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Meet the chef leading Jamaica Blue’s health ambitions

By   /  October 3, 2017  /  No Comments

Jamaica Blue executive chef Danika Heslop is at the forefront of the café chain’s health ambitions. Open House spoke with Heslop about her success as a chef and challenging the food chain industry.

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Has the kitchen culture changed for female chefs?

I think in some instances it has, although it is still heavily male dominated. There are some great initiatives and networking opportunities coming through the industry which pulls women together which I think is great.

How did having a child change the working dynamic for you?

I have always enjoyed working and it’s an important part of my life. As best as I could, I wanted to really try to deliver the same quality of work once my daughter became a part of my life, as I did without her. I can say it has changed; I find that I use every minute of every day, and I am constantly juggling time between the two but I am lucky that I have a very supportive work culture, and a very supportive family network which has been the key to making this work so far. When it does get tough, I try to remind myself to prioritise and get through the important things, in both work and family life.

Why did you transition from restaurants to a QSR chain?

I had been working in restaurants for the best part of a decade, and felt a strong need for a change. I knew that I still loved cooking and being in kitchens, but I was just looking for a change in the day to day and maybe try something a bit different. Whilst looking into other hospitality avenues such as food styling and teaching, a role came up with Jamaica Blue training in their cafés. Initially I was really attracted to the travelling component, and a role that meant I could interact and share my skills with young staff all over Australia. Then as the years went on, I became more and more intrigued in the franchising industry, how it worked and how I could put my foot print here.

What mindset did you bring with you to Jamaica Blue?

I think my message has always been that simple doesn’t have to mean average quality. I strongly believe that you can deliver a good quality dish that is simple to execute and tasty. Good food is about fresh produce, taste and consistency; regardless if you are working in a 3 Michelin Star restaurant or the café down the road, those three key things remain the same no matter what kitchen you are in.

Why the focus on health?

Our customers have a choice what they choose to eat when they are out and about, and it is important that our cafés can deliver a healthy offer if that is what the customer requires.

Why is the responsibility of restaurants/cafes to provide a ‘healthy’ product?

I think that this is really something that has become important over the last few years, and I agree that as part of the food service industry we do have a duty of care to provide our customers with at least a choice to purchase a wholesome and nutritious offer. I think there is still some debate between what consumers perceive as healthy and what the dietitians specify as healthy, so it can be a tricky brief to meet, but for me it’s about going back to basics; wholefood ingredients, unprocessed, made fresh.

What exactly is a healthy product?

Healthy means a lot of different things to different people. At Jamaica Blue we worked closely with Food Nutrition Australia to create a criteria around our healthy eating range “Signature Harvest Collection”. For Jamaica Blue it means wholesome ‘real food’ ingredients at a smaller portion size, with a lower kilojoule count that is made fresh on site.

Do you keep healthy yourself?

If I’m honest, it’s a challenge to find ‘me time’ at the moment, so I can’t say I am where I want to be, but I am striving to get there.  My husband and I make an effort to cook healthy and nutritious dinners each night which gives us time to connect and chat about our day. I have taken up swimming on the weekend with my daughter, so that’s a good opportunity to spend time with her and get in some exercise at the same time. Yoga is my favourite go-to for wellness, mind and body balance.

Does the culture of kitchen need to change to create a better work/life balance?

I think the industry has come a long way, but it still has a long way to go. With the current economic climate and the shift in dining from dinner and restaurants, to brunch and cafes it has allowed the industry to change up its demand on hours and offer staff, both front and back of house a choice when they want to work. I believe that people in this industry are in it because they are passionate and want to be here; this is probably what drives the stereotypical culture of long hours and an over commitment to work. The people in the industry are the ones who need to drive the change for the future generations and set the expectation of what it should be moving forward.

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  • Published: 6 months ago on October 3, 2017
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  • Last Modified: October 3, 2017 @ 10:57 am
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