My food & drink job: Zoe Simons, innovation development chef, Waitrose

Zoe Simons, development chef at Waitrose_web

Zoe says she was told at school she wouldn’t amount to much because she didn’t enjoy the academic subjects. It wasn’t until she went to catering school that she really found her feet.

Name: Zoe Simons

Age: 25

Job title: Senior Brand and Innovation Development Chef

Company: Waitrose - Bracknell Head office

Education: Newport Free Grammar School - Chelmsford Catering College

 

You were a candidate on Masterchef the Professionals but have since decided to pursue a career in grocery as opposed to working in restaurants. How come?

 When you are a development chef, thousands of people can be picking up your product in one evening and I love that.

I started in the food industry at a young age and spent my fair share of time in various kitchens. I was already working in food development when I took part in Masterchef. Being a development chef is an incredible job for someone in my field of work. You can actually enjoy food as you have time to perfect, absorb and appreciate different cuisines, trends and variations of dishes. I found when I was in the restaurant industry, serving a few hundred covers a night, I almost lost the love and passion as I was burnt out from the long hours. When you are a development chef, thousands of people can be picking up your product in one evening and I love that.

Explain your job at Waitrose to us in a sentence (or two):

To inspire innovation and help to grow product ranges with new ideas and techniques, as well as creating first- to-market products.

What does a typical day look like for you?

The best thing about my role is no two days are the same.Today, my day looked like this:

  1. Waitrose kitchen - Cooking up new dishes to provide inspiration for a product developer’s workshop, with the aim to inspire the next wave of development.
  2. Tasting Room - Attending a Christmas pudding tasting with a supplier to give feedback - I definitely didn’t need lunch after this!
  3. Office - Time to do some reading up on different cookbooks to get inspiration for an up and coming project and work on a write up of a recent food trawl.
  4. Tasting Room - Attended a pizza tasting (yes, that’s part of my job!) to comment on flavour and new ingredients.
  5. End of the day meeting - Had a catch up with product developers on new ranges and suppliers

Read more: Tesco poultry technologist Charley Nightingale on working for a big retailer - and managing the fipronil crisis

How did you first become interested in a career in food & drink?

My Nan is an incredible cook. I remember, from a young age, spending weekends in her kitchen watching, learning and doing lots of eating! I struggled to choose a career path towards the end of school. I already had a job in the local pub working in the kitchen, but it never clicked that my skills in this industry could lead the way to my future career. After many discussions with my family, and especially my Nan, asking for advice and guidance, I decided to go to catering college.

What’s the best part about working for Waitrose?

I have worked for different companies over the years and have always had to fight for innovative products.

To be able to sit in a room with people who love food and when you give them a wacky idea, they want to know more. I have worked for different companies over the years and have always had to fight for innovative products. At Waitrose we live and breathe food, not just when developing new products, but the whole journey from brand to packaging to technology and everything in between.

And what’s the biggest misconception people have about working for a big supermarket?

I think most shoppers probably wouldn’t think that to get one product on the shelf can sometimes take up to a year and an incredible of amount of people working behind the scenes. Also, the care and attention that goes into every product you see in our shops - nothing ends up there just by chance. There is a vast amount of knowledge and a number of skilled people that work on the ranges at Waitrose - it’s quite a journey to be involved in.

Read more: Sarah MacLellan on how to make it in the male-dominated world of whisky distilling

What advice would you give to other young people looking to get into the food & drink industry?

I was told at school that I wouldn’t amount to much as I didn’t have much interest in the core academic subjects.

My first piece of advice would always be don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. I was told at school that I wouldn’t amount to much as I didn’t have much interest in the core academic subjects. It wasn’t until I got to catering college that I found my feet. I started off as a pot wash, then worked my way up to becoming a chef. It’s a wonderful industry to be in, full of inspiring and talented people, but the most important thing that I have learnt is don’t be afraid to start at the bottom.

What’s your ultimate career dream?

I’ve got my dream job. My ultimate career dream has always been to work for Waitrose as a development chef. Having said that, one day retiring somewhere in Italy with my own vineyard and bakery sounds like a good option too!

Interested in finding out more about food & drink careers? Check out The Grocer Jobs for the latest vacancies

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