Meet Our Test Kitchen Chefs
02/28/2023 · Our People
At Wegmans, we take pride in making great meals easy for our customers. That’s why all Wegmans Brand products and recipes go through our test kitchen before they hit the shelves to be shared with our customers. In the test kitchen, you’ll find Andrea Cocilova and Amanda Mendell, our Wegmans Brand cooking instruction and recipe validation coordinators. We asked them to tell us about their work and how it impacts the quality of the Wegmans Brand products on our shelves.
How long have you been with Wegmans and what led to your current role?
Andrea: I started in the stores almost 10 years ago, after culinary school. I was able to work in every department of our perishable area as a culinary intern before becoming a prep cook. From there I worked my way up to a sous chef position for a few years, before moving into this role. I knew I wanted to be in an environment where you can feed a large amount of people, that’s my favorite thing about what we do. I like the fact that our customers can buy individual products to make a meal for their family and the people they love, and we have so many great recipes to choose from. Or, if you don’t feel like cooking at all, you can get something from restaurant foods that’s fully prepared for you.
Amanda: I’ve been with Wegmans for 13 years. I spent 8 years in the stores as a cook in various parts of the kitchen, including our restaurant Amore before coming to Wegmans Brand in my current role. I knew cooking was my passion when I started as a prep cook at Foodlink for a new program called “kids café” in 2003. We prepared meals for over 23 recreation centers in the city of Rochester and beyond. After I got married, we moved to California, and I had so many amazing opportunities working in the culinary field. When we decided to move back to Rochester, I only wanted to work for Wegmans because they were progressive and just as passionate about food as I was. I have had a lot of great mentors within the company. That’s one of the awesome things about working here, you’re always learning and growing!
What exactly do you do as cooking instruction and recipe validation coordinators?
Andrea: For the cooking instruction piece, we focus on Wegmans Brand products. We test various cooking methods and document our results focusing on timing, yields and overall performance of the product. Our goal is to obtain consistent results and narrow down the most successful methods. We then write up the directions that go on the package.
Amanda: For the recipe validation, we play the role of the home cook by making sure the directions are accurate and easy to follow. When a new customer recipe is developed for our website, we make it here in the test kitchen. We use standard home appliances making sure our customers can replicate and have the experience that our chefs intended. We have over 4000 recipes in our database that are continuously reviewed and maintained by the team we work with. An online recipe could be retested based on an ingredient change or if a product is no longer available. Our goal is to ensure if a change needs to be made, the recipe is just as delicious, if not better!
What does a day in the test kitchen look like?
Amanda: We have a unique role in the sense that not only do we test brand new items, but we also have existing products that have been reformulated in some way, possibly even the package itself has changed. We want to make sure they still perform as written on the package, so we’ll retest that product or new packaging to make sure it will withstand the current directions. Sometimes it’s spot on, or a change comes out of the testing process to make it better. That’s one aspect of a typical day here.
Andrea: As far as online recipes go, again, we always try to put ourselves in the position of the home cook. Whether it is someone who loves to cook and cooks all the time or someone who doesn’t have much experience in the kitchen. We want to make sure the customer is successful. Whether it it’s a visual cue, a specific cooking temperature, or how long it will take them from start to finish, we make sure that information is included in the recipe.
You test recipes, but you don’t create them. Can you talk about that process?
Andrea: We have great development chefs who create the recipes. Our role is to cook the recipe as written, confirm timing, and temperatures as well as identify any issues we might have had achieving the desired outcome. Our #1 priority is to make sure the online recipe tastes and performs as it should. Additionally, we provide the nutrition team with the data they need to determine servings sizes, wellness keys, and to create an accurate nutrition panel. When it comes time for the recipe to be photographed, we work closely with our Marketing department and prepare the items needed at photo shoots.
Amanda: We also review online recipes in our database with the development chefs to see if there is an opportunity for the recipe to get revamped. This could be a new cooking method or utilizing newer items. Sometimes the development chefs take a recipe that takes a little more time in the kitchen and make it into a Wegmans Brand item because we love it so much; this way customers don’t have to make a full recipe, yet it’s still just as delicious and a time saver too! Some of our favorite “Cook in Bag” items were developed based on an established Wegmans.com recipe. The beauty is, someone can either make the recipe from scratch, or buy it ready to cook at home. It’s a win-win!
What is your favorite Wegmans Brand product and how do you cook it or use it in a recipe?
Amanda: Our Italian Classics and Amore line of products. One of my favorites is our Italian Classics Wood Fired Crust Mushroom & Truffle Pizza from Italy. I just fell in love with the quality and the crust, I could go on and on about it. I was so excited for those to launch after testing that line of pizzas. I love pairing it with a salad, and dinner is done! Our Amore line of pasta and sauces tastes like you spent all day in the kitchen–It’s hard to choose a favorite.
Andrea: I think one of my favorite products is our Queso Dip. It just makes me so happy. We will literally put it on everything – Tortilla chips, Wegmans Brand pork rinds, veggies – it’s delicious. If you haven’t tried it yet, I highly recommend it! I’m with Amanda on the pasta, my absolute favorite is the Amore spaghetti. I don’t know what it is about it. It just makes my heart happy. It’s the texture, the taste – it’s my go-to spaghetti.
Do you have any final thoughts?
Andrea: I want people to know that the test kitchen is totally customer focused. There’s a lot of intention behind what we do, we take it very seriously and want everyone to be successful with our Wegmans Brand products and recipes.
Amanda: Whether it’s a brand-new item or there’s a change being made to a current product; it goes through rigorous quality assurance testing to make sure it is good enough to put on our shelves. We also have a strong customer base that really loves Wegmans, we listen to their feedback to maintain the high standards expected from us.
The next time you grab that Wegmans Brand item off the shelf, are scrolling through recipes online, or grabbing a prepared meal, you can rest assured that a lot of time, effort, and care went into making sure that you are getting high-quality products, directions, and recipes to make a delicious meal.