Have you ever tried the cherry chicken pasta salad from the Lunds & Byerlys deli? If you have and you loved it—and that would make you part of a very large group—you can thank Tim Tesch. For the past 20 years, Tesch has worked for Lunds & Byerlys, helping to broaden the number and types of offerings sold in its deli departments.
Tesch is a long-time presence on Minnesota’s food scene. He earned a culinary degree from Hennepin Technical College’s Eden Prairie campus and opened the second Applebee’s in the Twin Cities in 1986. From there he landed in kitchens at Mama D’s and Rupert’s American Café, and he also spent some time as a bartender before being hired as a sous chef at Mystic Lake Casino’s restaurants. “Mystic was a great opportunity for me,” Tesch says. “The executive chef at the time let the other chefs explore their creativity. I learned a lot about big-batch cooking.”
Those were skills that brought him to Lunds & Byerlys three years later, where he is now the senior executive chef for product development. “Lunds & Byerlys really wanted to expand their culinary offerings and was really focused on the deli,” Tesch says. “I needed to be able to develop recipes that would scale for 27 stores. I might need a 1-gallon vat of something, or a 1,200-pound batch of something.”
He notes that Lunds & Byerlys has two central manufacturing facilities, one primarily for frozen foods and the other for the deli, salad bar, meal replacements and sandwiches. The latter also serves as the central baking facility.
But his work has him in frequent contact with people on the retail side of things. “I need to know what they’re looking for, what the trends are, what customers are asking about,” he says. “Then I design the products and move into manufacturing to see what we can do. Not all things work on a mass scale. For example, basil salads are hard to mass produce because basil isn’t very shelf-stable.”
He interacts with the deli staff daily. “They’re very honest: ‘This one’s a winner, this one’s a loser, this one needs work,’” he says. Some of that feedback comes from comments customers have made to deli staff in the stores. So in other words, if you’re offered a sample at a store, they really are interested in hearing your honest opinion, and if you have constructive feedback, be sure to share it.
Sometimes the recipes he develops have a short-term application, such as a fresh guacamole he developed for Cinco de Mayo. “I had to quickly prepare 900 pounds of guacamole,” he says. “That involved having to track down a source for fresh avocado pulp.”
Developing recipes for Lunds & Byerlys requires him to put aside his personal tastes and preferences. “It’s not always about the flavors I like,” he says. “It’s about what the consumers like. I design around what consumers are looking for. I spend a lot of my time researching.”
But as much time as he spends developing foods to tantalize Lunds & Byerlys customers, he also spends time in his own kitchen, developing personal salad dressing and barbecue sauce recipes for what is a small but growing market: customers in the Waconia area.
“This all started eight years ago,” Tesch says. “My wife, Rhonda, brought home a salad from a restaurant and told me, ‘You have to figure out how to make this dressing.’ So I did, and I started selling it on a small scale. It sold like crazy, so I joined the Waconia Farm Market and started selling there every other Saturday.”
He’s got four core dressing flavors: apple cider vinaigrette, Baha (a Southwest-flavored dressing), pomegranate vinaigrette and a balsamic vinaigrette. “But I play around with customers’ suggestions, too,” he says.
He just started working with barbecue sauce recipes. “I wanted to expose Minnesotans to more than just the usual sweet and tangy sauce,” he said. “My Carolina Gold sauce is mustard-based. People haven’t seen much of that here, and they love it. And it gives me an opportunity to play around.”
Unfortunately, the Waconia Farm Market did not open in 2016 due to volunteer and financial issues, but Tesch hopes the market can return in 2017. “I’m very passionate about the farm market,” he says. “I really try to get people to buy local.”
Why doesn’t he sell Tesch House products at Lunds & Byerlys? “Conflict of interest,” he says. “I can’t sell my dressings and sauces at Lunds & Byerlys to compete with things they’ve developed, just like I can’t use proprietary recipes I developed for Lunds & Byerlys under the Tesch House name.”
The market’s closing for 2016 might have been a slight blessing for Tesch—it freed up some time for other pursuits. “I’m heading up the community dinner at my church,” he says. “We put it on for a free-will offering. It’s a lot of work, but so worthwhile.”