Sunday, September 20, 2015

{Behind the scenes} It's hip to be Chef'n

With creative ideas and proven methods of execution, kitchen gadget maker, Chef'n, is striving to bring innovative products to consumers that consumers can't live without

Have you seen one of these before?


I have. I've owned a few and have even given several away as gifts. What I can't believe that I never paid much attention to is the name of the company that makes them. As I mentioned in my last post, I'm currently attending the International Food Blogger Conference in Seattle. A little over a month ago, Chef'n, the innovative company that designed and manufactures the Pepperball, invited me and several other bloggers, to tour Chef'n's headquarters here in Seattle Friday afternoon prior to the start of the conference.


I'm a firm believer that a space has energy and can influence one's mood and when that space is a workspace, one's productivity. There's a definite cool vibe in the office from the moment you walk in. Once off the elevator, you're face to face with a wall of 8x10 framed photographs of the company's employees mugging with their favorite Chef'n tool. They're fun, brightly colored, exaggerated portraits that exude a youthful, creative zeal. The facing wall is lined with framed magazine covers listing Chef'n as one of the top companies to work for.


To start our tour, we made our way over to the design lab – a Santa's Workshop of sorts – with prototypes in varying stages of completion filling shelves and desktops (some of them we weren't allowed to photograph since they were in such early stages of design). The smell of plastic and resin lingered in the air, soft upbeat music competed with the hum of a CAD machine and 3-D printer, adding to the feeling that magic happens in this room.

Matt Krus, comfortably attired in jeans and a gray and blue hoodie, is the Senior Industrial Designer. He addressed us, demonstrating an early prototype of the company's jar opener. When asked how products made it from idea to finished product ready for consumption, he said that the process of getting ideas from people's heads, to drawings to prototype to focus groups and back to the final design stage a rather "messy process" that had no one way of happening. Sometimes, he added, David (that's David Holcomb, founder of Chef'n) will come in with a sketch or rough prototype and lay it at their table and ask, what do you think? Other times, ideas come directly from the focus groups as testers play around with a potential new product. They might mention something like, wouldn't it be cool if it did this? That little off-hand comment could very well lead a designer to an entirely new product idea.


After the design lab, we climbed back upstairs to tour the office space, filing past the employee lounge which left me feeling envious (a huge kitchen space with a giant chalkboard wall for when inspiration hits, I presume), before coming to a stop in a room with a peg board wall and shelving displaying their catalog of products as well as shelves on the opposite side of the room with Starbucks tumblers and several inspiration boards for more Starbucks products. (Chef'n designers create all those cool Starbucks plastic tumblers as Starbucks is a Seattle-based company.) We weren't allowed to photograph any of the Starbuck's products as some of them might never make it to public consumption.


Next up was the test kitchen where employees get to use and test out the Chef'n gadgets. To get to the kitchen, you need to walk around a foosball table (points!) and then, rounding the corner you're presented with a big, bright, airy space complete with a huge deck sporting round cafe tables and a grill. The kitchen's centerpiece is a great big center island surrounded with stools. A square community table, comfortable seating and a large flat screen TV finish off the room.


If I needed any more convincing about the company's hip factor, then David Holcomb's exuberant greeting to us was the answer. After partaking of some appetizers, and getting the opportunity to play with some of the more popular Chef'n products, David, a warm, funny and charismatic person, took center stage, telling the story of how he started the company. With jokes and life anecdotes, he talked about designing skateboards and working in kitchens and trying to make his first prototype (GarlicMachine) with $500 from a potential investor.

"I love kitchen gadgets! What we design has to be something I'd use in my kitchen," David said at one point during the demonstration.

The Chef'n catalog we received in our gift bag says, "Every day for us is about creativity, color and cooking. Families thrive on good food and fun and ours is no exception."

Walking around the company headquarters, seeing their products on display, handling them in the test kitchen and listening not only to the founder but to several of his employees, it's clear to me that these aren't merely PR words chosen to portray an image. They really are a big part of what this company is all about and I'm looking forward to bringing more of their innovative products into my own home.


Disclosure: Chef'n, recently acquired by Taylor Precision Products, invited me to tour the company headquarters for an additional $25 in conference costs. I received transportation to and from the host hotel, lunch and a gift bag of a few of their products to test at home. Also, as a Citizen Blogger for the International Food Blogger Conference, I received a reduction in my registration fees in exchange for agreeing to write a minimum of posts before, during or immediately following the conference, topic to be of my own choosing. This is the second of those posts. As always, all photographs and opinions are my own.

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