Spring 09 - Chef profile – Ray Lorimer

12/04/2013 11:04
Ray Lorimer, executive chef and culinary controller Unilever Foodsolutions UK, age 57.

Ray Lorimer is responsible for all culinary development at Unilever Foodsolutions. It includes NPD in the UK and Europe; salesforce , hygiene and HACCP training. Classically trained as a chef and caterer in the Army Catering Corps over a 25 year period, he rose through the ranks to various master chef roles and he was an advanced City & Guilds lecturer at the Army School of Catering. His rank on completion of service was Major. When he left the army in1992 he was headhunted by Caterplan/Bestfoods, the business eventually taken over by Unilever. Later he was headhunted back to the army to set up a logistic food and supply operation for the UN. He has been back with Unilever for the last seven years.

What led you to become a chef?

I didn’t really want to be a chef – I became a chef by mistake. I joined the forces to become a mechanical engineer but there were no vacancies at the time and it would be at least three months before joining the regiment of my choice. The regiment you could be in straightaway was the Army Catering Corps. I didn’t have a clue what to do but I knew I was always a solder first and a chef second.

Are the forces one of the best ways to get up the chef ladder?

I think the best start is in the forces. I joined 42 years ago as a boy soldier having left school at the age of 14. But the army teaches you not to be a chef but a caterer. I went through the military system and started off as a chef and then after 20 years I was commissioned to lecture.

What is a typical day for you?

I’m up at five every day and at my desk just after seven if I haven’t gone for a run. I run sometimes during the day with my colleagues at work. The beauty of my job is that no day is typical. I could be in London seeing Andrew Bennett [Sheraton Park Lane Hotel] or in Scotland where we support competitions such as the Scottish Chef of the Year.

What are the best elements of the job?

I enjoy travelling and meeting people. Up to 40% of my job involves travelling. My job takes me to Europe and my role there is being the face of the business meeting chefs and caterers.

I go to Europe to benchmark products for the UK, which means visiting countries such as Germany, Poland or Holland.

This is for foodservice but I give a lot of advice for retail, for example for the Marco Pierre White products. I set up meetings with him and use my development team to give support to the retail side of the business. One of my chefs will be with Marco when he comes in. I also get involved with events such as masterclasses and competitions if they are big.

What is your view of today’s celebrity chefs?

I am slightly disappointed with celebrity chefs and their influence. The young want to be chefs but they want to be those people [celebrity chefs] now. Somewhere along the line there is something between that and reality.

I think catering is still seen as a second class occupation. I have seen at first hand that colleges are desperate to get people through the doors, but people still just want to be top chefs.

Many want to be an executive chef, but do they know what is needed? In companies such as the Starwood Group more and more executive chefs are now becoming food and beverage managers.

I have been doing a lot of work for my dissertation for my degree and I have put questions to chefs about how to manage and how to work out costs. Are they given this information in the early stages? Do they know about gross profit, margins, etc? Do they know the amount of vegetables lost in cutting? This is down to education.

What are you most proud of?

Many things. In 1991 I was in charge of the plans to celebrate the Army Catering Corps’ 50th anniversary worldwide.

I also set up the original Unilever Foodsolutions culinary services team here 17 years ago. What you see today with my team of five was just me all those years ago. Initially they wanted someone to cook and heat up food.

I am now proud that I have trained all my guys in nutrition and diet, which is something many chefs outside our business don’t understand. We don’t for example use added salt. I believe healthy food and diet is good and I have challenged nutritionists globally to spend more time in the kitchen.

Another thing I’m very proud of is raising money for the Teenage Cancer Trust with chefs such as Paul Gayler and Andrew Bennett. It was good the way the industry picked up on it.

You had a lot of input into the creation of the new development kitchen at Leatherhead. How did that come about?

I put the development kitchen together with architects. For the design I used my past experience with the army – I had a training school in Grantham where I trained part time soldiers.

We wanted the kitchen to be more professional than Crawley, and our kitchen here is now a self contained one. It’s always spotlessly clean as this is the way I want it; you have the training, preparation and cooking at one end of the kitchen and banqueting and masterclasses at the other.

What trends do you forecast for 2009?

We are going to go back to basics in terms of food. Thinking twice about frozen when fresh is available. Also the cost of utilities – these are huge and the industry will look at them more carefully. The waste is phenomenal.

The credit crunch will change our eating habits. The Government’s Change for Life campaign will also have a big impact on our industry.

How important are organisations such as the Craft Guild?
I have to be a member of lots of associations and I’m close to many of the federations. They are all important but I challenge my own guys to get involved with the Guild.

In the past you have represented the army at combined services and international salon culinaires winning gold medals in a number of disciplines particularly patisserie and sugarcraft. Do you still compete?

I did win lots of medals with the army. I don’t get involved much now.

How do you spend your time outside work?

Most of my learning is done at the weekends. I’m doing a degree at Thames Valley University on international culinary arts and gastronomy, which I do in my own time. I’ll work hard for it, then I will look at how it will work in the business.

Why do it? You don’t get anything for nothing. That’s why I think there has been a disconnection in the industry. People think they are commercial but they need to be better trained to go for executive chef jobs. These degrees can help.

I also generally keep fit by regular running. I run but not fanatically. I always do the Three Peaks, I’ve done the marathon and probably at least 12 half marathons. But I don’t train hard. They have resulted in a lot of money being raised for charities such as Hospitality Action and Teenage Cancer Trust.

How do you relax?

I play golf. I have a handicap of 22. I play in Portugal and around here. I don’t watch television much as I have had a whole day of it.

What would you be if you weren’t a chef?

I want to challenge this as I see myself as a caterer. I was always evaluating catering operations. I was chef trained and I do everything to advance the business. But what I always wanted to be was in the army.

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