ICE Alum Cindy Gilbert Leads the Test Kitchen at McCormick Spices
Cindy Gilbert knew early on in her career that the test kitchen environment suited her personality perfectly.
“I’m very Type A, so I found the minutiae fascinating,” she says. Ten years later, you can thank her for all the McCormick spice recipes you love.
It wasn’t long into her first job out of college at New York City's famed Christie’s Auction House that Chef Cindy realized she was more invested in the food and beverage scene than she was in the art world. "I would love to do this for my job," she recalls.
That spark of joy and nights spent pouring over recipe development “deep-dives” in old editions of Cook’s Illustrated magazine prompted Chef Cindy to take the leap into the culinary world.
Starting with a job in the catering wing of Dean & Deluca, she eventually landed an internship at "America’s Test Kitchen" in Boston. There, she got her first real taste of restaurant life, working in the test kitchen by day and as a line cook at an upscale seafood restaurant at night. “It was interesting to see the opposite ends of the spectrum, where these test cooks would spend six months on a single recipe, versus a restaurant where you're [focused on] getting stuff out the door as quickly as possible,” she says.
This dichotomy deepened Chef Cindy’s confidence that the test kitchen was the right place for her. “I fell in love with recipe development, and I knew I needed a culinary school [education],” she says. This led to Chef Cindy moving back to the New York City area — and back in with her parents — to commit herself fully to maximizing her education in ICE’s Culinary Arts program.
ICE’s convenience and schedule options played a significant role in her decision. "I chose ICE because I could complete my training in the shortest amount of time possible," she says. “I really enjoyed the different types of programs that they had available for whatever your lifestyle dictated…I was able to devote my whole brain to my culinary education.”
Beyond the practical benefits, Chef Cindy fondly remembers her time as a student. “I look back at my time at ICE as so fun, like when you’re leaving class delighted with what you just learned,” she says. “It’s so great to learn about something you feel really passionate about.”
ICE’s Career Services team helped her secure an externship back in the test kitchen environment, this time at Good Housekeeping. This led to a full-time position as an associate editor in the test kitchen at Family Circle, which Chef Cindy called “a dream come true.”
The next few years brought a move to Maryland, marriage and children, and saw Chef Cindy in various consulting roles, developing recipes from her home kitchen for everything from yogurt brands to olive oil companies.
By 2014, Chef Cindy had secured her first research and development role with a small spice company where she started to develop a depth of knowledge around product development. The jobs that came after continued to be R&D-focused until she finally secured her current role as Culinary Development Manager at McCormick & Company®. “Working at McCormick was always the goal,” says Chef Cindy. "I kept a very close eye on their job listings page and would apply for everything under the sun, even stuff I wasn’t qualified for." It was a connection from her very first job at Family Circle that finally helped her break into the company. "I didn't give up, so perseverance definitely paid off, and I am never leaving."
So what exactly does a Culinary Development Manager do? Not to be confused with the product development team, which Chef Cindy describes as the "scientists who are actually mixing the seasoning blends together in a lab setting, where they expect you to have a college degree in R&D or food science,” her role in the development step is to determine the best way for these flavors to be tasted.
"When I was working on holiday-themed sugars, such as the English Toffee Sugar, the starting point for testing it was on vanilla ice cream," she says. Once the spice blends have been finalized, Chef Cindy and her team really get to work, developing recipes to be used on the product bottle, the product’s page of the McCormick website and by the sales team when pitching to major distributors like Walmart and other consumer-facing grocery stores.
With almost 20 years of experience in the industry across nearly a dozen different roles, Chef Cindy has some advice for the next generation. "The food industry is going in so many different directions that there are a lot of different avenues you could go down," she says. "Explore what kind of job opportunities exist within those spaces [and] determine what kind of work environment you feel best in."
She cites PR agencies and companies that create menu items for national chain restaurants as examples of roles that many people just starting their career in recipe development don’t realize are available. She also encourages people to search for food product companies they love.
At the end of the day, her biggest advice is to remain optimistic and tenacious.
"You never know where it could lead."