If there’s one thing that beats the thoughtfully prepared work of a professional chef, it’s a homecooked meal. Thanks to Emily and John, our dedicated Great to Go Research and Development Chefs, you can have both.
These two highly skilled chefs spend their days dreaming up easy-to-follow Fresh Meal Kit recipes and easy-to-eat sandwiches, salads and soups you can grab and go. Thanks to their culinary creations, you can enjoy great food no matter how busy your schedule is.
How do they do it? We stopped by their kitchen to find out.
Tell us about your background as a chef.
Emily: I’m a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Napa and I worked in restaurants for quite a few years before going into research and development. I’ve worked in New American restaurants, a Michelin Star restaurant and, my absolute favorite, Mediterranean.
John: I went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. I’ve worked in all kinds of restaurants including French cuisine, Asian cuisine and Italian cuisine. I’ve worked in hotels, resorts, even food trucks. Then, I found my way here to doing research and development for Giant Eagle.
What’s your earliest memory of cooking?
Emily: I was four years old and I wanted scrambled eggs. My mom said if I wanted them I could learn to make them. I remember vividly standing on a chair and cooking them. I’ve been in love with cooking ever since.
John: There’s a photo of me from when I was very young, maybe six years old, in the kitchen with a little chef’s hat and a little apron with “Chef John” on it, cooking cake mixes probably. From an early age it was something I wanted to do. When I was 12, I started cooking meals for the family. I started working in restaurants at 13. I’ve just always loved cooking.
What’s a typical day like here in the kitchen?
Emily: Our day always starts at the supermarket where we pick out what we’re going to cook that day. A typical day includes developing shoppable recipes for Curbside Express, developing meal kits and also creating the ready-to-eat salads, sandwiches and soups you see in the Great to Go case in-store.
John: We usually have a good idea what we want but we often grab whatever’s fresh and what we’re inspired by. We’re in the market every day, sometimes multiple times. Then, we come back here and start cooking and tasting and trying each other’s food until we end up with five recipes or so.
What's your process for creating new Great to Go recipes? Where do you find inspiration?
Emily: It always starts with an idea. Whether it’s something we saw online, something we ate in a restaurant, or a recipe we saw in a cookbook. We think ‘how we can make this our own.’ We like to find recipes people are familiar with and put our own spin on them. We also talk about food all day long.
John: Once we have a good idea. We’ll cook it a couple times to get it the way we like it. Then, we’ll have another chef take the recipe and cook it to see if the directions are clear. The whole process involves probably 3-4 different chefs, food safety people, our nutritionist. It usually takes a month or more to make sure we have a recipe you’ll enjoy and have fun making at home.
How do you come up with the ready-to-eat choices like our Great to Go soups, wraps, salads and sandwiches you mentioned earlier?
Emily: We really try to appeal to all the different types of eaters. Whether you’re a picky eater or a gourmet lover. We try to make things you can eat easily on the go or if you’re at your desk. You don’t have to sacrifice flavor for convenience.
John: We try to make something approachable but yet a little bit different. If it’s something like a ham and cheese, maybe we’ll add honey mustard, or pimento cheese or an interesting bread. It requires a little more planning because we want to make sure it stays fresh, too.
Why is it important that meal kit ingredients are put together in Giant Eagle stores?
Emily: They’re hand-packed. They’re checked daily for freshness. You don’t have to worry that they’ve been sitting around or shipped in a box from far away.
John: It’s also nice you can go into the store and get them without a subscription. You can choose whatever you want for dinner that night. A lot of the time with other services, you choose what you’re going to have a week ahead of time. Maybe you chose tacos last Thursday and today you don’t want tacos, but you’re stuck with them.
How much cooking experience does a person need to make a Great to Go Meal Kit at home?
Emily: Our cooking kits are designed for people anywhere from beginner to advanced. If you’re a beginner chef, you shouldn’t be afraid to try them. If you’re a little more familiar in the kitchen, you can add some flair to the recipes and the techniques might come more naturally, but little cooking experience is needed.
John: They’re really designed for anyone to enjoy. We make sure the directions are very clear. So, if you’re just beginning with cooking, you can find your way through the recipe pretty easily. We encourage people to just enjoy the experience. If you’re more advanced, you can riff on it a little more and switch up the ingredients.
If you could tell customers one thing about the meal kits what would it be?
Emily: Don’t be afraid to try them. If you think it’s something you’re not going to be able to cook, I assure you that you will. They’re not only a meal on the table, they’re also a cooking lesson.
John: You can get food just about anywhere, but there’s nothing as good as a home-cooked meal. Sometimes that can be a task. This makes it easy to make a good, fresh, home-cooked meal for you and your family without the hassle.