Food Ambition: Concept Chef

Follow Vanessa Wade's amazing 12 month process as she thinks big, takes inspiration from nature and harvests a unique ancient grain to create her own high-protein sourdough bread.

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Food Ambition: Concept Chef

Roll up your sleeves and discover what it takes to be one of the UK's most innovative chefs. Trained by legendary chef Gordon Ramsey, young Vanessa Wade has become a very influential concept chef, inventing new cakes, breads and pastries for some of the UK's biggest names.

Product Development Concept Stage

Meet Vanessa Wade. She is one of the UK’s most sought after concept chefs, specialising in the development of new pastries and breads. As concept chef for legendary café chain Bettys of York, she has helped to develop cakes, breads and Easter eggs. Now recruited to bring her food magic to Castle Howard, a famous stately home near York, she will develop new dishes at the very highest level. 

Trained by Gordon Ramsey, Vanessa has done what most people only dream about: she has followed her passion for food and science to become one of the most influential young people in her chosen profession. Here, she meets with one of her stakeholders (customers), Tom, who wants a unique bread to offer customers at his gastropub.

Following the Process

Vanessa follows her process and takes a brief from one of the stakeholders, Tom. He wants to wow customers by serving a unique bread, sourced from ingredients grown within a 10-mile radius.

Concept stage – Inspiration

Seeking inspiration, Vanessa takes Tom on a walk. She often takes walks, goes to see artwork or visits designers of clothing and objects to get inspiration for her food concepts. They brainstorm as they walk. She feels that Tom should have a healthy, high-protein bread, more easily digestible than normal breads, made with flour from locally grown grains.


Vanessa and Tom realise that the huge maple tree on the green, next to the gastropub, has beautifully coloured leaves and bark that could define the colour of the bread and its crust.

Research and Development

Vanessa comes back from her walk and seeks further inspiration from books and magazines. She cuts out articles, images, snippets and facts about health, seeds and breads, adding them to a concept board. This is when her idea begins to take shape.

Cutting and Pasting

Following the brainstorm, Vanessa cuts things out of magazines, searches on Instagram and looks at competitors. She assesses where there is a gap in the market and invents a new way to make a unique product for her customer.

Artisan Inspiration

Depending on what the product is, Vanessa often goes to artisan shops/stores and meets shopkeepers and specialist growers to see what products they have developed and ingredients they have in stock. Vanessa loves visiting La Maison du Chocolat and Fortnum & Mason in London.

Writing it Down

Vanessa has written down her ambition: she has realised that sourdough bread, which does not use commercial yeast to rise but instead has natural healthy bacteria, would be healthier than normal mass-produced bread. Research shows that she should find a wheat grower who can grow ancient seeds of spelt wheat. Spelt has a higher protein content than normal modern wheat flour and does not need unhealthy pesticides to grow.

Growing Local Ingredients

12 months have passed. Thinking big, Vanessa chose an ancient strain of wheat called spelt, with remarkable health properties. She approached award-winning farmer Stephen Craggs, the UK’s top milling wheat grower, whose farm is 5 miles away from Tom’s gastropub. He agreed to plant fields of spelt wheat and to harvest and mill the grains into flour for Vanessa’s innovative new bread.

The Farmer

Vanessa’s research showed her that Stephen Craggs would be the ideal candidate to create the raw materials for Tom’s unique bread. Stephen is from a long line of farmers and has a good international reputation. He planted £250,000 worth of spelt seeds to fulfil Vanessa’s need for a unique flour.

Inspecting the Wheat

Vanessa is delighted to visit Stephen’s huge grain barn and inspect her new raw ingredient. The spelt wheat is piled high behind her, still in its protective outer husk. Vanessa peels the grain and tastes it raw – it is delicious, with a strong wheat flavour.


Spelt wheat has been farmed since 5000 BC. Spelt is a high-quality grain that provided the population of Europe with lots of protein and carbohydrates: key ingredients in a healthy diet. Modern farming was not suited to this healthy grain, so other forms of wheat were developed, but they are hard to digest and may cause irritable bowel syndrome and arthritis.

Unmilled spelt wheat

Unmilled spelt wheat

Unmilled spelt wheat with the husks on. This needs to be de-husked and milled into flour. It must age for three months before it can be used as flour.

Milled spelt flour

Milled spelt flour

Milled spelt flour ready for cooking.

Sourdough mother

Sourdough Mother

This is a mixture of spelt flour and water. Over several weeks, it becomes naturally active and alive. It forms natural bacteria, which is the fuel for the bread. 

Doing the Science

Vanessa calls this stage of her process “blue sky development”. This is hands-on and practical as she is creating her new raw materials. For Tom’s bread, the brief was crucial: she needed to craft a high-protein bread from robust ancient grains. 

Vanessa says: “Our methodology is to make something that would absolutely delight guests and set the bread above the mark everywhere else. I need Stephen to do the science and see if we have grown a high-protein grain.”


Stephen is a high-tech farmer. He uses a Near Infrared Spectrometer (NIR) to analyse the grains that he has grown. The NIR machine bounces light off the grains and measures the light that is reflected back. This allows the NIR to report on the materials within the grain, including its protein content.

Nervous Chef

Vanessa is nervous as her year-long plan depends on the success of this experiment. Average wheat has a protein level of around 10–12 grams per 100 grams of wheat. Vanessa is hoping for more than 15 grams per 100 grams. Her whole concept depends on this success. A lot of money and her reputation are riding on the outcome.

Husked Grains for Testing

Stephen is very confident about the spelt grains and their content level. His great experience has shown him that the type of soil, the amount of fertiliser per acre and the nature of the seed itself can be manipulated to produce higher protein levels. He is proven correct! The protein level is very high. Vanessa is delighted. The grain has a very high protein content: 17.72 grams of protein per 100 grams. 


After the concept stage, the idea becomes a practical concept. Vanessa takes all of her ingredients into her concept kitchen. She times herself making her bread to give an indication of time, cost and method to make the bread


All ingredients used in the product must be weighed precisely. These measurements must be recorded so that Vanessa can create a viable recipe and a costing to show that the bread is affordable if made at scale (i.e. when many loaves are baked).


The concept chef must ensure that all of the food colourants are natural. This is difficult and restrictive, so they have to be sure about where they have been produced. There may be as few as 5 suppliers in the UK who produce completely natural food colourants. Similarly, the other ingredients must be classed as safe and undergo a rigorous quality assurance process, which uses research and certificates to show that they are all natural and safe to eat.


Vanessa’s sourdough mother has been fermenting, which is a natural process that changes sugars to acids and gases, and sometimes alcohol too. The mother is full of lactobacilli – naturally occurring bacteria that help the bread to rise.



Vanessa adds a special brand of malt to her sourdough mix. This will help to change her bread’s colour and flavour, and darken the crust so that it gets close to the colour of the local maple leaf that she chose at the beginning of her process. 

Measuring is important.

Measuring is important

Vanessa calls it scaling the flour.



Live sourdough mother floats, because it is full of gases given off by the live lactobacilli. If the mother is dead, it will sink. Vanessa’s sourdough mother floats. It’s alive!

Making a Prototype

Vanessa begins testing and production at minimum volume. Then she will make a full line run for maximum production. This is also timed so she knows that it does not cost too much. Lower costs are only possible with real scale – prices get cheaper the more you buy of raw ingredients such as flour. 


All ingredients are added to the mixing bowl. Already there is water, flour, sourdough mother and malt. Now Vanessa has to decide how to further enhance the taste and colour of the bread. 


At this stage, as she prepares the prototypes, Vanessa hands over to process technologists. They are specialists who look at the steps the concept chef has taken and find ways to speed up the process or cut costs. They also understand the kitchen that the product – in this case the bread – will be made in.

More timings happen. Better costs are obtained through time reductions. Raw materials also go for final sign-off, assessing supply companies to ensure that no child labour is used and arranging a firm price.


By adding a half pint of beer to her bread batter mix, Vanessa knows that she will darken the colour of the bread and enhance its earthy rich flavour, which she hopes will remind people of the scent of the trees and leaves that inspired her recipe. 

Dough Hook

Dough Hook

Vanessa adds the dough hook to her industrial mixer. This agitates the ingredients to make dough.



The mixed dough is added to an oiled bucket so that it can bulk ferment, where its lactobacilli really go to work and allow the dough to rise. 


The dough has been left in baskets to ferment, a process known as rising, during which it often doubles in size. Vanessa has scored the top of the dough to control the direction in which the bread expands, and placed it on a baking tray. It is about to be baked at 220 degrees Celsius.


The bread has been allowed to ferment (rise) overnight, before being put in the oven. Sourdough can rise for between 4 and 24 hours. The longer it is left to rise, the sourer and more beneficial to our health it is.

Slow Fermentation

The slow fermentation or rising produces sourdough bread in which important nutrients, such as cancer-fighting antioxidants, vitamin B, folic acid, iron, magnesium, and zinc, become easier for our bodies to absorb. 


Gluten is broken down by the slow fermentation, known as pre-digestion, making it less likely to cause coeliac problems. The bread is baked for 45 minutes, which stops the fermentation process by killing the bacteria and produces a rich, dark crust. It smells delicious.

Test and First Run

Vanessa’s prototype has been given approval for a trial by one of her stakeholders, Tom. She visits his gastropub, The Vane Arms, and offers initial training to the onsite servers and chefs.


Vanessa does taste tests. She has to be sure that her ambition for the product has been fulfilled before she presents it to the public. Social media means that even a prototype food is judged publicly.


Vanessa trains the staff on how best to present the new bread in the gastropub setting and how to serve it. Vanessa will oversee the baking and make sure that they are handling the bread correctly. 


The sourdough bread is a rustic rough-textured loaf and so Vanessa imagined it cut into thick half-slices and served in a bowl. The iconic, hard, russet red-brown crust must be visible, as it is part of the bread’s origin story.


The big moment has come. It is a stressful time. After 12 long months of development, from first concepts to choosing and planting spelt seeds, to the harvest and experimentation, Vanessa’s stakeholders will make the final decision today: has her bread made the cut? Or will they reject all her hard work?


The opinion of another stakeholder, Mike, carries a lot of weight. He argues that the bread is extremely good but expensive to produce and should have a higher price than Tom thinks the gastropub’s customers would be willing to pay. Vanessa’s latest costings make the bread viable.

Marketing Sourdough Bread

If approved, the bread will be made every day and Vanessa will train chefs to produce it at high volume. This process runs alongside a promotion that is advertised on social media, in the press and in the venue.

Final Sign-Off

In a stressful moment for Vanessa, everyone eats the bread. Tom smiles – he loves it and so does Mike. Final sign-off on the new product is given. Vanessa is delighted. The bread can go on sale at last!

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