At the Land O’Lakes Culinary Center, we have an amazing team of expert chefs who have a range of experience in commercial kitchens including independent restaurants, chains and campus kitchens. They are also passionate about sharing insights and inspiration with others.
Each one brings a unique flavor to the table, creating an exceptional menu of support for customers. Join us as we get to know Chefs Daniel “Billy” Kalil, Jim Churches, Chris Olson and Michael Terry and explore how they can be resources for your operation.
Q: What made you want to pursue a career in the food and culinary industry?
Chef Billy: When I was a kid, I loved restaurants. It always seemed like a magic trick when this delicious food would come out so quickly. Then, later on, during the holidays, I was helping one of my aunts, and it dawned on me that cooking is something I would really like to learn how to do. Soon after, I enrolled in the culinary program at the Art Institute of Minnesota and eventually pursued a degree in food science from the University of Minnesota.
Chef Chris: I started working in restaurants when I was 16, where I really enjoyed the camaraderie and the fast-paced environment. The more I learned about the field,the more interested I got and started learning about the history behind it. When I went to culinary school, one of the things the chefs instilled in me was that you can take the fundamentals of cooking and really make them your own.
Chef Michael: I was interested in food from an early age. My mom was a very good cook, and our family had a policy where it was either help cook or help wash the dishes. Helping cook was a lot more fun. My first job was in the foodservice industry, and I was told that I could be really good at this if I just dedicated my time. So, I kept working hard at lots of different establishments until I got to where I am today.
Chef Jim: Ever since I took home economics in sixth grade, I’ve been working toward a career in food. Cooking just came naturally to me. When other kids were struggling with their brownies, I was the one finishing early and offering help to others.
Q: How are you able to be a resource to operators?
Chef Billy: When operators run into an issue in their kitchens, we have the tools and resources to recreate that very circumstance in our space. Using the same tools they have, everything down to the bowl or pot they may prepare their sauce in, allows us to walk them through solutions or help develop solutions with our research and development team.
Chef Chris: Having that first-hand experience of needing to shift so quickly has helped me put myself into the operator role and think through situations, especially with the past few years being so crazy. I enjoy being an ally and talking operators through how to navigate any bumps in the road.
Chef Michael: I hope that operators look to me to come up with new flavor profiles and new ways of using the products they’ve already got in-house. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes on their ingredients can help come up with something new. With so many students exploring the vegetarian and flexitarian diets, we are finding ways for our products to fit new offerings like that as well.
Chef Jim: I love working with culinary teams at regional and national chains to help them ideate new menu items or limited time offerings. Many of our operators are very creative and can do exciting things with our products. One great example is Mexican Street Corn using our Queso Bravo® Cheese Dip.
Q: What makes Land O Lakes® products valuable in commercial kitchens?
Chef Billy: Their versatility and ease of use. Not all cheese sauces are created equal. The Land O Lakes® performance cheese sauces have more cheese in them than traditional cheese sauces and don’t break easily. They’re a great way to save time in the kitchen and utilize staff in different ways. I’ve also seen operators get creative with our sauces. Since they can be served cold, chefs are using them to create flavorful dips and sauces, like they do with mayo.
Chef Chris: The usability of our products. All you have to do is open a pouch of our cheese sauce and pour it into a steam well for service. Whereas, if you’re making something in-house, you need a dedicated team member to take the time to construct and monitor the sauce. This allows for a great sauce that anyone from student workers to skilled chefs can work with that still tastes like it was made in-house.
Chef Michael: Our products are very adaptable and consistent. They’re great bases for making dishes like mac and cheese, queso and pizza. With college students craving more flavors, we want to help the schools offer new items to please their palates.
Chef Jim: For me it’s ease-of-use. Being able to simply heat up the sauce and have it ready to go. Our boil-in-bag technology allows the operator to heat it up in a bunch of different ways. It doesn’t have to be opened and put into a pan. That type of agility is key. It allows you to have a consistently great sauce using less time, freeing you up to take on other tasks in the kitchen.
Q: What’s a food trend that you are currently excited about?
Chef Billy: Seeing more ethnic cuisines on menus and restaurants opening in my area. Exposure to different flavors is so eye-opening and humbling. Eating food made from recipes that people have been making for generations is incredibly special.
Chef Chris: I love the plant-forward meals that restauranteurs are creating while still keeping dairy as part of the equation. Especially when they start introducing these meals at the C&U level. It’s great that we as an industry are putting the time into creating different options for all to enjoy.
Chef Michael: I’ve always loved fusion food. It’s exciting to combine other techniques and food from around the world. Chefs are able to cook what’s available in that area to really make it their own. Cooking within one’s cultural ingredients and another’s techniques is exciting when it all comes together.
Chef Jim: I enjoy the farm-to-table idea of taking wholesome and simple ingredients and making them complex with different cooking techniques. The past two years have been a crazy time for operators. We want to not only bring back the classics but lead the way with new trends. We want to be the leader in helping our customers move forward out of the pandemic.
Want to know even more about the Land O’Lakes Foodservice team? Click here to learn more about each foodservice expert and find more tips and tricks to help in your kitchen.