The Story Behind the Traveling Culinarist !
“I learned my first lesson about trying to scale too quickly “
By Vaughn Trannon
When I first had the moment of insight that led to the Traveling Culinarist product line, I was in a Paris airport. I saw a pilot walking by in a clean, pressed uniform embodying the image of crisp and polished professionalism. The final piece snapped into place at that moment for a concept I had been developing in my mind for some time. My experience as a traveling personal chef had revealed an unmet need in the marketplace. I needed a more rugged and durable bag to transport my knives, spices, uniform and other critical items. I had looked high and low for a product that could meet my needs and had not found anything suitable.
It was 2005 when I started working on the concept for the Sous Culinarist and started the patent application process. I quickly began to gain a new appreciation of the work that goes into product design. Fitting all of the necessary elements into a single product proved to be a challenge that involved a lot of trial and error. My culinary experience turned out to be an asset throughout the process. In some ways, designing a product is a lot like putting together a new dish. You can start with a basic recipe, and you usually end up making modifications as you go along.
I initially had started subsequent designs. Designing the product for my own use, but I also collected feedback from a number of other professional chefs and some dieticians to make sure that I was not overlooking any needed features for the bags. The input of my peers confirmed much of what I had already concluded. I have continued to incorporate their feedback into
“My culinary experience turned out to be an asset throughout the process. In some ways, designing a product is a lot like putting together a new dish. You can start with a basic recipe, and you usually end up making modifications as you go along.”
After that first flash of inspiration in the airport, I immediately began sketching out the design for my first product, the Sous Culinarist. I started by laying out the “must have” features for the bag. It needed to have a durable frame that could withstand abuse without bring easily bent or damaged, spill-proof pockets (to store jars of spices without staining white uniform garments), tough exterior fabric that would not rip or tear easily, interior compartments that would make it easy to pack everything compactly, and an aesthetic look and feel that would convey a classy image and would complement my uniform well.
After identifying the essential elements, the next step was to identify a design concept that could successfully incorporate all of those elements. I searched around for a design model and found a pilot’s case that was similar in some ways to the product I was creating. Using this product as a starting point, I modified the design and added the missing pieces. For examples, I added a pouch in the side pocket to place a pair of tongs and a place in the front lip to store knives.
I drew up some rough sketches and laid out my best conception of what I thought the product would look like. I reached out to my friend, an artist and designer, to help me draw up the final design for the prototype with the dimensions included. My friend understood what we needed for the product—including stability, strength and the types of materials that we would need to store sharp knives. We sent the drawing off to a local manufacturer to have the prototype built.
I learned my first lesson about trying to scale too quickly when I contracted with a Chinese manufacturer to create my bags. I had heard that there were advantages to working with a large manufacturer. I had a negative experience with the company that I contracted to produce the first batch of bags. When I received the first shipment, the quality was very poor. I knew immediately that the product was not one that I could feel proud to put my name on. I sent all of the bags back to the manufacturer and never worked with them again. Not too long after that, I found a US-based manufacturing partner who delivered much better quality. Since then, all of my products have been made in the USA. One big take-away from this experience was that it is advantageous to start small and work with someone local. It may seem advantageous to buy in large quantity to get bulk pricing, but my experience taught me that this is not really a good deal until the concept and the process are fully proven out.
Each step of this journey has been a powerful learning experience. If you are considering developing your own product, remember that it’s not about trying to come up with the perfect idea in one fell swoop. Be prepared to “fail forward” without getting discouraged or giving up. Your first product may not be a big hit, and that’s fine. The key is to keep moving forward, learning and keep improving.