How Executive Chef Gary Patterson is Protecting the Future of Flavor Around the Globe
Raised on a farm in northern Maryland, Gary Patterson was no stranger to building fences, tending to animals, and constructing barns while growing up. But his introduction to the culinary world only came after he started working at a local restaurant in high school. By his senior year, his fondness of cooking had grown, and he wanted to learn more. When he decided not to enroll in a welding class at school like he originally planned, and instead sign up for a food service class, he was unaware that his decision would set the wheels in motion for what would become his lifelong passion. Today, Gary is the Executive Research Chef & Senior Director of Culinary at McCormick. He has spent his entire career in the food industry.
After completing a three-year culinary apprenticeship at Walt Disney World, Gary spent 21 years as a Chef and Manager at Disney – opening, closing, and renovating restaurants and training the culinary team on the Disney Magic cruise ships, parks, and resorts. Those experiences have given him credibility and recognition within the industry, respect from his peers, as well as the ability to relate well to customers and see situations from their perspective.
During his first interview at McCormick more than 10 years ago, he conducted a live cooking demo. He was interviewing for an R&D Chef position in the Technical Innovation Center. Rather than just talking about what his skills were, he believed it was important to show how he would use those skills to give a heart and soul to the job at hand. “I wanted people to experience cooking – to make it real for them – the sounds, smells, tastes, sights – everything,” Gary recalled. And it worked – the experience he created in the kitchen became the beginning of a career with McCormick.
In his current role, Gary’s work impacts the future of flavor on a daily basis. As a leader of Flavor Forecast, a platform of 47 chefs from around the world who bring consumers the latest and newest in flavor, he and his team are teaching and inspiring in kitchens all over the globe. Through video series, podcast episodes, and social content, they ignite flavor conversations and educate alongside thought leaders in food, culture, and innovation. In non-COVID-19 times, the team typically travels to destinations across the globe to report on flavor discoveries through imagery, video, and perspectives on the future of flavor. They encourage consumers to be creative and share their perspectives with McCormick’s flavor experts. “Every culture has a flavor that defines itself and we invite consumers to join our collective journey into those different cultures, regions, and the flavors found therein,” Gary says.
A self-described “disruptive thinker,” Gary believes that the status quo is never good enough and we should always strive to do better. “It’s a powerful message to deliver in everything we do – from creating seasonings, sauces, and flavors to writing recipes for chefs and producing digital content for consumers,” he acknowledged. “But the power of people is equally important and we all need to be the best we can be. As a McCormick mentor and manager, I significantly impact and strengthen the power of our people by managing to get results. I help people feel valued, give them a sense of purpose, and allow them to grow their careers,” he shared. He understands that positive motivation and reinforcement make people feel fulfilled, like they are contributing to the bigger picture. And having open, honest, and respectful conversations every day – not just during review time – shows them that I want them to succeed. At the end of the day, he sees his team as a reflection of himself and believes he is only a good leader if he respects, appreciates, and values everyone, and helps them move toward a common purpose.
Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gary and the culinary team have been busier than ever. Between social media posts, webinars, demos, and customer trainings, they have produced countless videos, allowing them to connect with customers without having to travel to them. “The best brand advocates are those we teach, inspire, and connect with, so the benefits of our efforts are far-reaching and long-term,” he claimed. “We have one of the most, if not the most, technically advanced culinary centers in the country and our chefs spend 60-70 percent of their time in the kitchen, connecting with business owners, chefs, parents, and individuals who want to create and enjoy good food,” he reported. The team also audited 300 recipes, created 60 new recipes, and began plans for a global recipe writing style guide, which would allow for more consistency and better alignment across McCormick kitchens around the globe.
Gary’s positive, optimistic personality is contagious. And his passion for food and flavor has helped contributed to McCormick’s vision for the future, giving the culinary team the drive not only to perform now but in the future. “I stand for the future of flavor by embracing the differences in people and their passion for flavor, for making food taste great, for inspiring others, and by valuing each person for who they are,” he says. “I believe delicious food has the power to bring people together – friends as well as strangers.”
Gary believes that the power of sharing and connecting over a good meal could change the world for the better.