Kerry Americas Chef Prefers Fresh Ingredients and Simplicity

After 25 years in the food industry, Danny Bruns, corporate chef for the seasonings division of Kerry Americas, has no patience for labor-intensive recipes or confusion cuisine.

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

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"Building flavors has been a natural progression for me — and also an enjoyable one. The Kerry teams taught me a great deal about formulation, blends and percentages. They look at function and formula and I see creative flavor; it's a great balance of science and culinary," he affirms.

"I'm less stressed in a corporate environment," Bruns continues. "I learned in the trenches for 10 years - the whole realm of operations, working 12 hours a day, seven days a week. I appreciate this atmosphere, which provides me with a well-rounded, balanced life. It's more conducive to creativity. You can manage deadlines, plan and still have time to be creative and find solutions.

"This career is so rewarding," he enthuses, "because it gives me the ability to create and cook as much as I want. I develop products and see them through to the market and I get the benefit of working with a team that elevates me to new levels. I'm so thankful to be in the food business because it's so relevant." Wow!

Zeroing in on New Products

Menu development is always a challenge. Danny Bruns begins by focusing on the origin, history and current progress of foods or regions that pertain to the product.

"Initially, I work alone experimenting with flavors or blends," he explains. "Then I gather as many people as I can to bounce ideas and concepts off of. With ingredient R&D and manufacturing scattered across five continents, I can talk with Kerry people from around the globe. Their experiences help me build a bigger picture and help bring the concepts to reality."

Once he zeros in on the concept, Bruns brings in three or four experts who understand functionality and physical reactions. "They have a lot of impact on the product," he explains. "Typically, we do the initial think-tank work and then work with customers to finalize the product until they are satisfied."

Although a dynamo in the kitchen, Bruns says he has a rather mellow style when relating to his team members. "I learned early on egos don't go far in building teams," he says. "Our teams vary. I might assemble individuals from the sauce group, food service or other groups to work on a project. On our corporate side of the world, each person is part of a greater purpose and picture."

Bruns says customers are increasingly more concerned about nutrition, and nutrition is always on his mind in product development. "We try to satisfy our customers' demands for healthier products by reducing fat or sodium where possible," says Bruns. "They want clean labels — no MSG, no chemicals — and they prefer herbs and spices explained on the label. Trans-fatty acids are in the spotlight, but our approach is a cautious and steady one: We don't bandwagon low-carb or low-salt, and some of our customers are not as concerned about carbs or fat. Our approach is to meet customer needs."

Top Of His Toque

FC: What is your personal formula, your vision, on food and lifestyle?

DB: Dinner was served at the table every night when I was growing up. The emphasis at home today is where and when we graze — the total opposite of the traditional meal. I do my cooking and experimenting at work. The exception is when we entertain; my apron comes out and the kitchen gets destroyed. Although a great cook, my wife Heidi doesn't enjoy cooking. My family spends a lot of time talking or hanging around - snacking and noshing. We're always on the go. Sometimes we take our Schoodle dog Kiwi for a drive-thru picnic. My daughter, 5-year-old Gabrielle, loves to grab something and eat it on her swing set. My son, 7-year-old Cole, sits on the floor eating his bagel. We graze on healthy foods like yogurt, leftover grilled chicken on a salad or bagels. The idea is to spend time together, however unconventionally.

FC: Describe your typical day.

DB: Basically, the only thing typical is the first 30 minutes when I check e-mails and voice mails. I might work on a project involving bench and lab time, gold-standard work, delivering a presentation, procuring ingredients and products from other Kerry units. It's a constantly evolving and changing workload. By nature, I get easily bored, but never at work.

FC: What ingredients do you always keep in your refrigerator?

DB: Condiments. I have Asian sauces, hot sauces, mustards of all kinds, vinegars, peppers... and I put them on everything. If my wife makes her great pork chops, I'll put three drops of each sauce on the plate to dip into. I'm fascinated with different combinations. "Let's play around" is my motto.

FC: If you couldn't be a chef, what would you do for a living?

DB: If I could transfer right in without the long hard road who it takes, I'd probably be an actor. I did community theater and loved the preparation, buildup and performance. This business is basically the same. I've worked in restaurants with open kitchens, and it was such a rush to be on stage every night. You're in the midst of the theatre with the flames, grill, noises and pans. I tip my hat to the chefs who can do that every night.

FC: What are some favorite foods others cook for you?

DB: My wife's herb-broiled, thick-cut pork chops are awesome. When I go back home to Cincinnati, my mom makes homemade meatballs and sauce. And you can't beat a good Wisconsin brat off the grill, with sauerkraut and mustard.

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