Food Industry Q&A: Steven Jilleba

May 31, 2011
Food Processing speaks with with Chef Steven Jilleba, Corporate Executive Chef at Unilever Food Solutions North America.
Chef Steven Jilleba joined Unilever Food Solutions, Lyle, Ill., in March of 1999 and is currently Corporate Executive Chef for North America. A graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in 1977, he has held numerous executive chef positions in hotels and other fine dining establishments around the globe. The winner of three International Culinary Olympic competitions (with an impressive nine Gold Medals), he was appointed American Culinary Federation Culinary Team Manager through 2012. Chef Jilleba successfully led the ACF Youth Team USA 2008 to two gold medals and grand champions designation at the World Culinary Grand Prix in Glasgow, Scotland.Chef Jilleba holds an honorary Doctorate of Culinary Arts from Johnson and Wales University, earned his Master Chef certification, awarded by the American Culinary Federation in 1997, becoming only the 57th chef in the U.S. to earn the distinction, and the ACF's Presidents Award, its highest honorWe caught up with him during a press event at the elegant RIA restaurant in Chicago's Elysian Hotel, recipient of two Michelin stars, and tasted delicious, healthy prototypes of foods made with Unilever's Food Solutions brands under his direction. FP: WHERE DID YOU LEARN TO COOK, AND WHEN DID YOU REALIZE YOUR DREAM WAS TO BECOME A CHEF?SJ: I started at the age of 15 working in a pizza place and deli. I liked the work and signed up for a vocational program on cooking in our county. So, I would say at 16 years old, I thought this is the direction I wanted to go in. My grandfather was a chef so some of this rubbed off.FP: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COOKING STYLE?SJ: Simple and straightforward. I love working textures and flavors of foods to complement each other.FP: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR APPROACH TO MENU/PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT?
Getting to know Steven Jilleba
Q. What is your personal formula, vision on food and lifestyle?
A. Keep it simple, while using the best ingredients you can (this does not mean they need to be the most expensive).

Q. Could you describe your typical day?
A. There is no typical day. If I am in the office, most likely we are evaluating a product that we are improving or developing. Then I plan for my next presentation, whether it is for one of my customers, to the trade or internal. On good days there is always time in the kitchen to test and develop recipes.

Q. What ingredients do you always keep in your refrigerator?
A. Wine, butter, Hellmann's Mayonnaise and a variety of cheese, and I always seem to have a well-stocked refrigerator.

Q. If you couldn't be a chef, what would you do for a living?
A. I do know I would be lost, but it would be outdoors.

Q. What would your last meal be?
A. Roasted Chicken

Q. What are some of your favorite foods (when others are cooking for you)?
A. When others are cooking, seafood, pasta, or just about anything.

Q. What do you do in your spare time?
A. Take the dog to the park, motorcycles, and boating
SJ: So many things go into this. What are the needs of the customers, and who will use the product? I always need to understand what the gold standard is, as well as understanding the cuisine.FP: WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES OF BRINGING A FOOD FROM THE KITCHEN TO THE MASS MARKET?SJ: We deliver convenience products, which means they most likely need to be shelf stable or refrigerated. The challenge is how to have a long shelf life while trying to get the ingredients on the label as clean as possible, and lastly how to deliver great flavor at an acceptable sodium level.FP:WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT WORKING IN FOODSERVICE VS. RESTAURANT VENUES?SJ: My job is constantly changing as well as the customers I take care of from B&I (business and industry), to Colleges & Universities, to all types of restaurants and hotels. This means the food is always changing, as well as my understanding of all these types of operations. One can never get bored.FP: WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR UNILEVER PRODUCTS?SJ: We are always striving to improve our products with cleaner labels and lowering the sodium in them. Again, what we do is give chefs and cooks more time to focus on the things that matter to them by giving them high quality products that save time and deliver great flavors.FP: ARE YOU A MELLOW FELLOW, A TYRANT IN THE UNILEVER KITCHEN, OR SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN, AND HOW DO YOU WORK WITH YOUR TEAM?SJ: I'm not a tyrant, but always serious -- maybe too serious. We have a great team of chefs with a great variety of experiences to pull from. It is an exceptional team that I'm very proud to be part of.FP: WHAT FLAVORS, INGREDIENTS, AND CUISINES DO YOU PREDICT WILL BE POPULAR AND INFLUENCE MENU (AND RETAIL PRODUCT) DEVELOPMENT?SJ: Asian and Latin cuisines seem to be some of the most popular to influence menus, as we see different ingredients from these areas and incorporate them into foods we use everyday. This is how I believe menus are changingFP: WHERE DO YOU LOOK FOR IDEAS FOR NEW MENU/FOOD ITEMS?SJ: We do a program on world cuisines with the Culinary Institute of America. I've traveled extensively to record, understand and go into some depth on many world cuisines in the past six years. This really opens my eyes to different foods and flavors. In addition, Unilever has a network of about 300 chefs throughout the globe. This allows me to reach out to many of the culinary leads in a specific country when looking for new ideas.FP: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CULINARY ACHIEVEMENTS YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?SJ: There are many things that I am proud of, but most recently it is the leadership of the ACF Culinary Team USA. Out of 27 countries, we achieved an overall 3rd place finish at the World Cup in Luxembourg, our best finish in 20 years. Another achievement is passing my Master Chef's exam in 1997. It's sad to say, but I was the only one to pass that year.

Sponsored Recommendations

Learn About: Micro Motion™ 4700 Config I/O Coriolis Transmitter

An Advanced Transmitter that Expands Connectivity

Micro Motion™ G-Series Coriolis Flow and Density Meter

Micro Motion G-Series: market-leading compact design featuring advanced process diagnostic capability.

Embracing Sustainability using Advanced Measurement Instrumentation

A practical guide to greeningyour brewing operationsusing advanced measurementinstrumentation.

Get Hands-On Training in Emerson's Interactive Plant Environment

Enhance the training experience and increase retention by training hands-on in Emerson's Interactive Plant Environment. Build skills here so you have them where and when it matters...