Meet One Of The World Class Chefs Behind Your Meals: Dave Roberts
Where did your passion for food come from?
I have fond memories as a kid walking into my mother's kitchen and she'd get me to taste whatever was on the stove or chopping board. In the early days, if I didn't want to taste it she'd make me smell it or touch it. She encouraged me to try a range of foods and appreciate their texture, colour, smell, shape and flavour. I use this food philosophy in my role as a chef to help bring an experience to food far beyond just the presentation and flavour.
Where have your worked as a chef?
When I was 21 I started my chef apprenticeship at the Provincial Hotel in Melbourne. After a year there I moved to MoVida Bar de Tapas, and worked my way up to become the first Head Chef of Movida Next Door. I then moved back and became Head Chef at MoVida Bar De Tapas for seven years.
What inspired you to start We Feed You?
Like the rest of the team at We Feed You, I am passionate about food and health but was finding it increasingly difficult to juggle the demands of work, family and busy social lives. Even as a chef, it was a challenge to create great tasting nutritious meals for my family night after night, and I knew many of my friends were in the same boat. So we decided to do something about it.
So why frozen ready-made meals?
There are a lot of businesses selling fresh ready-made meals. During our research we took a really close look at the journey of a fresh home delivered ready-made meal, and actually found that truly fresh is very difficult to achieve for customers. The journey is a long one: the fresh ingredients don't just leave the paddock and head straight to your plate like a lot of marketing has you believe. Once ingredients arrive at the commercial kitchen, the meal needs to be prepared, packaged, shipped to distribution centres / interstate / supermarket shelf / homes. Over this time ingredients can be days or even weeks old before they are actually on your fork and often not so fresh anymore!!
Some companies even use modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) where the air surrounding the food is altered to ensure food retains it colour and prevent deterioration. The gases typically used are nitrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen. Check it out for yourself, many fresh meals towards the end of their shelf life look very unappetising.
One the other hand, our research showed that frozen meals provided the best quality and nutritional benefits for our customers with no need to add any hidden nasties to our meals. Our ingredients arrive the day we cook them, are blast chilled then frozen. Ingredients are not sitting around so they retain their goodness through the freezing techniques we use. Freezing also means we don't need to add any gases, preservatives or additives to maintain the flavours, nutrients and texture of our meals. In summary, through We Feed You we encourage people to take a fresh look at frozen!
Nutrition is a huge focus in your meals - how do you achieve this given restaurant cooking is typically more about flavour and presentation?
Yes, knowing my background my friends thought they'd be getting 'MoVida-style take-away' from me but We Feed You is a very different approach to cooking. Having Charlotte Miller, another great chef and a dietitian, alongside me in the kitchen is a massive strength and we collaborate really well together when developing new meals. Her combined chef and dietetic skills are unique to the industry, so we are lucky to have this expertise on the team.
Whenever we sign off on a new meal, we ask ourselves whether we'd be happy to serve this to family and friends. It needs to be good, honest food with plenty of taste, texture and quality ingredients but also nutritious and compared to restaurant food something you could eat every night at home. If we achieve all that, then it's on the menu!
How difficult is it catering for such a wide range of allergies and intolerances?
We believe everyone deserves to eat great tasting and nutritious food and we take food allergies and intolerances very seriously. If you don't have the systems in place, people can die, it's that black and white. All of our meals are gluten free and we achieve this by not stocking any gluten-containing ingredients in our kitchen. We also cater for people on a low FODMAP diet, lactose free, vegetarians and vegans. As Chefs, we know how hard it is cooking for people with allergies and intolerances, especially in a commercial kitchen. However, we are committed that these people will have access to our remarkable and nutritious meals.
What's your current favourite We Feed You meal?
It's our Slow Cooked Beef with Green Beans and Cherry Tomatoes but I am also enjoying our carrot and tofu dish - which anyone who knows me well will be gob-smacked as I don't typically do tofu! I am often hungry by the time I get to sit down for a later dinner - these meal are generous portion sizes but still light so I'm not going to bed feeling heavy. I also really enjoy the vegetarian and vegan meals for lunch.
What's next for We Feed You?
Our customers are incredibly loyal and we really appreciate their generous feedback, so for us it's all about delivering a great experience every time and constantly evolving our seasonal menu to introduce new and interesting ingredients to our meals that we know people will enjoy.