'You've got to have a passion for food'

Chris Barnard, 60, is executive chef for new product development at Kettle Foods. It's his job to develop new flavours for the company's hand-cooked potato chips and baked snacks.

What does a Kettle chip chef actually do?

I'll be given a brief by the marketing department to develop a new seasoning for next summer - say, something with a chilli, or a hot, spicy note. It's my job to source the ingredients and blend the final seasoning. I look at cookbooks, do research on the computer, and go out to stores to see what the trendy ingredients are. For our buffalo mozzarella, tomato and basil flavour - an idea suggested by consumers on our website - I travelled to south-west Italy to visit a co-operative that produces the best mozzarella cheese.

When I've found the ingredients, I work out how to blend them so we can sprinkle the seasoning on the chips. The process can take weeks or months. We have a review in my kitchen with the marketing team, and then move on to research with customers. If it's too hot or too strong, I can tweak the blend.

What's the greatest thing about your work?

I love food. I've a passion for traditional values - natural ingredients and the right seasons. And I enjoy the challenge of innovating and changing things - using real food in snack foods instead of chemicals. It's very rewarding when consumers let us know that something is successful.

What problems come with the job?

My waistline! I'm tasting all the time, and watching the guys batch-frying, so I end up eating a lot of chips. One's got to be very careful not to get lethargic. You need a lot of willpower. But that's probably the only downside.

What skills do you need to do your job really well?

You've got to have a passion for food and great ingredients, and you've got to want to challenge yourself. I started in the restaurant business, so I knew about food, but I've had to learn a lot more. You're always doing research, getting feedback from consumers, meeting food suppliers. For me, salt isn't just salt, and a black peppercorn isn't just pepper. Natural sea salt and black peppercorns have different characteristics, and understanding ingredients helps you to decide how to use them. You also need to understand food legislation and food labelling.

What advice would you give someone longing to be a potato-chip chef?

You need practical, firsthand experience of dealing with food. There are two ways to come into a job like mine: as a food technology graduate, which would help you understand the chemistry of food; or, as I did, from a restaurant. Knowing how to recognise quality ingredients is vital; you're not just throwing everything into a pan and hoping it comes together. There's skill in blending seasonings so they will complement, not overpower, the base flavour of the potato chip itself.

What is the career path? Does it pay well?

As a graduate food technologist, inventing recipes and coming up with ideas, you might start out earning between £20,000 to £24,000 a year. With more experience, your salary might jump to £40,000. You could also train in food hygiene, or in sales and marketing. Other options might include moving into a management job in the company you work for, or specialising in a particular kind of food.

See www.kettlefoods.co.uk. For details on careers and training to become a food technologist, see the Institute of Food Science and Technology website at www.ifst.org.uk; or visit the IFST's careers site at www.foodtechcareers.org

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