A well-known face in South Africa’s cheffing world, Unilever Food Solutions’ Executive Chef Craig Elliott joined the Unilever team 14 years ago where he’s been sharing his culinary knowledge ever since. We chatted to the chef about his career, what makes South Africa’s hospitality industry unique, and his trend predictions for the industry.
What is your story?
I’ve always had an interest in cooking. I qualified in South Africa and then went overseas to work in Austria for three seasons. I came back and worked in the hotel industry until I was head hunted by Unilever Food Solutions in 2004 and have been here since.
Explain who you are to the industry in a couple of sentences
I have a lot of good friends in the industry. We share a good history of doing things and making things happen in the industry. Where I am now at Unilever Food Solutions, I am in a good position to give back to the industry. We also put together one of the best and longest-running culinary competitions (Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year) in the country which has served as a great platform for many chefs to grow their profile and careers.
How is the South African hospitality industry different from those in different countries that you’ve worked in?
Our staff complements are much bigger, our physical back of house kitchen space is bigger so we are fortunate to be working as chefs in this country – we are spoiled here but we don’t always realise it.
What are some of the overall issues that you’ve seen affect the hospitality industry in SA?
Supply and demand of speciality products like free range / hand reared / organic herbs / micro herbs. More and more chefs are starting to ask for these products but the small producers can’t always keep up with the demand as these are not mainstream as yet.
Craig Elliott’s Pop Quiz
At Unilever we are moving towards cleaner labels and sustainability. Consumers are becoming more aware of they are eating (gluten, MSG, allergens, etc) and we have to constantly keep up with the demands.
Where do you think its place and brand is, and what makes the company unique in SA?
Unilever Food Solutions has a huge following of people that are loyal to its brands.
How do you engage your brand to the local SA market? Any engaging media initiatives and marketing campaigns that you run?
TV, print media, radio etc.
Let’s talk Sustainability and the steps you have taken to make a difference here?
We source from the right people. We have a sustainable living plan in place.
How do you incentivise and motivate staff as an organisation?
We are the number one employer with great staff benefits and bonus structures if targets are met.
Trend Prediction for the local industry?
I think shared eating will become very popular. More locally sourced food paired with local craft beverages.