Dale cooked everything himself with one sous chef (Spencer, who's still with us), in a small kitchen in Rainham, Kent. When miraculously we survived our first few years and opened a couple more shops, we upgraded to a bigger kitchen nearby in Sittingbourne.
In 2005 we took the plunge and borrowed a lot of money to design and build our own kitchen in Sittingbourne. We moved in 2007 and it's where we still cook today.
The COOK Kitchen works in a similar way to a big hotel kitchen, with different sections responsible for different parts of the cooking process - checking ingredients as they come in; preparing them; cooking; making pastry; assembling the different components of the finished dish; freezing; packing and labeling. Unlike most food companies, we don't believe in using machines to do jobs that people can do better. This means we run a very complicated operation that depends entirely on the passion, care and teamwork of our people.
Co-founder Dale introduces us to the family at the COOK Kitchen...
How the COOK kitchen works:
Ken, a chef with over 30 years experience, checks in all ingredients with the same diligence as a sergeant major inspecting his troops on the parade ground. No ingredient enters the kitchen unless he is 100% happy and (as our suppliers will tell you) he is very, very fussy.
Under the watchful eye of Big Rob, the Prep team prepares all the ingredients for the chefs. Vegetables are topped and tailed, peeled and sliced. Meat is trimmed and diced (and at Christmas, turkeys are stuffed). In the Spice Room, herbs and spices are mixed for marinades and rubs.
Prep is home to the Mincer Of Truth, where we mince prime joints of beef, lamb and pork (after trimming off the fat), to ensure that nothing but top quality meat goes into our mince dishes (to watch it in action click here). It's where we roll our meatballs by hand - more than 4,000 in one go. And it's where we marinate our meat for anything up to 24 hours, to ensure its tender and flavorsome.
While every COOK dish is most definitely a team effort, it's the chef who takes the glory and gets his name on the label (currently all our chefs are men, but we’re working on that). To cook many of our dishes we use big, steam-heated saucepans, called brat pans. In this pan, our team of chefs (headed up by Alan Martin) brown onions; make sauces and reductions; and slow-cook our casseroles for anything up to six hours. They need to season and taste every dish to make sure the flavour is just right. Just like a top restaurant kitchen, you'll find a close-knit team of cooks working together with care and precision (and, from time to time, using language that would make your mother blush).
Our team of pastry chefs is led by Carol, who has over 30 years experience working with pastry (sorry Carol, you still look 35), and has been with us for more than a decade.
All of our pastry is handmade and cooked as you would at home; whether it be sponge mixes, crumbles, or our quiche bases, all of which we blind bake.
Finishing is where the final dish gets put together in the tray. Most food companies would use machinery to do this - for example, to squirt out just the right amount of sauce. But we believe people can do a more thorough and detailed job, with real care that makes a difference to the look and taste of the meal you serve at home.
Assembling a dish can be very simple - ladling the right amount of Chilli Con Carne into a tray - or involve as many as eight different processes. Laborious, but worth it.
Packaging and Labelling
There is no point in having great tasting food if it is not packed and labelled correctly. Miles heads up the packing and labelling team to make sure this all happens smoothly.