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Rising Chefs Bring Fresh Perspective to Frozen Food

Gathered in Schwan’s test kitchen, the Chef Collective tries out new pizza recipes, some of which will make it into the company’s lineup this summer.

“Fresh, never frozen;” “fresh is best;” “made fresh daily.” In today’s world of farm-to-table foodservice and restaurants that highlight the origin of every ingredient, frozen foods sometimes get a bad rap. You’re not going to see frozen Brussels sprouts or from-freezer-to-fryer egg rolls touted on the menu.

A new initiative from The Schwan Food Co. aims to thaw those perceptions and help the company best known for delivering frozen meals to people’s doorsteps develop products that incorporate emerging trends and appeal to the next generation of consumers.

Partnering with chefs from around the country to form the Schwan’s Chef Collective, the goal, said Jacob Berning, is to tap into the talent and “millennial mindset” of future stars of the culinary world who have varied experiences and who interact with customers every day in their restaurants.

“We have this younger generation that is really changing the food landscape,” said Berning, vice president of marketing for Schwan’s Food Service. “Gen Y, Gen Z, they’ve grown up, really, with global cuisine and that’s reflected in their food preferences. [The Chef Collective] taps into those younger, emerging chefs who will help us be proactive in nature” in creating new products.

Twenty-two new recipes are already in development, said Schwan’s corporate chef and culinary services manager for foodservice Craig Claude. They’re the result of gatherings last fall that had the chef team exploring and eating at Minneapolis restaurants such as Tilia, 4 Bells and Patisserie 46, and working in the test kitchen at Schwan’s headquarters in Marshall. Those meetings “gave us great insight,” said Claude, and pushed Schwan to look differently at its products.

“We see our products every day, so this is a way for us to push the limits,” said Claude. 

Chef Todd

Chef Todd Erickson tests recipe ideas during a gathering of the Schwan’s Chef Collective at the company’s headquarters in Marshall.

“There are so many ways you can do pizza, for example. So by bringing in someone who has a pizza restaurant in Missouri, she has different ideas,” continued Claude in reference to Chef Collective member Katie Lee Collier, owner and executive chef of Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria in St. Louis. Chef-inspired pizzas and a recipe for pizza waffles are slated to join Schwan’s lineup this summer, along with new flavor combinations for Schwan’s Edwards dessert pies.

Todd Erickson has memories of the Schwan’s delivery driver bringing peaches-and-cream ice cream to his grandmother’s home in Iowa. Now the executive chef of gastrolounge Haven and the fast-casual Huahua’s Taqueria in Miami Beach is excited to help give Schwan’s products a global feel and encourage the rethinking of frozen.

“Just because it’s a frozen product doesn't mean it’s of a lesser quality,” said Erickson. “Everything they do is preserved with the most care.”

For chefs, he continued, there is a value to mixing and matching fresh and frozen ingredients for ease of preparation and cost and inventory control. The Chef Collective, he said, was tasked with writing recipes that were easy to execute but also flavorful, such as the chicken-and-waffle sandwich he came up with using Schwan’s frozen pizza dough.

“Schwan’s, it has that nostalgia, but they don’t want to just rely on nostalgia,” said Erickson. “They want to be on the cutting edge and be innovative with their products.”

The Chef Collective comes on the heels of Schwan’s simplicity ingredient initiative, in which the company committed to removing partially hydrogenated oils, artificial dyes and flavors, and high-fructose corn syrup from its foods. Schwan will continue to partner with the original group of chefs and others from top restaurants and food trucks, said Berning, as the company aims to constantly improve the quality of its food. 

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