Chef Carlos Acevedos draws on experience as he prepares to create Yesway’s signature dish and core menu.
By Erin Del Conte, Senior Editor
Chef Carlos Acevedos joined the Yesway team as culinary innovation and research chef in October, and is set to drive new food initiatives and create unique food concepts for the chain in 2018.
“My mission is to create food that will intrigue and delight Yesway customers, and I have broad latitude to explore and experiment. For a chef, it doesn’t get any better than that,” Acevedos told CSD.
CSD is recognizing Acevedos as a Foodservice Frontrunner for his depth of foodservice expertise, as well as his innovation and role in developing Yesway’s foodservice program.
Acevedos said 2018 should be an action-packed year at Des Moines, Iowa-based Yesway, which has 80 locations and touts an aggressive expansion plan.
“It’s what we are calling our ‘year of operations,’ and that includes foodservice in a big way,” said Acevedos. “The director of foodservice, Frank White, and I have a calendar full of big plans and chief among them is the development of our signature dish, that key food item that will embody Yesway’s foodservice personality.”
“Additionally, we will be fleshing out our core menu and ideating a quick-service-restaurant concept. There will be a lot of taste panels, for sure,” he said. Recently, the first recipes were moving through the development process.
He’s currently compiling ideas for recipes to pursue throughout the year. Aside from considering trends, he focuses on empathy. “My best dishes inevitably come when I put myself in the customer’s shoes to understand what they want, need or crave,” he said.
He also listens. “There are hundreds of employees at Yesway, and they all have good ideas. To that end, I recently issued a company-wide invitation to send these gems my way. The more I get the better!”
STEPS FOR SUCCESS
Before joining the Yesway team, Acevedos served as test kitchen director for Grey Dog Media, overseeing recipe development for custom food magazines. His career includes experience as the restaurant critic for The Des Moines Register, senior food editor at Better Homes & Gardens and food editor for cuisine at Home magazine. That’s in addition to working as a chef at restaurants in New York City and Washington state.
He also served as a staff sergeant in the Air National Guard, and with the U.S. Coast Guard as a search and rescue expert. He has a bachelor’s in culinary arts from the Culinary Institute of America, and a bachelor’s in journalism with honors from Eastern Washington University.
These jobs helped prepare him for his current role in many ways.
“They taught me how to marry the creative side of the brain—where you are imagining all the deliciousness you want to explore—with the rational side of the brain, where you temper that revelry with discipline in order to produce tangible results on time and to spec,” Acevedos said. “Without the creative side, recipe developers run the risk of being boring. Without the rationale side, they run the risk of just playing with food all day long.”
It also taught him accuracy and speed.
“At one point, I was developing hundreds of recipes a year and to be frank, deficiencies—in the look, the flavor, the texture or even in the written directions—were not an option,” said Acevedos. “That level of accuracy requires professionalism and focus.”
He learned how to guide a team through the creative process. “I believe that collaboration is one of most important arrows in a recipe developer’s quiver,” he said.
“So is research.”
Over the years, he’s learned how to get the information he needs effectively and quickly.
“Time is a finite resource and the sooner you start cooking and working through concepts, the better,” he said.
His experiences also taught him about cultivating a good attitude.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about you, it’s about the customer. So the research chef, the innovation chef, needs to take ego out of the equation,” Acevedos said. “You can put your heart into your food, for sure, and certainly it is important to let your aesthetic guide how you cook, but you also have to listen and learn from feedback and are prepared to adjust, tweak, refine or even take a recipe back to the drawing board if necessary in order to achieve success.”