Jessica Soria, Development Chef

Outside of my blog world, I work with some of the most passionate foodies in Toronto at Real Food for Real Kids. There is some serious magic that happens in the Food Planning department and Jessica gets to cook up the magic potions.

Testing recipes all day sounds like a dream job so I decided to chat with Jessica to learn more about her work and passion for cooking.

What is your job title? Development Chef at Real Food for Real Kids

Elevator pitch of what you do:

Create standardized recipes for a healthy catering company while harmonizing culinary creativity, latest nutritional guidelines, and the challenges of high volume food production.

Test Batch of the Chickpea Crusted Chicken Meteorites
Test Batch of the Chickpea Crusted Chicken Meteorites

Describe a day in your apron:

It all depends if I’m in development season or not. If the development season is on, the day starts in the kitchen, testing new recipes. After brainstorming for a particular project, all the potential recipes are made in the Test Kitchen. I call it “The Chef Cave” – a space full of spices and ingredients to let my creativity and senses to unleash. Usual recipe development follows strict guidelines and parameters (concept, budget, flavour profile, audience, nutrition parameters to hit, etc).

Sometimes I need to perform a live test of a potential recipe. So this translates into 200 kilos of a product plus a lot of fun working side by side with our production team. Aside from this, every day I assess and taste out daily menu, exactly as our clients will receive it. The rest of the day is can be dedicated to troubleshooting, for example, working with our bakers to get perfectly proofed and cooked croissants or adjusting the consistency of dressings and condiments.

Salmon Casserole
Salmon Casserole

What are a few of the recipes you’ve developed that are now featured on the Real Food Menu:

  • Vegetarian Pasta Bake
  • Apple Glazed Chicken
  • BBQ Meatballs
  • Chickpea Crusted Chicken Meteorites
  • Salmon Casserole
  • Chili with Organic Turkey
  • Carrot-Blueberry Blend
  • Coco-Choco Oats

What sort of feedback do you receive from the children / their parents about your recipes?

It varies. Pasta dishes and meatballs are kid favourites! However, fish and vegetables are still a challenge. Also, our palates are used to foods rich in fat and sugar, so it’s a challenge to introduce new recipes without sugar added. Food choices are intrinsically related to our eating patterns. So we get all kind of comments, suggestions, and recommendations. Saying this, sometimes I have received feedback that really touches my heart and make me love my job even more. Changing the way of how kids perceive food is not an east task, but it’s a fascinated endeavour!

What kinds of obstacles do you face when developing new dishes? 

The production model of the company where I work is unique. It’s not the same to prepare 5 kilos of a recipe than 800 kilos. Spices intensity, texture, appearance, all change. Visual appealing is crucial, but when food is being hot held, the colour of fresh herbs changes. So the use of garnishes is limited.

We have a timeline to prepare our recipes, so recipes that require long cooking times, need to be approached in a different way.

Our audience is more prone to have food allergies and intolerances. Consequently, some ingredients must be avoided.

Jessica (far left) and RFRK's Food Planning Team
Jessica (far left) and RFRK’s Food Planning Team

How does RFRK give back to the community?

I believe that the mission of RFRK of changing kid’s perception of food is a great way to give back to the community. We need healthier children. We need to tackle childhood obesity and the incidence of adult diseases in children (high cholesterol, diabetes). Also, RFRK has in place a program to provide subsidized lunches to some kids in our community.

How can Toronto improve the food system for children and lower income families (i.e. funding more school/community programs, integrating food education into the curriculum, etc.)?

In my opinion, to learn how to cook healthier foods is a life skill. So these courses must be included in the schools’ curriculum. In the wholesome food world, there are so many underused food types such as pulses and whole grains, that can be affordable and very nutritious. We have this belief that healthy food choices are more expensive. But if we buy seasonal vegetables and fruits, and we combine them with pulses, a whole world of culinary options will open for us.

Thanks for that insightful perspective into your life as a Development Chef, Jessica! I just have a few more questions before we finish…

What is your favourite recipe?

I don’t think I have one in particular. Lately, I’ve been enjoying homemade miso soup and all kind of soups and stews with different beans and lentils. I guess my favourite cuisine would be Italian and my favourite food item would be seafood.

What are three ingredients/items that are always in your grocery basket when you go shopping?

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Some kind of chili

What is one food you’ve never tried but always wanted to?

There a huge variety of wild mushrooms I haven’t try.

Source: JamieOliver.com
Source: JamieOliver.com

If you could train under one chef for 24 hours, who would it be?

Jamie Oliver!

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