Adding the spice of life to all your culinary endeavours.
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
I don’t often cook, but on the rare occasions I do, it’s to bring together a group of loved ones – a worthy cause foiled only by the fact that cooking for large groups is time consuming, can involve far too many ingredients, and requires a great deal of clean-up. This dilemma is one that Chefs Sid Raghavan and Jaturon ‘J.R.’ Sunyapong understand intimately, and is at the heart of CustomCulinary, a “one-stop culinary solution shop for all your culinary ingredients” that is under the umbrella of renowned brand Griffith Foods.
Created primarily to help food service professionals “create offerings that stand out, and stand up to the exacting standards of today’s guests,” Custom Culinary®’s offerings, which span a plethora of ready-to-cook products such as sauces, marinades, spice mixes, and coatings with flavours from a range of cuisines, are also the answer to many a home cook’s need to quickly whip up delicious dishes packed with flavour for large groups of people. It’s no quick and subpar cheat, however – “we work with the R&D team and scientists to make sure that it is as close to what scratch cooking would be,” Chef Sid, the Culinary Director at Griffith Foods tells me. “We ensure that the flavours are as authentic as possible.”
“The product also helps business owners to cut down labour costs, and to cut down cooking time in the kitchen, storage, everything. This way, there’s no waste at all,” Chef JR, the Executive Business Development Chef at Griffith Foods chimes in.
Both bringing their vast wealth of experience to the product, Chefs Sid and JR are passionate about the possibilities inherent in Custom Culinary®, Inc.’s products, a passion that stems from their excitement for the diverse breadth of cuisines and culinary traditions they’ve both come across.
“All cuisines are to my interest.” Chef JR tells me. “I love cooking, and I love to learn about other people and other regions of cooking – I did Eastern European cuisine for a few years; then Japanese cuisine because I used to go to Japan every few months to source ingredients for one of the restaurants I was part of; and in the US, I worked with chefs from around the world who taught me the techniques and authentic tastes of their specialisations.”
“When I was gaining experience in Germany, I worked with around 20 chefs, and we had around 12 nationalities between us,” Chef Sid says in turn. “There was a lot of diversity, but as chefs we don’t speak our own language, we speak the chef’s language. And as a chef, I started looking at things with a learning mentality, getting to know new ingredients and techniques from my peers.” Together, they’ve brought this diversity to their products: “We not only have Indian masalas, but a big range of dressings, dips, seasoning powders, ready-to-use sauce and dry mixes. They’re not just for one specific kind of kitchen, we cater to Western kitchens, Japanese kitchens, and we even have a Hainanese Chicken Rice Base!” Chef Sid enthuses.
Both Chefs Sid and JR open up to Masala about their respective culinary beginnings and preferences, the journey towards creating Custom Culinary®, as well as the ways that the brand is hoping to transform the industry.
Tell us a little about yourselves and your professional experience prior to founding Custom Culinary®.
Chef JR: I went to a Thai school in Thailand, and then went to the US, where I got a degree in business administration and also in the culinary arts. My first job in a restaurant was in fact as a dishwasher in downtown Chicago. After I graduated, I worked with the Holiday Inn in Chicago, where I took my hotel management degree and then moved up the ranks in the culinary field for 16 and a half years in the US, finally becoming sous-chef in San Francisco at the Holiday Inn Golden Gateway Hotel.
I came back to Thailand, where I was the Executive Chef, the F&B Director, and finally the GM of the Ambassador Hotel Bangkok. During that time, I was a part-time chef with Best Foods Thailand, which later on merged with Unilever, where I spent 17 years. After I retired from Unilever, I became the Director of Food Innovation and Quality Assurance for Yum! Brands, Inc before I joined Griffith Foods. I’ll be 69 next month, so it’s been several decades in the field, but I love it. I have a lot of passion for cooking so I’m happy to keep going.
Chef Sid: I did my Bachelor’s in catering technology and culinary arts in the Culinary Academy of India. Right after my graduation, I started my career as a chef in a garde manger, a cold kitchen, in Mumbai. Then, within a year, I got into Unilever Food Solutions as an application chef and a formulation chef, where I moved into product development, formulation, and product application. Over a decade later, I joined Griffith Foods as the culinary director, leading the Southeast Asian team. I now have a more commercial role, meeting customers and doing more sales pitches on products.
What inspired you to start cooking?
Chef JR: I grew up in a restaurant family; my parents owned a restaurant. I was always in the back of the kitchen, helping ever since I was five or six, and it’s been a passion for me since. I developed a lot of techniques from my parents, though I never dreamed that one day I would become a chef.
Chef Sid: The first time I cooked was in sixth grade. It probably started with my big passion to eat! [Laughs] Over time, I had a lot of interest to know what ingredients went into dishes, and to be frank, I thought cooking would be easier and would have more fun and life in it than just regular work. Once I got the confidence to cook things, it’s more about the happiness you get by feeding others.
Tell us a little more about Custom Culinary®’s product line, and what makes it unique.
We are a culinary-centric organisation that enthusiastically embraces the importance of global and regional influences, local sourcing, and cleaner ingredient statements.
We have three sub-brands encompassing: Gold Label, a brand of ready-to-create products with authentic speed-scratch flavour solutions such as soups, bases, and sauces that helps culinarians realise their vision while reducing prep time; Chef’s OwnTM, a brand that delivers ready-to-cook formats such as marinades and seasonings, sauces and coating systems; and Master’s Touch®, featuring authentic ready- to-serve products. These dependable items can be used by employees regardless of skill level, inspiring confidence and delivering convenience for the high-volume operator.
We will also soon have products on the shelves that are focused on health and nutrition; we already don’t use MSG in most of our products, and we’ve developed a range of vegan products, like vegan mayonnaise and dressing, as well as low-sugar dips.
Who is this product primarily for? How can hotels and restaurants benefit from using Custom Culinary®, Inc.’s marinades and seasonings?
Chef JR: These products are mostly designed for discerning culinary professionals who already know how to cook well. They’re designed to leave room for chefs to create their own signature dishes, and add on their innovation and their imagination to the cooking. It’s not just instant or ready-to-eat. You can apply it to so many products.
Chef Sid: It’s different from retail products, as it’s more for chefs, and as chefs we want to keep our signature innovation and style. For example, in Bangkok you have a lot of Indian cuisine buffets, but perhaps not enough chefs who can cook Indian cuisine. Our products are a one stop solution, you don’t have to add anything else, and it’s going to give you all the flavour you need.
We look for pain points that chefs have, and we try to solve them with the convenience of our products. We try to make these products as versatile as possible in their formats – liquids, dry powders, and instant mixes – because you want to manage a good inventory in the kitchen. No one wants a product that can only be used in one thing. Our products are designed to drive innovation.
What about individuals – how is this product going to make life easier for aspiring home chefs?
Chef Sid: A good example is the Indian product range, which is available in Makro stores. They’re a convenient product to have in Indian kitchens, as you don’t have to store individual masalas, just a single product.
Chef JR: A lot of people used to think that cooking Indian food was very hard to do. But with this solution, it’s not difficult anymore. For the past few years, I’ve been doing demonstrations with our Indian product range, and everyone is always surprised by how simple it can be. So simple, anyone can do it!
Where do I find these products?
For chefs, our small range of Indian products is available in Makro. For the complete range of products, they can get them through our distributors. If they reach out to us, we can support them in that.
How is this product going to be a game changer for Indian weddings?
Four key aspects:
- Ease of use: they can be used by employees regardless of skill level
- Consistency: they are not only convenient for the high-volume operator, but ensure the quality remains consistent throughout.
- Convenience: we not only have ready- to-cook products, but also ready-to-serve products including sauces and dressings.
- Authenticity: all our products are high quality, with flavours that remain true to their respective cuisines.
PREP TIME: 15 MINUTES
COOK TIME: 1 HOUR
SERVING: 2-3 PORTIONS
- 500g boneless lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1⁄2 cup plain unsweetened yoghurt
- 2 tbsps Custom Culinary® Chef’s OwnTM Korma Curry Flavour Spice Mix
- 2 tbsps cooking oil
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 4 green cardamom pods 4 cloves
- 11⁄2 tbsps garlic, minced 1 tbsp ginger, minced
- 4 green chillies, slit
- 1 cup red onion, sliced
- 200g Custom Culinary® Gold Label Chunky Tomato Sauce
- 20g Coriander leaves, roughly chopped
1. Heat a pan or pot with oil, and add the whole spices – the bay leaves, green cardamom, and cloves – and let them crackle.
2. Add the sliced onions, and sauté until golden brown in medium heat. Add in the minced garlic and ginger, and mix well.
3. Add the cubed lamb and toss the lamb well, letting it brown for 2 minutes.
4. Add the Custom Culinary® Chef’s OwnTM Korma Curry Flavour Spice Mix, mix well and cook on medium heat for 2 minutes while stirring occasionally to avoid burning the bottom.
5. Add the Custom Culinary® Gold Label Chunky Tomato Sauce, and mix well. Cook for 3-4 minutes on medium heat.
6. Add the plain unsweetened yoghurt, mix well, and cook on low heat for 25-30 minutes, or until the lamb is tender.
7. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves and serve hot with naan and steamed basmati rice.
PREP TIME: 15 MINUTES
COOK TIME: 15 MINUTES
SERVING: 4 PORTIONS
- 250g red onion, cut into rings
- 400g cauliflower, cut into small florets
- 400g paneer (cottage cheese), cut into finger-sized sticks
- 300g Custom Culinary® Chef’s OwnTM Batter Mix
- 450ml cold water 1 litre cooking oil
- 100g Custom Culinary® Master’s Touch® Korean Style Garlic Flavour Sauce
1. After cutting the red onions, cauliflower, and paneer, keep the ingredients aside.
2. Turn on the fryer and heat the oil till it reaches to 170°C.
3. Prepare a thick batter by adding the Custom Culinary® Chef’s OwnTM Batter Mix to cold water. Make sure there are no lumps.
4. Individually dip the prepared vegetables and paneer and deep fry for around 1 – 11⁄2 minutes, or until the fritters attain a golden-brown colour.
5. Transfer to a resting rack, and serve hot with Custom Culinary® Master’s Touch® Korean Style Garlic Flavour Sauce.