The Many Hats I’ve Worn in the Food Industry

woman standing in a kitchen
First day of work at Chez Panisse Berkeley, CA

The most popular question I get from my friends and colleagues is, “So, what are you up to now?” accompanied by a quizzical look. They ask because my career path has not been linear.

A Delicious Food-Related Beginning

My deep appreciation for quality food and taste was established via my parents who raised me with lovingly-prepared Cantonese cuisine. I grew up in Sydney, Australia, tagging along with my folks as they shopped at the local grocers, the fishmonger and the butcher. In this way, I truly traversed both Western and Chinese cultures, learning how to pick out ingredients.

From an early age, I enjoyed speaking with purveyors, touching and tasting as much as possible. My mother in particular, prided herself on making meals from scratch, and espoused a “food is medicine” approach because she subscribes to Traditional Chinese Medicine and its theories. As a young girl, I became equally comfortable conversing with the English butcher about top sirloin, as I was with a Chinese apothecary handling dried ginseng. Growing up, my mother encouraged me to try new things, and this laid the foundation for an adventurous palate coupled with a zest for traveling.

Exploration Into IT And Business

In spite of such profound memories of food, I started my professional career in tech start-ups, working as a front-end web developer. This early dotcom culture established a kind of in-the-trenches, DIY education where I thrived, given free rein to learn, iterate and refine. I enjoyed being on a team that continually pushed the boundaries of technology and celebrated learning.

After a few years, I found myself becoming my own entrepreneur, but it had nothing to do with food or IT. Nevertheless, starting and running one’s own business required a whole different set of skills that pushed me further, particularly because, as your own boss, the stakes are higher. The standards are set by no one but yourself, and you are fully responsible for your wins and losses. Eventually, after refining my sense of Sales and Marketing, I sold this business, and found myself wondering what was next.

Culinary Training

After some soul-searching, I decided to fuse my love of food with my background in tech, in spite of not knowing if there even were jobs in Foodtech. However, before I stepped into that exploration, I felt it necessary to understand the basics of food production and decided to work myself up its rungs, so I enrolled in culinary school. Le Cordon Bleu gave me an education in the mindset, techniques and vocabulary needed, however, in spite of earning a 4.0 grade point average, it very quickly dawned on me that cooking is not about school texts: it requires a high degree of technical execution, time management and the ability to perform quickly and consistently.

two chefs posing outside by a pool
With Chef Curtis Stone

I started staging at Michelin-starred restaurants while in school, and I explored other fields like Food Photography and Food Styling to understand what this industry had to offer. After graduation, I entered into the restaurant world, working my way up from Prep Cook, to Butcher, Line Cook, and eventually Kitchen Manager. This world, organized in military fashion, appealed to my high standards, technical proficiency and business acumen.

Still, I knew I didn’t want to open my own restaurant, yet I wanted to remain food-adjacent. I decided to push into wholesale distribution, working for a gourmet wholesaler. I took care to build up my accounts, speaking with different chefs as their sales rep. This opened my eyes to all kinds of kitchens, food products and vendors, helping widen my palate. I regularly attended the San Francisco Fancy Food Show, keeping my finger on the latest trends and longtime vendors.

woman cutting a large piece of meat
Breaking down a whole lamb

Later, I was approached by a Wagyu beef producer, which led me to yet another sector: Food Manufacturing. My appreciation for food safety, logistics, and quality control were reflected in this part of the industry. I will never forget stepping into the feedlots of well-cared for, well-fed Australian Wagyu steers in Queensland: the earthy smell of manure ever present as I stood shoulder to shoulder with these gentle beasts. The phenomenal quality and rich depth of flavor of their beef harkened back to my childhood in Australia and my deep appreciation for Aussie barbecues.

The Field of FoodTech And Beyond

It’s a tricky balance when you consider the different factors, melding tech with food. Chefs oftentimes have very different priorities compared to business analysts. Things to consider are (just to name a few): quality, freshness, price, profit, sourcing, vendors, diversity, regionality, durability, consumer taste, seasonality, dietary preferences, packaging, transportation, cold chain management, storage and waste. This is all before it reaches the end consumer. Yet, everyone needs to eat. People deserve access to nutritious meals: this is the challenge that drew me to FoodSpot.

How do we bridge the gap between everyday people going about their business in urban settings, provide fresh food items, and maintain quality control in a safe manner that’s easy to purchase? FoodSpot’s smart vending machines look like your typical single door commercial fridge, but to me, it embodies so much more.

These fresh food vending machines empower a local restaurant or catering business to maintain control of their brand, menu and food production cycle, while the software gives them real-time access to inventory and product expiration information.

By nature, unattended retail allows them to lower labor costs, while a custom-branded exterior effortlessly extends their brand. Like caterers operating out of ghost kitchens, they are no longer strapped to traditional restaurant hours, therefore freeing up production schedules and work/life balance. The food vending machine takes up very little space and only needs an electrical outlet within a building to function. These requirements are easily met in a variety of settings that already see heavy foot traffic, be it an airport, mall, military base, college, theme park or upscale apartment building – all smart places to put a vending machine. Best of all, and you may call me an idealist, the end consumer – the average Jane or Joe and their family – has less headache accessing fresh nutritious food because it’s convenient to the flow of their typical lifestyle: the microstore, as we like to call it, is in their office, at their gym, inside the airport, at the student dorm, or apartment building lobby.

To me, it’s a no-brainer: we have the technology. Fresh food accessibility can, and should, seamlessly intertwine with everyday living. After all the hats I’ve worn in the food industry, in my heart of hearts, my hope is that everyone eats well. I can’t think of a better way to bridge that gap than these fresh food vending machines.

Click here to inquire about FoodSpot’s smart vending machines for sale.

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