Lisanne van der Kooi writes about her experience travelling and exploring the world while working as a freelance food consultant.
After nearly five years of working in the food industry in the UK, I decided to take a big step. I quit my job and went out to see a bit more of the world. As soon as I arrived in Asia and saw all the delicacies that it had to offer, I knew straight-away this was a place where I could discover so many new flavours I’d never tasted before. From fresh green peppercorns to honey mangos, kwinis, durian fruit; Asia kept surprising me and I was loving it.
After a couple of months of travelling and volunteering, I found out that I could do something for others by being a food consultant. I accidentally stumbled on Kolabtree and decided to sign up right away. Getting to know people from all over the world and hearing about their interesting projects, I realised quite quickly that being a remote freelance food consultant would be my thing!
In May 2014 I started working for a biscuit company in the UK where I gained a lot of knowledge about biscuits, crackers, cakes and all sorts of baked products. When I arrived in Cambodia during my travels, I volunteered to work in a local bakery where I helped them with new product formulations and extending shelf life for a couple of their products. 35°C and high humidity are completely different weather conditions than the rainy and cold weather in the UK and we had to adapt and learn quickly and find solutions on the spot. The bakery was struggling to make salted caramel work as using local cream in Cambodia was a challenge and expensive. With regular power cuts and very hot weather, the very expensive cream would spoil very quickly so we had to take action. Within 3 days we reformulated the recipe by using milk powder which even made the caramel taste better! The original plan was to stay for two weeks but eventually, I decided to stay for 8 weeks and keep doing this during my travels!
After Cambodia, I decided to go to Malaysia where I volunteered for being a cook in a small health centre just outside of Kuala Lumpur. The people that lived there needed healthy food, full of vitamins and minerals to gain more strength. I developed a two-week menu and a stock plan, so food donations could be made in order to reduce costs and get the right ingredients for what the people needed. I made Chinese soups, dumplings, Indian vegetable curries and American-style pancakes packed with incredibly tasty Malaysian fruit (mango, pineapple and banana). I also went to local markets where I got to know new vegetables I didn’t even know the existence of. I did this for six weeks and decided to move on to the next country.
When I arrived in Singapore I got a new project where I had to develop 3 different bar formulations for gym gurus for a client in London. I stayed in a house of a family that went to Europe for six weeks so I had to take care of their rabbits, cats and plants. It was the ideal time to do some food development! I went to the stores (Mustafa in the CBD, great shop!) and thankfully found the ingredients that I wanted for my development. High protein powders, glycerine, lecithin, etc, etc. I bought a good mixer and some other tools, made all my samples and posted them to London. Another client happy, plus I tasted all the delicious local food in the food hawkers all around Singapore!
Now I’m based in Sydney where I work with two clients from Australia and one from the US. Thanks to the internet I could buy some samples from the US plus being in Sydney makes it easier to buy all the ingredients that I need for my development. Working with clients from all over the world and being based in different locations gives me so much knowledge about the local food law, suppliers, food trends and ways of working culturally wise. I know that not every country gives me the freedom to buy the ingredients that I need but with my little box packed with modified starches, sugar replacers, emulsifiers and a good scale in my backpack, I know that I can keep developing wherever I am!
Thankfully no-one has taken me as a dealer of illegal substances!
So what’s next? Maybe an additional pH-meter for my ‘food development box’ and I have another project planned one hour from Melbourne where I will help a dairy farm with their ice-cream development. I will also keep applying for all sorts of projects on Kolabtree. Being a food freelancer is something I didn’t know it was possible a couple of years ago. Now it gives me the ultimate freedom and fills me with purpose!