Hail Merry Chief Product Officer, Alison Brushaber, has worked as a corporate chef for various restaurant chains producing award winning menus and innovative food, beverage, and equipment products. Influenced by celebrity chefs Julia Child and Charlie Trotter her cuisine now focuses on simple, organic food prepared easily. Her current passion is creating great tasting, gluten-free and vegan snacks and desserts made with natural “clean” ingredients. We caught up with Chef Ali at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago where she is unveiling the new Chocolate Mini Miracle Tart, a 2013 FABI award winner for innovation.
You were Vice President of Food and Beverage for Tony Romas, Vice President of Culinary Services at TurboChef and provided product development for various other restaurants and food manufacturers.What has been the most challenging part about making the leap from conventional food manufacturing to natural food manufacturing?
Making a leap from conventional to natural has been a learning curve. In college they train you to add this or that to extend shelf life. In natural we don't add anything. We have had to rely on methods like running an operation with almost 'clean room' standards to get maximum shelf life.
Hail Merry is dedicated to using high quality mostly organic ingredients. Many of these ingredients are new to the American consumer packaged goods industry, such as organic virgin coconut oil and Fair Trade dark cocoa. How do you ensure supplier integrity to the world of raw, gluten-free and vegan ingredients?
In our commitment to sourcing natural and mostly organic ingredients we have discovered we are breaking new ground. When we started we were buying organic coconut oil in 5-gallon pails. We have upgraded the specification to be an extra virgin organic coconut oil and now bring it in 55-gallon drums from the Philippines. We just ordered larger containers that are made for us. We are the first in the states to bring this in. On our organic maple syrup we also broke new ground by buying large containers of grade A maple syrup. I recently visited the farm we buy from and they said we were the first in their 40 year history to buy that large a container. We work closely with our vendor partners to break new ground in the world of natural.
3. What are your "Lean In" words of wisdom for young women interested in a career in the male dominated food industry?
My 'lean in' words of wisdom is to work at something you are passionate about and don't be afraid to make mistakes. As a start up business we are constantly inventing new solutions to the challenges that come up. Sometimes we get it right. Sometimes we don't. Our CEO Sarah Chapin often reminds us ' don't let perfect be the enemy of good'. Getting it DONE is better than polishing it until it is perfect.
4. What is your favorite Hail Merry recipe?
My favorite tart is the coconut vanilla creme and I love the new strawberry macaroons. I am most proud of a new product we are just introducing the miracle tart mini's. We have had this idea for some time but it took some innovation to design the trays and have them custom made and work with our talented head if operations Dell Steinmann to figure out how to produce it. We are starting with the chocolate flavor but we have more Flavors in the works.
5. Gluten-free dining is one of the top food trends for 2013. How important is it to be certified gluten-free?
We are proud of our gluten free certification especially since we have higher standards than the government allows. We test both the ingredients and the products that are made constantly and always have less than 5 parts per million, which is, less than the government proposed standard of 20 ppm. It is important to have a low number because of the cumulative effect of eating gluten daily.
Alison, on right, with partners Sarah Palisi Chapin (left) and Susan O'Brien (center).