Steve Walpole – Freelance Chef & Consultant – Culinary Solutions for the Food Industry
After he was Senior Lecturer in Culinary Arts at the Westminster Kingsway College, today Steve Walpole works as Chef Consultant and Head of Food at Ugo Foods Group. Steve’s culinary path brought him a lot of experience, which he likes to share.
A Chef portrait of Steve Walpole
Steve, after so many years in the culinary world – what still fascinates you about being a chef?
It’s all about the passion. Food and cooking play such a part of everything I do both personally and professional that I can’t help not having an interest in anything food related. Whether that’s an ingredient, restaurant, cuisine or person.
After 6 years as Senior Lecturer in Culinary Arts at the Westminster Kingsway College; what was the most fascinating part of this work for you?
Teaching is something I love to do. I love to share my knowledge or expertise with anyone that wants to know. Seeing people wanting to learn to cook and be a chef, seeing them grow from novice to experienced with my help was rewarding. Seeing some of them now owning restaurants, writing cool books, having senior roles in the industry leaves a great feeling inside.
Today, fewer young people want to become chefs. What needs to be done to make this great job as a chef more attractive again?
Unfortunately, the industry has a bad reputation for long hour and poor pay. It’s changing but also there is more choice out there now. The food culture has changed peoples dining habits. So now is the best time to be in food. The variety, the options available means you can gain experience in so many different cuisines, cultures, and businesses.
As Senior Executive Chef for Gate Gourmet, you worked for several years in airline catering. What was the biggest challenge for a chef in this particular segment?
To produce dishes that can be cooked, reheated, plated by the crew in aircraft ovens. The kit is or was basic so and the crew were not trained chefs. But we did produce some great dishes and menus.
Most dishes served on the plane seem less spicy. Is there a reason for that? And ordering tomato juice during a flight (and never on the ground or at home) is another miracle. Is there a similar curiosity like tomato juice in the food sector in an airplane?
The reason for both these questions is altitude and pressure. Your tastes change massively on an aircraft. Your taste buds change depending on hydration and different tastes are either enhanced or reduced. So salt is reduced along with sour and bitter. Sweet doesn’t really change but because the others reduce it seems things are sweeter.
The one area that is enhanced is umami which is the savoury part of the tongue. So that is why tomatoes, soy, seaweed, chiii, soy, red meat or anything high in umami taste better. Spices are usually great but people go conservative on the ground to not be to intense but for the aircraft you have to go bold.
Over the years and until today; you work as a Demonstration and Media Chef. What experiences have you had in this segment?
First thing you notice is how big food has become. Everyone wants to learn new things or techniques. Social media has helped in good and bad ways. People are all posting pictures of their food or food in restaurants. The power of the amateur and the blog is huge. It’s no longer just us cooks. It has opened up world cuisine to everyone.
Your work as a Consultant and Freelance Chef – what do you offer and who are your customers?
I offer a range of services from menu development, training, process. I am an allergy ambassador, I do demonstration, presentations and media. I can also help businesses with cost saving, suppliers, enhancement. I work with retail, food service and the travel sector so pretty much all aspects of food and business.
For UGO Foods, the longest-established fresh pasta and noodle company in the UK, you work as Head of Food. What are you doing in this job?
I look after the new product development along with a team. I also work with our key suppliers and partners to produce products for our range. I also manage the kitchens and production team. I am also part of the commercial team so pushing tenders, presentations and new business.
Apart from different sorts or tastes; in which other segments you can work innovative for UGO Foods?
At Ugo we predominantly Mable chilled filled and unfilled fresh pasta. But we also make street food items such as gyoza, rice balls, arancini to name a few. We also big on allergies so we have a brand purely for allergies, health which is Ugo thrive. They are a food business that tried to push the boundaries on all fronts, the maybe a medium sized business but still has an entrepreneurial core.
Is there a place in the world where you would like to work as a chef one day?
South America because it has so much to offer. Each region has a history and that has influenced their cuisine. From Brazil to Argentina it’s a whole world of food in one continent.
Thank you very much, Steve!