A Visit to the Nestlé Kitchens

by Kathy Strahs on March 29, 2011 · 17 comments

Ani, me and Chris

Ani, me and Chris

These ladies with the gorgeous smiles standing with me in the photo above are Ani Simón and Chris Garboski, managers of the test kitchens at Nestlé USA. I took a little road trip up to the Los Angeles area last week to visit the Nestlé headquarters in Glendale, see firsthand what goes on in the test kitchens and find out what it’s really like to be an in-house recipe developer at a major food company.

In front of the Nestlé headquarters in Glendale, California

In front of the Nestlé USA headquarters in Glendale, California

I didn’t realize before that Nestlé is actually the world’s largest food company, with more than 25,000 employees in the United States alone. Besides Toll House morsels (aka, chocolate chips), which is the product I most often associate with the company, Nestlé USA owns a slew of other well-known brands, including Buitoni, Carnation and Libby’s Pumpkin. A major corporate headquarters might be the last place you’d expect to encounter warm hospitality, but that’s exactly what I experienced during my visit. Entering Chris and Ani’s workplace kitchen was like being a guest in their home.

Finishing the pesto kale chips with a sprinkle of salt

When I arrived, Chris was baking melt-in-your-mouth light kale chips that she had seasoned with Buitoni pesto. “They’ve got another minute and thirty-nine seconds,” she determined after peering into the oven. My initial response was Wow, she really does have this whole recipe testing thing down to a precise science! She laughed…and showed me the little digital timer she was reading from.

After nineteen years in the Nestlé kitchens, starting as a nutrition major right out of college, Chris Garboski probably does have this role down pat. Chris and I first “met” on Twitter, of all places, and later we had the chance to meet in person at the BlogHer Food conference in San Francisco last October. Her counterpart, Ani Simón, who specializes in developing recipes for the Emerging Markets division (e.g., La Lechera, Abuelita and Maggi brands) first started as an intern at Nestlé and is now a registered dietitian.

Developing simple, nutritious and economical recipes featuring the various Nestlé brands is the primary role of the kitchens. They will typically receive a request from the marketing teams for, say, ten Valentine’s Day treats. Then Chris and Ani will work on concepts in the kitchens. They take into account the latest food trends and their understanding of Nestlé consumers’ tastes, and present their dishes to the marketing folks for feedback. The recipes they create end up printed on the side of the food packing (we like that on this blog!), as well as in various print media outlets, on their own Nestlé Kitchens blog and Meals.com. It’s an absolute dream job for someone who enjoys getting creative in the kitchen, if you ask me!

A well-stocked pantry

The first thing that struck me when I entered the kitchens was that they’re real kitchens. Not labs, or even lab-like. They’re definitely spacious and pristine – way more so than at my house – but the scale of their operation is more consumer than commercial. I envisioned their pantry to be some warehouse-style food arsenal with every type of food imaginable, like on Top Chef. In actuality, it’s much more modest – well-stocked, for sure, but not in an institutional way. They use the kinds of ingredients that you or I might have at home so their efforts in the test kitchens can match the cooking experiences of the average consumer.

Just a few of the treats coming out of the test kitchen that day

Even with the sweets, Chris likes to incorporate healthful elements wherever possible. For example, the dark chocolate chip cookies she baked on the day of my visit were made with whole wheat flour and less butter than usual (I couldn’t tell a difference and I’m not really one for whole wheat!). The new-and-improved peanut butter cookie recipe she also prepared with natural peanut butter and came out crispy and delightful, which I consider a real feat. If you’ve ever tried making peanut butter cookies with natural peanut butter rather than conventional Skippy or Jif you know it often doesn’t work out quite right. As more of us are going for organic, all-natural ingredients it’s up to the test kitchens to stay current with those preferences and adapt traditional recipes as needed.

They have a few more props at their disposal than the average food blogger

They have a few more props at their disposal than the average food blogger

While the kitchens are designed to simulate a home environment, one glance into their prop room quickly reminded me that, yes, it’s still a corporate operation here. There was row upon row of neatly stacked serveware, glassware, silverware…

Need a ramekin?

Need a ramekin?

…and ramekins! Have you ever seen this many ramekins? I’m thinking this section may have exploded during the crème brûlée craze in the late ’90s. 🙂

The photo area

The photo area

In addition to their recipe development responsibilities, Chris and Ani have become food bloggers, writing frequent posts for the Nestlé Kitchens blog. They’ve got a photo setup in their kitchen just like I do, albeit with better equipment and no crayons, Crocs or three-year-olds around the periphery.

Nestlé test kitchen managers Chris Garboski and Ani Simón

Nestlé test kitchen managers Chris Garboski and Ani Simón

It was a recent post that Chris wrote on their blog about the kitchens’ appliance makeover that prompted me to propose a visit. It just looked like such an interesting place to work within the food industry and I was intrigued. I got in touch with Chris and within a few hours we had a date on the calendar. Three weeks later I had the chance to meet up with her and Ani and tour the kitchens. Thank you, ladies, so much again for a fantastic visit!

Later this week…I couldn’t decide which Nestlé recipe I wanted to feature along with this post, so I combined TWO. I think you’re gonna like it!



See the Recipe Index for all the recipes on Cooking On the Side.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Vivian March 29, 2011 at 10:40 PM

Thank you for giving us a peek of the Nestle USA kitchen! Wow, they sure have a lot of wares to play with! 🙂
Vivian´s last blog post ..Anmeldelse af ny smart søgemulighed hos Vivirocom

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Maria March 30, 2011 at 6:43 AM

So fun and I love Chris, she’s the best! Thanks for sharing!

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Amy March 30, 2011 at 8:08 AM

Looks like we’re both hob-knobbing. Isn’t it fun? 😀 I’ve had interaction with Nestle’s head PR gal, coordinating giveaways and such…and like you said, I was stunned (and so pleasantly surprised) the first time at how friendly, and hospitable, and real she was for working in a large corporate setting. It just made me love them even more.

What fabulous jobs Chris and Ani have. Jealous! Makes me wish I didn’t major in Communications all those years ago. Woulda coulda shoulda. Great post, Kathy 😀

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Katrina March 30, 2011 at 8:59 AM

How fun! I would love that! (I love kale chips, too!)

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Georgia @ The Comfort of Cooking March 30, 2011 at 9:19 AM

What a fun experience, Kathy! Thanks so much for sharing your photos and highlights of your time at Nestle. It looks – and sounds – like you had an unforgettable time!

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Julie March 30, 2011 at 10:05 AM

What a cool experience! I just made kale chips this week!

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Kathy March 30, 2011 at 10:09 AM

I’ve got my kale ready to give it a try today. 🙂

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richard bennett March 30, 2011 at 11:57 AM

I enjoy both of your blogs, especially the one on panini. I especially liked your article today because I live three blocks from Nestle and have never even been in the building.

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Sharlene March 30, 2011 at 3:51 PM

This is so interesting. Thanks for sharing!
Sharlene´s last blog post ..Bailey’s Cheesecake

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Robyn | Add a Pinch March 30, 2011 at 6:15 PM

It looks like you had a marvelous time, Kathy {and how could you not!}. I was lucky enough to meet Chris at last year’s BlogHer Food – I totally get what you mean about warm hospitality. She is a sweetheart!
Robyn | Add a Pinch´s last blog post ..Honey Cinnamon Cookies

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Megan March 31, 2011 at 6:42 AM

What a fun place to visit! Lucky you. 🙂

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Mackenzie@The Caramel Cookie March 31, 2011 at 4:54 PM

What a fun trip! Thanks for sharing!
Mackenzie@The Caramel Cookie´s last blog post ..Frosting Cookies

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kellypea May 3, 2011 at 4:15 PM

What a great write-up of a great trip. So interesting. I always thought I’d be on that end of things instead of where I am now, but I’m not complaining. I’m so envious of that wheeled racking system they’ve got. My garage rack pales in comparison. Loved this 🙂

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Kathy May 3, 2011 at 5:12 PM

I, for one, am very happy that Sass & Veracity is as fabulous as it is. 🙂

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Meagan May 14, 2011 at 3:38 PM

I’m actually an employee of one of NUSA’s operating companies, but I am always pleased when other people (outsiders, if you will) get to see our culture and emphasis on quality. It’s a simply fantastic company to work for. Thank you for highlighting it in this post!
Meagan´s last blog post ..How you know your life is really easy

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Kristen May 28, 2011 at 1:47 PM

I bet that was so much fun!

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Heather @ Multiply Delicious June 6, 2011 at 8:03 AM

How fun Kathy! Looks like you had an amazing time see the test kitchen at Nestle. I think Chris and Ani have my dream job! 🙂
Heather @ Multiply Delicious´s last blog post ..National Doughnut Day!

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