We chat with Rebecca Janaway, a development chef at the National Trust. Read on to find out about her role within the Trust, life behind the scenes, the recipe creation process and more!
1. Please tell us about yourself and what inspired you to become a development chef.
Hi, I am Rebecca Janaway and I've worked for the National Trust for six years, including the last 18 months as a development chef. Food is always something that I have been strongly interested in. When I was very small I would insist on making “mixtures” in the kitchen whilst my parents were cooking, mixing different spices and flours and sugars into hideous concoctions that I would then present to my family as if it was something even remotely edible. They would indulge me, and give it a smell, and pretend to eat some, and I would feel like I'd made a masterpiece. As I got older my “mixture making” evolved into me following recipes and finally creating dishes my family could eat. So, my evolution into the food industry, in hindsight, seemed inevitable. I worked in pub kitchens and hotels and just loved the buzz of cooking at pace, but my heart really belonged to the creative part of food. Having an initial idea and developing and evolving that into something that brings people together and makes them smile. That’s what inspires me.
2. What does a day in the life of a development chef at the National Trust look (and taste) like?
One of the things that's great about my job is that every day is different. One day I could be in the kitchen working on a new recipe, trying and testing new concepts ready to delight visitors in our cafes, and then the next day I could be filming a recipe video for our website or social media channels. In terms of ‘taste’, working as a development chef for the National Trust is definitely a sweet moment as we have a fantastic team of people involved within food and beverage, whether it’s our chefs, bakers or front of house teams. Having the opportunity to work with people who share a passion for providing a memorable foodie experience to our visitors, in a sustainable way, is the icing on the cake! Credit: National Trust Images / William Shaw
3. Can you tell us more about the food ethos of the Trust?
When people think of the National Trust and our food offering, many think of tea, scones and cake. Although these items can be found on almost every National Trust café menu, our food and beverage offering is much more than just that. It’s a story of tenant farmers, kitchen gardeners, baristas and development chefs. It's free-range eggs, seasonal meals and mashed potato cakes.
As a conservation charity, we face some unique challenges which can make experiences varied, but that's also what makes every visit to a National Trust café unique. Whether it’s running a commercial kitchen in a grade two listed building, to harvesting fresh ingredients from the kitchen garden to use in the day’s menu or working with our tenant farmers and local suppliers to provide the freshest, sustainably sourced ingredients, how we source is just as important as what we serve.
Currently, more than 150 cafés have been awarded the Bronze Food for Life Served Here Award. This award recognises our commitment to serving fresh food using ethical and sustainable ingredients. To achieve the award we looked at everything from our menus and suppliers, to the way we prepare our food. The cafés that received the award have proven that they serve food, which is traceable, free from additives and better for animal welfare.
4. Please can you tell us more about your process for creating new recipes and concepts to be used across the Trust?
It’s important to us that the food we serve in our cafés offer a variety of the traditional classics with some new and exciting flavours to ensure we're providing all our visitors something that will delight and exceed their expectations. My colleagues in our product development team carry out lots of research into eating habits and trends, as well as analysing the sales data from our previous menus to see what our visitors are choosing and what gaps we can fill with new dishes. They will then create a brief for development, and this is where I get involved. I'll pull together a large list of concepts and ideas and we as a team will then rationalise that list into dishes we want to see made for testing. That’s when I get to get into the kitchen, cooking up new dishes, flavours and concepts for taste testing. I’m going to be honest – the part of the process we all enjoy the most is… tasting! It’s at this point that I'll be provided with feedback on the dishes, whether they can go straight to the next stage, need more work, or aren’t going to make the cut at all. I know that our colleagues always enjoy a food tasting day, even if the dish doesn’t quite make the cut. We want to make sure all the dishes we offer are of the standard and quality our visitors deserve and in fitting with our food ethos, so this process can be rigorous.
5. What’s your favourite ingredient to work with?
For me it has to be bread dough… that counts as an ingredient, right? I just think it's so versatile. It can be used to create any number of sweet or savoury dishes such as pizza, flatbreads, sweet buns, scones, loaves and doughnuts (my ultimate favourite bread-based product). I don’t think I've ever met a bread that I didn’t like. Credit: National Trust Images / William Shaw
6. What’s been your favourite recipe so far and why?
I think my favourite dish that I have created is our ‘vegan creem tea’. It’s wonderful in its simplicity, a plain scone made using oat milk rather than dairy, and a plant-based margarine. However, the delight on the face of someone when they realise they can have a cream tea on a plant-based diet fills me with pride and joy.
7. What would be your top baking or cake tips?
Don’t be afraid… it’s only food! Things will work, and things won’t work – and that’s ok. For me, the joy of baking and cooking isn’t just about the finished product, but equally as much about the process. So, don’t be afraid to just get stuck in, after all, some of the treats that delight us the most every day were at some point made by someone for the first time. Who knows what wonders you could happen across by just giving it a go.