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Aramark’s Keats keeps an eye toward the future

Aramark’s Keats keeps an eye toward the future

Scott Keats is making it his business to create a legacy.

The director of culinary development for Philadelphia-based contractor Aramark Corp. says it is his duty, in addition to keeping the company on trend in terms of its food offerings and future concepts, to teach and mentor those chefs who work alongside him.

The 20-plus-year industry veteran says communication and face time with the other Aramark chefs is integral to his and the company’s success—that, and adaptability in all things, from modifying recipes to the ever-changing needs and desires of both clients and their clients’ customers.

What are you responsible for and how many chefs do you work with?

I work out of the marketing department of Aramark’s business services division and am directly responsible for the development of its food programs and operating standards. We have well over 120 chefs that I work with directly in terms of that development. We do a lot of field-testing, so I work with them on a lot of ideas and programs that they’re doing regionally to ensure we’re constantly on trend.

How difficult is it to manage communication with everyone? What does Aramark do to alleviate any issues in that area?

We’ve got a corps of national account chefs that I have day-to-day communication with. From there they communicate with their chefs, and we all participate in monthly conference calls with each other. Because of the traveling I do, a lot of times I’ll reach out to district managers and let them know when I’ll be on site and which chefs I’d like to see. That way I’m able to see them face-to-face and share some training techniques with them.


Title: director of culinary development, Aramark, Philadelphia

Birth date: Aug. 26, 1965

Hometown: Lakewood, N.J.

Education: associate’s degree in culinary arts and business, Academy of Culinary Arts in Mays Landing, N.J.

Career highlights: owned a French restaurant called Petit Grand Mer in Red Bank, N.J.; was chef at both French rooms for Caesars and Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, N.J.: won American Culinary Federation gold and bronze medals in 1996 and 1998; taught at two culinary schools—the New York Restaurant School in New York City and the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale in Florida

What is the process of developing new items and concepts? How long does it take to get them to the marketplace?

In terms of development, our customer service survey tells us the direction we need to go in each year. Last year it told us that food items weren’t necessarily the driving factors, but value, variety, health and convenience were. As a result, I was able to develop recipes and programs [to satisfy those demands]. For example, for value—and it has a different equation for everybody—we developed petite sandwiches. They’re full-flavored not just in terms of pricing, but as something someone wants to eat. It allows them to get full value in a small portion. They’re a little less expensive than a full-size sandwich, which allows them to pick two different kinds for the full-size price. That drives the variety factor. Not only that, but all of the sandwiches have low-fat spreads on them; that drives the health factor. This year we’ve developed the Market Fresh program, which really delivers because it allows customers the ability to choose and offers multiple applications—it can be a salad or pasta dish or sandwich and can be used to customize flat-bread pizza. It truly is market fresh because it allows us to focus on seasonality.

What are some of the new items you’ve come up with this year?

We have a thin, flat-bread, 10-inch pizza that’s a little more unique in flavor profile than the usual sausage or pepperoni. For example, we have a roasted fig and balsamic-glazed thin-crust pizza with goat cheese and caramelized pears and a Thai-honey barbecue pizza. So much comes from being in the kitchen and seeing ingredients and knowing what’s on trend. Using a great orange-blossom honey puts a unique twist on the traditional Thai barbecue flavor.

How do you keep the competition from poaching ideas?

To me food is not secretive, it’s really not. There aren’t a lot of patents on food—only two that I know of. One is a swordfish chop that David Burke coined when he was still at Park Avenue Café [in New York]. The other is for the pressed duck at La Tour d’Argent in Paris. Food is up to the chef who’s preparing it, and all chefs are egocentric. I’m flattered when someone asks me for a recipe. Of course, a concept is a little different than a menu item. When we develop a strategic direction or new concept, we know our clients have relationships with a lot of people out there. That’s why our directors of business development try to make sure information stays within our division. I won’t say [poaching] doesn’t happen, but I’ve not seen it firsthand. But look, I went to a [Philadelphia] 76ers [basketball] game last night—we run the Wachovia Center—and I went around to the different food operations to see if I could learn anything from them. So even within ourselves we do it, so I know our competition does it, too.


Spend time with the people you work with; mentor them through what you’re trying to teach. That’s the legacy you’ll leave behind.

Focus on the seasons and create recipes that are flexible.

What are the next big trends in on-site foodservice?

I would say it will still be along the lines of health but will take a totally different turn. It won’t necessarily be more low-fat, but more fresh foods. That’s a direction I’m going in next year, more customizable, fresh ingredients. The other big push will be smaller portions of multiple choices, very similar to tapas-style items that are nontraditional in the corporate-dining atmosphere.

What’s the future of corporate dining? How has it evolved and where is it going?

Having been in corporate dining for 10 years, I would say the biggest evolution is the education of the consumer. It’s given us an opportunity to do what we’ve always wanted to do—offer more restaurant-quality food and multiple choices of different types of cuisines without having to educate the customer. Before we had to be more home-style than what they expect now.

What can on-site operators learn from restaurateurs and, conversely, what can restaurateurs learn from contract foodservice?

What we can learn from restaurants is product adaptability in terms of ingredients, and they can learn from us—a lot of chefs would be extremely surprised with the quality and quantity of food we supply at our locations.

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