Chef Diana Moles, vice president of research and development at Eli’s Cheesecakes in Chicago, Ill., has been a managerial pastry professional for 25 years. She has designed countless signature products and customized products for Eli’s commercial international customers. She was nominated for Pastry Chef of the Year in 2010. Moles began her pastry career as an apprentice with a European bakery in the Chicago area. She completed her professional training at the American Institute of Baking (AIB) and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Her most recently culinary inventions include Eli’s Honey Wildflower Cheesecake and a Honey Florentine Bar.
Q: Can you tell me about your background with Eli’s, how you got started 25 years ago and where your path with the company has taken you throughout the years?
A: I started my career at Eli’s in my early 20s as a cake decorator/research and development assistant. I realized then that I had a genuine passion and love of working with my hands to create quality products. I loved the process of creating a product from start to finish. I then became Employee of the Year and I knew I wanted to make this my life-long career. I was promoted to decorating supervisor while continuing to work in R&D. I was young and fearless. It was at this time that I began formal training at the CIA and AIB. I was promoted to manager of R&D, which allowed me to work very closely with operations. I was responsible for developing new products, training associates, etc. I was then promoted to Director of R&D. Recently I was promoted to vice president of research and development. I have had many mentors along the way who have helped me achieve success. My passion and drive are still what they were 25 years ago.
Q: What do you love most about your job?
A: I love that our company is 100 percent committed to producing quality products. We are proud to use the finest ingredients and search high and low for them. We stand behind all of our products and will not jeopardize quality or our brand name. I also like the artisinal aspect of my job. Making products in small batches allows us to produce a product that feels like it was made at home. Most importantly, I love the people. We empower our associates on a daily basis. There is a real sense of pride when you walk into our bakery and that is so motivating.
Q: Eli’s President Marc Schulman called you an inventor. How do you come up with ideas in the research and development department?
A: The great thing about my job is it allows me to be creative. I am fortunate to have been at Eli’s for many years working with every department and know what works in our bakery and what doesn’t. I can develop the greatest product, but it may not be a good fit for our bakery production. I am always reading new cookbooks, trade magazines, food magazines and dining out at restaurants. I follow the trends and try to incorporate my experiences in R&D.
Q: What do you love most about working with honey in your products?
A: I genuinely love the flavor of honey and I love the function. Honey is a natural humectant, which makes the most wonderful shelf stable products by retaining moisture.
Q: Newer honey products for Eli’s include the Wildflower Honey Cheesecake and the Honey Florentine Bar. I know you plan to sell the bar in the café and continue to show it to other customers. Do you have any further plans for both?
A: Absolutely! Both of these items are wonderful products. We continually meet and discuss what products we will launch for each segment and when. This is a team decision. We may develop a product that is ahead of its time with consumers. Therefore, we want to make sure that there is a demand for the product and we will see the results.
Q: Can you tell me about the new Mediterranean-themed cake idea for 2013 and how honey will be incorporated into that?
A: I wish I could, however, it has not been developed yet. We are doing our research at the moment and will start development shortly.
Q: Any other honey ideas for 2013?
A: Honey is a staple for me! You cannot clone the sweetness of honey or the natural humectant. It is one of my favorite ingredients to work with!