Chef Steve Walpole – Challenges and embracing change
Do you think Foodservice companies have accepted the new allergen law yet?
There seems to be quite a big divide between those that are taking it very seriously showing real enthusiasm and who have been working on this for months. Then there are those who have not embraced it and have almost dismissed this as a flash in the pan type introduction.
Thanks to the power of the consumer, customer and those that this effects both indirectly and directly we have seen a lot more people sit up and actually get their acts together to ensure that they do not get left behind.
There is some great work being done out there by both big and small companies to make sure they fully understand what’s being asked of them and to make sure the information is there for their customers and staff.
I have seen great examples of the use of symbols and training at companies like Gather & Gather across all their sites to small independent places using a chalk board and abbreviated names to highlight what’s on their menus.
I do believe that a lot of the issues come from a lack of understanding or actually not reading the paperwork itself. Therefore, thanks to Chinese whispers people believe it’s a lot harder and complex than it actually is.
Are companies amending or changing dishes to exclude allergens?
I have seen and been involved in some great work, with companies starting from scratch to produce dishes and components that cover the rules to be part of their current offerings. A lot of clever businesses are now leaning on suppliers and producers to find and make items for their menus that fit certain criteria.
The slight misconception is that you have to change everything you do within the kitchen / food environment with your food to make it accessible to all. This is not the case as you physically cannot adapt everything.
As long as they companies are clear on procedures and ingredients and train everyone from the people answering the phones through to management, then you can achieve some great things.
Some of the issues are that some companies don’t have a solid structure of recipe data bases, follow recipes exactly or have supplier product specifications. So it is very hard to actually drill down to what potentially could be a risk unless they change the way they work.
How has the Allergen Law affected your business?
I run my own food consultancy company which means I generally get called in to help businesses make changes or implement new options and I am now much more conscious of what I design or advise on.
From a food development side, I ensure that I make clients aware of potential ingredient issues. Then I show them how to make an allergy friendly version or minimise risk.
Once you understand the rules it can be very interesting to design things that fit the regs. Creatively, this can be really liberating when you have something that looks, tastes and is safe to all but would not look out of place or different than a normal product.
Sometimes we like to stay within our comfort zones of what we know and what the masses like, but we have to remember that the allergic consumer has a strong voice. If I want to have an ethical and positive business, then I am making sure I adapt to make this part of my business model
What challenges did you face implementing these changes?
As with all areas of change, the challenge is always tougher at the start and my projects vary from client to client. I found that working forward to make changes rather than going back meant less complexity. It also meant that clients got the hang of what we were trying to be achieve, which subsequently gave them confidence to make improvements or changes themselves.
I have now been involved in this side of the food business since before the regulations came in and a lot of companies were and still are on catch up. Some saw this as a small Niche market, so a lot of effort for potentially not a great return, which is definitely not the case in such a growing area.
What were your thoughts when The Telegraph published the letter from 100 chef’s which stated that the rules are just a bureaucratic nightmare?
This was a big blow to the good work and great advocates for allergy awareness we have in our industry. The problem in this day and age is thanks to the power of media both social and business, good press can always be out shone by the bad.
The fact that most of them did not understand nor have all the facts about the allergen law was an embarrassment. To say that this legislation was stopping creativity and progress was very narrow minded and blinkered.
Yes I understand that it is change, but if these people had not ignored it like ostriches until the 11thhour, then it could have been phased in slowly (it had been on the cards 3 years prior to introduction) instead of this big bang 2 weeks before the Christmas busy period. They may claim that they did not know as there wasn’t a big PR spin, but enough people had been talking about it.
My response would be that as part of a service industry and customers being key to what we do, you should always try to offer a service that includes everyone. You cannot please everyone all of the time but for this arena, a little can go a long way.
In my career to date I have seen lots of things being implemented or changed and we have to adhere to it and embrace it using the training and support available.
These customers are the decision makers when they go out to eat with their friends, family, work colleagues, acquaintances etc. They want safe food and places they can trust.
If one place won’t feed them, there are always others who will and they will gain a new customer base and increased revenue because of it, the choice is yours.
About Steve Walpole
With over 20 years experience in the culinary industry, spanning across all sectors from Food Service, Retail and the Travel Sectors. Steve Walpole Ltd is able to offer a wide range of Expertise and skill sets suit your project or company needs. Whatever your vision or budget and what your customer demographics, we can help you provide a ‘culinary solution’ that gives you a distinctive edge.
Steve Walpole Ltd has worked on projects large and small, in varying areas of the food Industry and with our extensive experience we are certain that we can help you develop a great service experience for your customers.