-03-10 – The sticky stuff

Posted in Uncategorized by Katie Bryson on March 18, 2010

Early start today.  Up at six, out the door at seven, met Grant Newport, Quality Technologist at eight to drive out to Wallingford. Today I have been immersed in the wonderful world of honey!

Rowse Honey was established by beekeeper Tony Rowse in 1954 and has been supplying Waitrose for a staggering 50 years. Today Rowse make all of Waitrose’s own brand honey – and the customers are lapping it up. Waitrose is the biggest UK retailer of honey relative to its size.

There has been lots in the press about the decline in the UK bee population. In April 2008 it was reported that 30% of hives were lost that winter. It was interesting to hear more about this from the guys at Rowse who are very much on the campaign trail to raise awareness.

The company has invested £100,000 into a research project at Sussex University using selective breeding to combat the parasites responsible. Rowse have also been lobbying the government to take action. They’re still waiting to hear how Defra will be spending the money they’ve promised to invest in the industry.

Being a bit phobic of bees I was quite relieved to learn that the company don’t make the honey – they process and pack it. I’d been having awful premonitions of being made to put my hand in a bee hive to retrieve the honey. I had a photographer from Red Magazine with me today so had been imagining all kinds of ridiculous photo opportunities they’d try and orchestrate.

The reality was very different. Rebecca was really lovely and just happily snapped away in the background letting us get on with our day. It was a bit odd being papped from all angles but I just tried to forget about it.

So after a cuppa and introduction to the company it was time to get ready for a tour of the factory. Hairnets, sensible shoes, White coats, high visibility vests – ah the glamour! We followed the honey on its journey around the factory. Seeing the process up close reminds you what a gloriously natural product it is. Nothing gets added to it, no flavouring, no water, no preservatives.

It’s a highly controlled process though – there’s a massive emphasis on health and safety as well as quality checks of the product at regular intervals on its journey from raw quantity to jar.

This is where I really started to get a sense of Grant’s role as Quality Technologist. His eagle-eyed attention to every detail of the product is absolutely crucial in achieving Waitrose’s rigorous standards. The appearance, taste and texture of the honey is obviously really important. But the jar, the lid, the label and the date stamp are just as crucial.

Walking around the factory Grant was eagerly scanning all aspects of production to make sure everything’s up to scratch. After we’d had a tour of the factory we went to the test kitchens to taste samples of the honey and check they’re meeting all of Waitrose’s requirements.

It was fabulous getting to try all of the different honeys. From the delicate fragrant Spanish Orange Blossom honey to the rich toffee flavour of the Australian Eucalyptus, and onto the beautifully creamy and smooth British Clover – the range of tastes and textures is mind blowing. I’m definitely going to be more adventurous with the honey I buy in future!

Grant picked up on a dent in one of the lids – and thanks to the information on the date stamp the team at Rowse could swiftly identify the batch it had come from and precisely what time and where in the factory it had been handled to see if there had been any problems. Luckily it seems it was a one off and none of the other jars were affected. But that’s what Grant’s job is for. To spot inconsistencies before a customer does so it can get fixed.

He took me to the local Waitrose branch to show me how he checks all the ambient products in store for any inconsistencies – it could be wonky labels, product discolouration, or missing date stamps. To say that Grant is a perfectionist is an understatement – his car is immaculate!

It’s been another insightful day. A real privilege to meet the team at Rowse Honey who are so passionate about their product. And seeing Grant in action was awesome – no wonder Waitrose products are so flawless with him on the case!

17-03-10 – Soups, sauces and a hidden wonderland

Posted in Uncategorized by Katie Bryson on March 17, 2010

Started the day with a working breakfast with Brand Development’s Co-ordinator Maria Anning.

We checked out the atrium space in one of the buildings at Head Office where Maria’s going to be putting on a special event celebrating the Delia and Heston project. It’s happening on the last day of my internship so will be a cool thing to be involved with.

Maria is really passionate about her job and department and from day one has gone out of her way to make sure I have something interesting to get involved with every single day. It’s really lovely that while people have so much on their plates, they still have time to make my experience with Waitrose a great one.

Next up was soup tasting. A supplier came in to show the team a selection of soups and sauces that they’re currently working on for the brand.

There are so many facets to developing the food that you find on the shelves of Waitrose – it’s not just about hitting the right flavour and texture notes.

The team are also making sure the nutritional composition is within the guidelines, the recipe reflects the values of Waitrose, and the ingredients are sourced correctly.

As a supplier you might have found the only organic supply of sweet corn grown in the UK to make your soup with, but what happens if it’s not very tasty? If you bump up the salt and cream you’re compromising the nutritional value, if you go abroad for tastier sweet corn you’re misleading the consumer that it’s a British product. It’s a real balancing act!

But as you’d expect, Waitrose don’t put a product on the shelves unless it meets all of their rigorous requirements. That’s why the standard of their food is so incredible.

This afternoon I buddied up with Brand Development Technologist Kathryn for a mini Bracknell adventure. After a few failed attempts we managed to find our way to the top secret and very hard to get into Design Building.

This is a HUGE space that’s decked out to replicate a branch of Waitrose. It’s where the team set up their shelves with products to work out where they’re going to put everything in store.

It’s not just a question of making things look good – it’s a fine art of trying to capture the shopper’s attention and maximise what products they see and what they actually pick up.

Every product on the shelves is carefully measured and laid out accordingly.  So when a new set of products arrive on the scene, it’s not a question of just shuffling things along, the whole display has to be totally reconsidered.

There were a couple of buyers in there sorting out their fixtures. I got some great insights into how they were putting their particular sections together.

The psychology of shopping is fascinating stuff and I love the fact that the buyers really try and understand exactly who their customers are, what motivates them and crucially what they’re looking for on the shelves.

I’m now wiser on which tins of tuna to buy and what amazing treats are in store for Christmas this year! Top secret and highly interesting stuff!

16-03-10 – Spicing things up

Posted in Uncategorized by Katie Bryson on March 17, 2010

I was lucky enough to take part in a cookery course today alongside some fellow Red Magazine competition winners.

Experienced chef Lawrence Brackstone took us on a journey of history through the medium of spices.

Once more valuable than gold, and responsible for the discovery of entire continents, spices have a magical quality that can transform the most humble of dishes into something that just sings.

It’s a shame that they sit unloved in old glass jars, misunderstood and faded in a lot of kitchens. I’m totally guilty of this and feel inspired to have a good old clear out this week and start again!

We learnt that spices are like coffee – as soon as you grind them and release the flavour you must seal and store them in the fridge/freezer.

We were all tasked with creating two spice blends each. I made a really fragrant Japanese blend Shishimi Togarashi that included ingredients like dried tangerine peel, schzwan pepper , chilli and sesame seeds. I ground it up in a pestle and mortar – quite a workout.

Next up was an Indian blend called Sambhar. It demonstrated nicely the yummy effect roasting your spices has on their flavour – sweetening and intensifying after just a minute or two in a dry hot frying pan. Once cooled you grind them up. Marvellous.

I made a right old mess of myself – turmoric everywhere – bright yellow fingers and bright yellow face! I’m such a child around food – always have to bathe in everything I eat and cook!

After a yummy lunch and chat with everyone it was back in the kitchen to watch Lawrence apply the spice blends we’d made to the types of dishes we could impress our friends with.

Chunks of butternut squash, onion and garlic were fused and sweated with the Jamaican Jerk blend for 10-15 mins and then blitzed up with chicken stock to create a totally delicious soup.

A few chicken breasts were rubbed with my Japanese blend, blasted in a super hot oven for 10 mins and transformed into an aromatic juicy taste sensation fit for a summer barby!

Mackerel fillets got a Morrocan spice treatment and the normally unremarkable onion bhajee got a beautifully delicate overhaul.

I’ve always loved a curry but now feel inspired and confident enough to ditch the pastes and get stuck in myself! Curry night – bring it on!!!!!

As if this wasn’t enough we were treated to an hour’s cheese tasting by Food Hall Manager and vastly experienced cheese connoisseur Mark Himsworth.

We had a spread of about six cheeses all to be sampled with very particular things.

The light and fluffy goats cheese was best eaten with chilli spiced beetroot on wafer thin crackers from Australia.

The Stilton worked wonders on water biscuits with quince preserve. All taste sensations and all complete with fascinating back stories about where it’s made and who makes it.

I could have spent all day listening to this – foodie gold dust!

I am totally enthralled and in awe of how much knowledge these guys have – it’s infectious!

Can’t believe it’s all going to end next Friday. Wonder if they’ll notice if I just keep turning up?!

Tagged with: , , , ,

12-03-10 – The fairy godmother of local food heroes

Posted in Uncategorized by Katie Bryson on March 12, 2010

I’ve had a really excellent day today with Tracey Marshall who is Product Manager for Local and Regional on the Brand Development Team.

As her title suggests, Tracey works with small artisan producers and helps them get their products from the stalls of farmers markets and food festivals onto the shelves of their local Waitrose and beyond.

She works with a team of buyers and food technologists to bring the product up to scratch.

It really is the grass roots of food production. Spotting fabulous locally made stuff like sausages, ice cream and chutneys and bringing them to a supermarket near you – proper food heroes stuff!

We headed out of Bracknell down to West Sussex to meet husband and wife team Paul and Jane Hatcher who run Prosperity Brownies.

I love their story. They started out with a fabulous recipe making brownies in their home kitchen with their three kids. Pretty soon their friends were telling them they should be selling them to local cafes in Brighton.

The recipe was so yummy that the locals were lapping them up and Prosperity Brownies were born!

Five years on and Paul and Jane have gone from baking at home to a dedicated unit where they have the space to make the quantities they need to meet local demand.

They’ve got some super slick packaging, some cool messages to share and a never ending enthusiasm for what they do.

And now the shelves of their local branches of Waitrose await! Tracey is guiding them through all of the hoops they must jump through to get there. It’s like she’s their foodie godmother.

After meeting them we checked out one of the branches that will be stocking their brownies (and flapjacks) in the coming months. Storrington has only just opened, and is a compact in-town store all shiny and new.

Storrington has a dedicated area for it’s local and regional produce. It’s a real eye catcher and with all the products carrying tickets with the individual stories of the producers – it’s foodie gold dust.

This is where Paul and Jane’s delicious brownies and flapjacks will one day pretty soon be tempting the locals!

I feel genuinely inspired by everything I’ve seen and learnt today. How fantastic to work with all of these producers, spending the time to nurture them so that they can have the satisfaction of seeing their food on the shelves of Waitrose!

How amazing is it that a massive supermarket would invest in such small scale producers because of their love of quality as opposed to clinical profit.

This is why I applied for the internship – two weeks in and I’m more excited than ever!