Photo courtesy of Campbell’s Culinary & Baking Institute.
Certified Master Chef Tom Griffiths is Global Vice President for Campbell’s Culinary & Baking Institute (CCBI), a global network of highly trained chefs, bakers, and culinary professionals at Campbell Soup Company. He mentors and leads more than 20 highly credentialed chefs who identify the most significant emerging trends in food to inspire new products and flavors and increase Campbell’s culinary presence worldwide.
Previously, Chef Griffiths was the Associate Dean of Advanced Global Cuisines at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and held chef positions with many renowned establishments, including The United Nations, Le Delices Côte Basque, Regine’s, and Le Cirque. In his role at Campbell’s, Griffiths regularly visits farmers and pushes for manufacturing changes to ensure that Campbell’s provides more healthful food options for consumers.
Food Tank had the opportunity to talk to Chef Griffiths about his role at CCBI, his cooking philosophy, and his passion for developing exciting and innovative culinary experiences.
Food Tank (FT): You have worked in many food roles across your career, including teaching and chef positions with many renowned establishments. What inspired you to work for Campbell Soup?
Tom Griffiths (TG): When I became an Eagle Scout, I got tired of eating fried bologna and ‘clumpy’ spaghetti on our camping trips. I learned about cooking in a Dutch oven, and I started to cook real food—stews and soups loaded with fresh vegetables. I found that I loved it. When it was time to think about a career, I heard about the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), and I still remember the first time I saw the campus; it was magical, like Hogwarts would be for Harry Potter.
After I graduated from CIA, I took a job as a poissonnier, or fish cook, at Le Cirque, arguably the finest restaurant in the country at that time. Those were difficult years; we call it ‘paying your dues.’ But there were good times; I cooked for Diana Ross, former President Richard Nixon, and Italian opera tenor Luciano Pavarotti! Years later, I returned to CIA as an instructor and then a professor, earning gold medals on an Olympic team, and becoming a Certified Master Chef (CMC).
I was recruited to interview at Campbell, and although I thought I’d just explore what was in the industry, I got excited about the inspiring conversations I had here. I realized I could feed millions of people, help fight childhood obesity and malnutrition, and make a much greater difference and leave a much greater legacy than I could as an instructor or chef. Today, I’m honored to be Campbell’s ‘Chef Tom’!
FT: What does your job entail as Vice President of Campbell’s Culinary & Baking Institute?
TG: I lead our team of global chefs to creatively develop exciting and innovative menus, as well as new, commercializable products that establish Campbell as the world leader in high-quality prepared foods, global baked snacks, and fresh, retail perimeter foods. It’s been gratifying to see our culinary lexicon spread throughout the company; having marketers and others talking comfortably about things such as mirepoix and onion brulée is a real competitive advantage.
I mentor and lead the chef team in personal and career development. This involves training on new cooking techniques, encouraging them to gain new culinary experiences, interacting with leading restaurant chefs, and implementing a more disciplined risk-taking approach to new product development. Our unique combination of internal and external expertise inspired us to create our annual Culinary TrendScape Report, which tracks emerging culinary and baking trends.
I act as Campbell’s primary culinary spokesperson externally and maintain a proactive dialogue with customers on ways we can be more responsive to their priorities and needs.
I also serve on the global research and development leadership team, which participates in corporate strategy development, focuses on identifying areas offering the best growth opportunities, and provides more healthful food choices while carrying out the corporate mission.
I’m especially proud of initiatives such as our Harvest 16 program, which grew from a simple idea to teach people to make canned salsa to an ongoing effort in which roughly 60 employees have made thousands of cans of a pasta meal for food banks in southern New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We bring this delicious culinary gold standard meal, made from macaroni and roasted, local pureed vegetables, to feed people who might otherwise go without food. It’s a wonderful feeling to work with like-minded people to help our neighbors in need.
FT: Drawing from your experience, how can businesses incorporate better food standards and/or quality ingredients into their products?
TG: My cooking philosophy starts with the best ingredients, proper technique, innovation, and, of course, giving consumers what they want. I regularly visit farmers to learn how to grow better-tasting carrots, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, even lobsters. I also regularly push for manufacturing changes that are in line with how chefs do things, such as replacing dehydrated onions with fresh ones.
FT: What food-related activities do you enjoy outside of work?
TG: I’m passionate about being outdoors: hiking, fishing, gardening, and, yes, cooking on wood fires! There is something magical about harvesting potatoes or Jerusalem artichokes from the earth, picking a salad from your garden, and appreciating the aroma and taste of juicy, warm, ripe New Jersey tomatoes.
I also give culinary demonstrations and lessons at colleges as a guest instructor. The students’ passion inspires me.
I generally build my vacations around food travel, too. I always search for destinations where I can find authentic gastronomy. I love learning the history of the evolution of the food around the world, from Europe and Southeast Asia to New York City and Long Beach Island, New Jersey.
FT: What advice would you give to aspiring chefs or people interested in cooking at home?
TG: Cook with passion.
Purchase the finest ingredients you can afford.
Take your time, and enjoy cooking.
Less is better. Don’t think about what to add to a dish; think about what to take out of the dish.
Learn the stories of the great chefs.
Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
FT: Who are your food heroes that most inspire you, and why?
TG: Michael Rhulman, the most amazing writer about everything culinary. His books are spot on.
Eric Ripert, an expert in seafood who represents what true chefs really are. His book 32 Yolks does a wonderful job of demonstrating the hard experience, the reverence for food, and the passion it takes to become one of the world’s best chefs.
Amanda Cohen, the chef and owner of Dirt Candy. She’s a pioneer in vegetarian cooking who makes the most delicious foods.
Barton Seaver, the foremost authority on sustainable seafood and sea greens, a chef, and author, and an excellent person.
Farmers Eliot Coleman of Four Winds Farms and Farmer Lee Jones of The Chef’s Garden, who patiently taught me about growing delicious vegetables. They are the rock stars of farming.
Melissa Kelly, chef and owner of Primo in Maine, who grows and raises her own foods.