Claire Gallagher, Head of Food & Drink Innovation at Bettys, explains why she’s passionate about nurturing the skills of the next generation of craft bakers and pastry chefs
How would you describe the values you and your team adhere to?
What’s key for me, the team and in general is good practices – whether that’s animal welfare, minimising waste, sourcing products locally and seasonally where possible, or being fair with suppliers.
We try to continuously improve to ensure we’re doing the best we can for the customer. And we always work with good quality ingredients, which is the best start you can have for any recipe.
Education is very important to us as a business, and to me personally too. I am involved in the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, which helps to promote the importance of continuing culinary craft skills through programmes such as ‘adopt a school’, which encourages the continuation of skills through education.
We do schools work here at Bettys too. I can’t emphasise enough the importance of education in helping our industry address the shortage of skills in crafts.
What do you look for in a candidate when you’re recruiting to your team?
It’s only once in a blue moon that we recruit, but when we do it’s quite a challenge finding people with the right skills.
An absolute love of food is essential, but it’s also important to me to have a mix in the team.
We have people that have been here for a very long time, some 20 and 30 years. The knowledge that they have, the way they understand the brand and what we’re about, and our history is fantastic. But we need to balance that with the more revolutionary stuff. You bring someone in new and they can be right at the opposite end of the scale. So then we need to bring the two together to meet, as creativity is borne out of the mix. A traditional but evolutionary approach and with a few ounces of a more revolutionary, edgy development, will support us being fit for the future.
We have some fabulous development chefs and pastry chefs – our challenge is not that we can’t create any product or dish that’s out there; it’s about how we create it to Bettys standards, and it’s about how can we deliver it consistently time and time again to our customers.
The challenge is testing it and training those people who have to deliver that consistent quality time and time again.
Sometimes it’s a bit like mixing water and chocolate – they won’t mix without some adjustments – so you have to find a creative way of making it work. But this is a natural and common challenge for the food industry; it’s certainly not unique to us.
What advice would you give people wanting to get into your field?
Going to college is always good start, whether it be part time or full time. Classical training works for some more than others. I’d advise to also work in a kitchen at the same time – go for the best kitchen in your area. Having a base understanding of food, the history and science behind it, are good ingredients to begin with.
If you can find your interest early you’re onto a winner – I’ve just loved chocolate from the word go and that was brilliant for me.
Do placements and work experience, and I would always say aim high, and go for the best early on: the best patisserie, the Michelin starred restaurant. That way you’re going to learn so much so quickly, and in the fabulous big hotels there’s lots of encouragement for developing the traditional craft skills. It’s difficult to get good pastry chefs so it is something people are looking for.
There is lots of encouragement from all sorts of places for people who are learning craft skills in this industry, such as the Royal Academy for Culinary Arts which runs awards, for example. It is just so important.
A longer version of this interview can be found on the Food & Drink Innovation Network