A corporate executive chef’s perspective on culinary trends and corporate product development.
Prepared Foods talks with Dianna Fricke, CRC, CWPC, director of culinary, National Accounts; and a corporate executive chef with Simplot Food Group, Boise, Idaho.
Dianna Fricke, CRC, CWPC
Director of Culinary, National Accounts
Corporate Executive Chef
Simplot Food Group
Fricke earned her culinary credentials with honors from Western Culinary Institute, Portland, and has a bachelor’s with honors in Nutrition and Dietetics from Idaho State University, Pocatello. She has held several culinary positions including those involving college and university foodservice, bakeries, fine dining and catering. She has held several positions at Simplot since joining the company in 1997.
Fricke earned the title of Certified Working Pastry Chef from the American Culinary Federation in 1999 and was the first woman chapter president of the Idaho Chefs de Cuisine. She also was the first woman to receive Certified Research Chef credentials from the Research Chefs Association (RCA) and recently retired from RCA’s board of directors after six years of service.
Prepared Foods: Can you tell us a little about how Simplot’s culinary group is organized?
Chef Dianna: In my current role with Simplot, I provide operator solutions for our national account customers. The job provides great opportunity to understand different restaurant segments and create or ideate around products to provide consumers with a great dining experience. Each of Simplot’s four chefs is assigned by a responsibility—dedicated either to McDonalds, key accounts and/or distributors.
PF: In what ways has your role most changed? Also, how do you interact with other internal departments?
Chef Dianna: We have become more focused on innovation and driving that process with a team from R&D, marketing, operators, consumers and even our own suppliers’ culinary experts. In years past, this innovation may have come from operators’ requests or R&D. Now we are being proactive and bringing new product concepts to our customers. This is great because even if what we created isn’t perfect it may spark creativity and we can customize the concept.
PF: Can you tell us about a few new products you’ve helped create during the past 12 months?
Chef Dianna: We are always working with new blends of our roasted products. Our latest version features Fuji apples, butternut squash, sweet potatoes and these great whole IQF cranberries that don’t bleed color. It all comes with an orange marmalade inspired seasoning.
Grains are so popular right now. We’re developing and bringing some custom grain blends to operators that don’t require the traditional back-of-the-house preparation. These are wonderful new offerings.
PF: What are a few of your favorites in Simplot’s line?
Chef Dianna: French fries, of course. Our new Sidewinders are a great fry with craft beer batter and a truly unique shape. The best thing about working with our products is variety. Another favorite is Simplot’s UpSides Hearty Grains & Wild Mushroom Blend with super crunchy kamut Khorasan wheat and other grains blended with mushrooms, vegetables and spices.
PF: You’re a member of Research Chefs Association (RCA)? How did you learn about the group? Why join?
Chef Dianna: I found the RCA just a couple years into my position at Simplot. From day one, it helped create opportunities for networking, education and certification.
PF: How would you describe RCA and your experience there?
Chef Dianna: It’s a tremendous asset when you can belong to a community of people who can expand your skill set and who share your love for cooking. It is so simple—but helpful—to find ingredients, restaurant recommendations and solicit advice from other professionals.
Like most things in life, RCA membership is what you make of it, but opportunities abound for networking, education and certification. I think you can better appreciate your career and opportunities when you belong to organizations such as the RCA and the American Culinary Federation. Likewise, it helps you grow when you go through the certification process.
I don’t mind being approachable and—by simply having the RCA logo on my chef jacket sleeve—I am frequently asked about the organization, how to join and certification.
PF: How else do you grow in your profession?
Chef Dianna: Unlike most professions, chefs have the opportunity to grow professionally every day, at every meal. I like to keep on top of the trends by making the most of my travel and dining opportunities to explore new restaurants, chefs and cuisines.
PF: Last question. What’s your favorite “go-to” meal at home? Why?
Chef Dianna: I’m often making fresh pasta. Like a pizza crust, fresh pasta is a blank canvas to combine with any protein, veggies or sauce. It’s the ultimate comfort food in my house.