HelloFresh head chef Claudia Sidoti dishes on meal prep and life prep.
At 19 years old, Claudia Sidoti began her cooking career in the kitchens of New York City restaurant Onini. Since then, she spent the next three decades developing a prolific culinary portfolio. Sidoti is a former Test Kitchen Director for the Food Network and regularly contributed Food/Lifestyle articles for the “New York Post”.
In 2017, Sidoti was announced as the Head of Recipe Development for HelloFresh, the largest meal-kit service in the United States. Today, she shared with us some of her secrets to success for our on-going series, “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Chef”.
1. For our readers who might not be familiar with HelloFresh, how would you best describe it?
HelloFresh is the leader in delivering delicious ingredients and easy-to-follow recipes to households worldwide.
2. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I said yes to whipping five quarts of heavy cream by hand!
I learned that a stand mixer and/or a hand help electric mixer in situations like this are life saving.
3. Your biography says that your grandmother’s kitchen is a significant catalyst for your career. What components/elements of her kitchen have you brought with you to the kitchens of Food Network, HelloFresh and other major culinary brands?
I think the biggest and most significant element I learned is that the best food is most often the most simple.
Fresh, good quality ingredients, even if you only have a few, will yield a better outcome. Additionally, always remember cooking = love and sharing a piece of yourself with your loved ones. If you look at it as a chore, you take the fun out of it.
4. What changes as a chef have you made to approach meal-kits differently from conventional food businesses?
Being a chef for HelloFresh is all about problem solving, but that’s really a big part of what being a chef is. It doesn’t matter if you’re preparing a fancy four-course meal or making a 30 minute weeknight dinner; you still have to work within constraints, limitations and logistics and make it delicious.
5. What are the biggest sources of “workplace burnout” in the culinary world, and what is your advice to best prevent them?
Work life balance is key. Try to spend your time off doing something that you love and not just sleep and veg out all the time.
People in the culinary world often get burnt out because they don’t make or take the time to do other things that are important to feel whole. It’s important to prioritize your time off. If you love seeing friends and family, take the time, even if it’s for a quick coffee or drink to see them. If you love working out, create a routine and make sure to find the time for that. If you love to read etc… carve out time for the things that matter. This really helps with the burnout factor.
From a creative standpoint, try to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Creating daily/weekly specials is one way to deviate when planning a menu. Check for signs of burnout at the end of the year when you access to the things you’re most proud of. Take professional inventory!
6. Aside from your grandmother, who are your biggest influences and closest mentors in the food world?
That’s a hard one! I mostly look to those people I’ve worked with that have supported me. Other recipe developers, Test Kitchen and Culinary Directors etc… I admire people who stay true to themselves without becoming too preachy. I appreciate people who’ve been in the business for a long time and have worked on re-inventing themselves and staying ahead of the culinary curve. That said, I greatly admire Danny Meyer or Lidia Bastianich, and my good friends Melissa Gaman and Amy Stevenson who are both outstanding recipe developers and creators of culinary content. Also, my son Christopher Weathered, who is busy trying to carve out his own career in culinary, hospitality and food sustainability and part of the next generation of food professionals.
7. How has your position as a chef helped you change the world?
I try not to make too many promises here because changing the world is a giant undertaking. What I do try to do is to do my part.
Right now, that looks a lot like getting people into the kitchen, helping them problem solve their own meal time dilemmas and hopefully teaching them to have fun while they are doing it!
8. Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Keep it Simple!”
I can’t share a specific story but I can say that it’s really a helpful little quote. I find that the more complicated things get, generally speaking the less successful they tend to be. Being able to connect dots in all areas of your life, particularly cooking, is key. In doing so, you can troubleshoot more successfully when needed.
9. Just for fun, what is your best food/cooking pun?
Raising kids, we had a lot of clever ways of swearing. Here are a couple of my old time favorites:
“Shiitake Mushroom!” and “Cheese and Rice!”
10. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. “You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with.”
2. “ Life is too short to do something you hate, but hating something you do can also be the best motivation to find a better way to do something.”
3. “Get a great accountant.”
4. “Listening is more important than talking.”
5. “Know when to correct a course of action- it’s ok to say you were wrong.”
11. If you could start a movement using your current platform as a chef, that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
It would be a movement that uses love as a foundation to make changes with our food supply chain. It could be anything from “Love the Farmer”, “Love the Cook”, “Love the Customer”, “Love the Hungry”, “Love the Planet”, “Love the artisan producer”, [etc.].
12. How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!