We sit with Katzie Guy-Hamilton, head of F&B for Max Brenner International, based in the USA with locations worldwide; she oversees all menu development and innovation, and here she shares with HOST her take on trends in chocolate, pastry and desserts—plus health and wellness—both domestically and internationally.
LH: Describe your role? What does a typical week or month look like?
KGH: To a listener I might have what some have described as “the coolest job in the world” The reality of my role is both fascinating, challenging, tedious. I will describe my role in its current form, but I go through many different cycles of activity.
Right now we have a new menu “form” launching in our Japanese market. Soft serve is huge in Japan and they really wanted to test drive this concept. We worked to make the soft serve unique and “Max Brenner” and now will see a delicious Max Brenner Chocolate Praline Soft Cream launching in Japan. We are also about to open in the China market, which is huge for us as a global brand. Beijing is hot right now. Both as a company and professionally for me, my experience in China will be valuable for years to come.
For a new market, we work to important and source all of the ingredients necessary to execute the dessert menu with the franchise team. We also train the team leads in the U.S. and then will go to China to validate all of the sourced product and be there for the end of their training and opening.
I also create new products and run a quarterly limited time offer menu in our US stores and share these products with our franchisees. There is also the standard everyday work that a Food and Beverage Director handles that occupies the rest of my time. Needless to say I have a hybrid role of global development of menus, R&D and F&B director.
In peak moments you cannot get bored at Max Brenner. I am about to enter into another phase of travel and will be going to China, Japan and Korea to both open stores, work on savory food concepts and check up on our pop up stores.
Throw in a few weddings in and media appearances and well, I will see you in 2016! When I am not on the road I am in New York where we have an office and a huge flagship location. I do costing work in the office and test out new menu items (hello fudge blitz milkshake!) in our original Union Square location.
LH: What pastry and food trends do you see happening in the USA different from or same as abroad?
KGH: I see a lot of companies trying out new menu forms or sweet forms but keeping the flavors simple yet thoughtful. Shake Shack has chocolate chunks and fudge in all of their treats. Soft serve is huge and Dominique Ansel adds thoughtful touches (like a burrata cheese flavor!) to his soft cream. In restaurants, the best desserts have layers of flavor and texture but an approachable hominess about them. To me, beauty is in the flavor and the licked clean plate or bowl.
LH: What are your favorite trends in gelato and ice cream?
KGH: I love gelato. I mean love it. I often dream about it, especially when it’s summer in New York. People are doing interesting flavors, but again, I am personally enjoying more the companies making perfect versions of classic flavors. Perfect pistachio cannot be beat by a tricked-out spiced pistachio.
I truly appreciate a creamy coconut gelato. Licorice or liquirizia is my all-time favorite gelato and/or ice cream flavor. I know that this is a flavor that only specific people will order, but that’s OK!. Having flavors for specific palates means that you care about your unique customers while keeping your core. Salted caramel and salted chocolate keep popping up as well. Salted ice cream that has texture from, say, nuts or chocolate chunks is so interesting to me as you feel that you might be crunching on the salt itself but it’s the added texture and the salt is blended in. What a great sensation.
LH: What new pastry and gelato / ice cream machinery and equipment has helped you and your team do your jobs better and faster?
KGH: Pregel has come up with an excellent line of gelato bases and stabilizers. With that being said, I do appreciate scratch work. Gelato is meant to be freshly spun into the pan, and when you do that, you don’t really need a stabilizer. Carpigiani still makes what I consider Rolls Royce of gelato machines. We even use their whipped cream machine as there seems to be whipped cream on everything at Max Brenner. The cream comes out dense and smooth, which is perfect for building the types of desserts that we make.
LH: Max Brenner is known for its chocolate. What are chocolate trends in the USA we should know about?
KGH: Chocolate is having a moment! Small batch producers have the ability to innovate quickly and the tablets and bon bon flavors coming from the West Coast and abroad have everything from potato chips to jelly beans and spices galore. This motivates the bigger chocolate giants to keep up with their flavors and unique packaging. We have a great advantage because we have both retail and chocolate desserts and drinks.
The retail process of innovation takes longer than the menu so we can continue to produce new products for the menu as retail is still being developed. Our packaging has always been phenomenal and Rachel Graper, our brand manager is keeping that spirit alive. We have unique touches to our packages, to how we coat our candied nuts, to how we pattern our bon bons.
With all of this demand for chocolate consumption and new companies producing chocolate, there is a pending chocolate crisis on our hands with the possibility of a cocoa shortage. In 2013 the U.S. spent over $20 billion dollars on chocolate. That number is expected to rise. With that being said what will most likely happen is the cost of cocoa will rise which will incentivize farmers to increase their crop production.
Katzie Guy-Hamilton is the head of food and beverage for Max Brenner International, based in the USA with locations worldwide. She oversees all menu development and innovation. Prior to joining the company, Katzie ran the pastry department at Grand Hyatt’s New York flagship at Grand Central. Katzie also shaped the celebrated pastry program at New York’s trendsetting Ace Hotel. Prior to that, she held a four-year post at Wolfgang Puck’s famous Spago Beverly Hills, where she trained under Executive Pastry Chef Sherry Yard. Katzie’s talents earned her a spot on Season 2 of the television cooking competition, Top Chef: Just Desserts.
She was named Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America by Dessert Professional Magazine in 2014. She is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute and recipient of its Outstanding Alumni of the Year for 2011. Katzie teaches healthy cooking at Goal4Kids in Harlem and co-chairs October Ball, benefiting the Catholic Big Sister’s and Big Brothers Organization. Katzie is currently attending the Institute for Integrative Nutrition where she will become a Certified Health Coach, furthering her mission to teach clean eating with delicious indulgences. Katzie has appeared on Fox Network, Martha Stewart Radio, CBS, Food Network, Bravo TV and represents Max Brenner internationally appearing in Japanese and Australian media.
Outside of work Katzie is an adventurous spirit seeking out the best lobster roll, handmade goods with a story, spa experiences or a perfect sunset cocktail.