Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Chef Christina inspires dessert innovation


One of Chef Christina Kaelberer's dessert creations at Schwan's
has been her cookie shots. The dessert features a shot-glass
shaped cookie filled with sweet morsels of goodness.
Jan. 23, 2018 — With a passion for the sweeter things in life, Corporate Pastry Chef Christina Kaelberer is helping our company enhance our innovation process as we look to expand baked-dessert offerings beyond pie.

Since joining Schwan’s in 2016, her typical day-to-day activities involve answering plenty of email (something she was not used to), participating in calls with brand teams and business units, helping with special events as a member of Schwan’s Chef Collective and spending time in the kitchen turning ideas into delicious desserts.

“Coming to Schwan’s was an opportunity to take my skills from the kitchen and translate them into new outlets beyond an independent restaurant,” Christina said. “I was excited to join the team and think about food in a different way.”

Under the Edwards® and Mrs. Smith's® brands, our company is a leading maker of fruit and crème pies, owning leading market-share positions in retail and in food-service segments. As our company builds upon its pie foundation, chefs like Christina, along with many other of our team members, will be instrumental in keeping the momentum going.

Try to find a recipe that calls for ingredients by weight.
A measured cup of flour from one chef compared
to another chef can be completely different. A recipe
that lists ingredients by weight will give a more
consistent and accurate outcome.
For Christina, her lifelong interest in making food started out of necessity. Her mother was a single mom raising three kids and at times it was a challenge to figure out how to prepare and serve dinner for the family. Christina remembers stepping in at an early age cooking simple dinners for her family from a children’s book.

Her new found talent helped her in other areas as well.

“As someone who does not enjoy public speaking, I remember in school making food a part of each of my presentations,” Christina said. “If I could have the audience focus on the food, I felt like it took a little less attention and pressure off of me.”

For one class, each student was assigned to present on a country. Christina chose Jamaica because her uncle was from there. For the presentation, she brought in fruit punch and made Caribbean jerk wings. She remembers how much easier the presentation was for her because she saw how the students enjoyed the food.

For another class, she presented on an English poet. For that presentation, she brought in scones and tea.

By the time she had reached her junior year in high school, Christina said she was over school. So, she had met with her guidance counselor to seek out some ideas on career opportunities. Together, they had found a culinary program that Christina could participate in. It took her out of the classroom for half of the day and into the kitchen, where the students would learn basic cooking techniques and help prepare food for the school’s cafeteria.

That same year, she also had to take a business class. Christina recalls that most of the students in the class aspired to be lawyers or business professionals. Not Christina, though.

For the business class, each student was required to complete an internship. Her teacher connected her to the kitchen at the Hazeltine Golf Course in Chanhassen, Minnesota. There, Christina would do basic tasks like plating salads and scrubbing potatoes. During this time, she realized that her place belonged in the kitchen and this is where she wanted to be for a career.

“I knew that I needed to be up and moving around. Being stationary behind a desk was not in the cards for me,” she said.

After high school, she attended The Arts Institutes Minneapolis, where she received an AA in culinary. As Christina was nearing graduation, the school added a baking program in its culinary department. Interested in exploring the world of pastry, Christina decided to earn a certificate on the subject.

“It was a very basic pastry class, but I was able to connect with my instructor, Amy Carter, who is still a mentor to me today,” Christina said. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, there is actually a career where you can make cookies for a living.’ “

By building her network throughout school, Christina landed a job following graduation. She began her first full-time position at the Loews Hotel in Minneapolis. While there, she had the opportunity to visit France for three weeks and learn from some of the best pastry chefs in the world.

She had also worked for celebrity chef Michael Chiarello for a short period out of Napa Valley in California. Under his guidance, Christina was on an episode of the “Next Iron Chef” and was also featured on a show where she helped do a wedding dinner tasting for Robert Irvine, who is known for television shows like “Restaurant: Impossible” and “The Robert Irvine Show” on the Food Network.

Her time with Schwan’s began a little more than a year ago in August 2016, when Schwan’s Chef Collective Manager Lauren Halgerson had contacted her through LinkedIn.

“At the time, I remember thinking that my career was looking for this type of turn,” Christina said. “I had done a lot of pairing with other chefs opening other locations and have worked for many hotels and restaurants. Eventually, I was hoping for an opportunity that would let me use different parts of my brain.”

For Christina, coming to Schwan’s meant an opportunity to explore food from a different point of view than a chef at an independent restaurant. At Schwan's, she could build an
understanding of the production capabilities of a larger production facility.

“I know that on my own, I can make a few hundred of a certain dessert, but I hadn’t considered if our plants have the same capabilities to reproduce a dessert to our gold-standards the same way I can,” she said.

A learning curve always exists as people work to learn new aspects of their careers. But, Christina says she's up for the challenge. As she continues her journey with us, we look forward trying her sweet creations at Schwan’s.

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