Daniel Weinstein really loves his job. “Chef Daniel,” as he’s known in his professional circles, works in recipe development and testing at berry giant Driscoll’s, and he talks about it with such infectious enthusiasm that by the end of our conversation, berries are all I can think about. Weinstein came to cooking in what he considers an unlikely way – his background is in science and museums. He worked at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and then as an assistant director at the California Academy of Sciences, driving back and forth from San Francisco to Seaside. That got old. So he started culinary school “for fun,” found the Driscoll’s job and ended up as a chef. He says this path makes him a perfect person for the job of recipe testing, because he approaches recipes from a home cook perspective. “We are really serious about bringing these recipes to our website in a way that is really approachable, really easy,” he says.
Those easy and approachable recipes are for just about anything you can imagine – not just the classic strawberry shortcake (though Driscoll’s has many of those), but also a spicy raspberry salsa or blackberry jalapeño chicken sliders.
Weinstein spoke to the Weekly about the recipe testing process and the joys of going before his test panel.
Weekly: There are a lot of recipes on the Driscoll’s website. How many people work in recipe development and testing?
Weinstein: I think it’s always surprising to find out how many people it takes. Sometimes I develop a recipe, sometimes we work with really well-known, talented chefs whose names everyone knows, sometimes we work with an internet influencer. And Driscoll’s will give them a sense of what sort of recipe do we want – there’s a lot of SEO (search engine optimization) involved, trying to figure out what people want from a berry.
Then, let’s skip ahead to when it gets to me. My job is to turn it into an actual recipe. Especially if we’re working with a really well known chef, they might sit down and say “Oh, here’s a delicious thing” and it’s not quite a recipe yet. So I work with it and really carefully nudge it into a recipe.
On average, how long is that process all together, from idea to recipe creation to the website?
It’s probably a couple to a few months. Although every once in a while – my job is pretty stress-free – but I might get a sudden, emergency call from Driscoll’s. “Daniel, the latest phase is a dalgona recipe (sweet, whipped coffee) that everyone loves. Quick, an emergency recipe for strawberry dalgona coffee.” Then after a weekend I’ve kind of put something together, and then I have to slow down for the test panel.
What’s a day in the life like?
Wake up in the morning and it’s into the test kitchen. I’ll take the recipes and convert all of those to metric. Because once you’re in the test kitchen itself, that’s not the time for creativity. Not at all.
And then I go to the grocery store – I make sure I’m going to the same grocery store as everyone else in the world [to shop for ingredients for a recipe in progress]. And then I’m in the kitchen and I’m really doing everything with great care. First of all I calibrate my oven. If I need to, I might take out a stopwatch.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part is coming to the test panel. Everyone is always happy to see me. I mean literally, this is my job. Imagine having a job where you arrive and everyone says, “there’s Chef Daniel! He’s going to give us something yummy!” It’s almost pavlovian, you know? They just look at me and their mind translates to the word “yum.”
What do you wish people knew about recipes?
It breaks my heart a little bit when people say they don’t like to cook. I think that what happens for a home cook is they’ll say “OK, I’m having guests on Friday night,’ and then they look at a recipe and they make that recipe for the first time. What I try to say to people is look, if you have guests coming, make a recipe six times. By the time you’ve made it six times – except for a couple of really tough recipes – you will be able to make that recipe as well as any chef in any restaurant in the world.