Derek’s Story

Behind every one of our nutritional solutions there is a dedicated team of people whose mission it is to make the lives of patients and healthcare professionals, easier. #NutriciaLife

Derek Clarke is a Nutricia team chef who also works with Matthew’s Friends and The Daisy Garland charities. His career started when he qualified as a Master Baker with Rank Hovis in 1992, and since then he has worked for top London hotels, opened a cake shop in Chester and made countless wedding cakes. Today, his work for Nutricia involves developing new recipes for ketogenic and metabolic diets.

I trained as a baker and confectioner and ended up working in London for a lady who concentrated on celebration cakes. We made the cakes for the Dorchester and the Savoy, celebrities, footballers - anybody that had the money to pay for these cakes. I did that for a few years - which was dead interesting - but eventually I opened my own cake shop in Chester.

Ten years ago, my godson Tylan was born with a metabolic disorder called PKU, which means he can’t eat any protein in his diet. So I started coming up with recipes and making food that he would be able to eat.

As it happens, there was an account manager for Nutricia who lived in Chester who got wind of what I was doing, paid me a visit and asked if I’d be interested in making a wedding cake for two patients with PKU that were getting married. After that I started doing some cooking demos with Nutricia and the role just spiralled from there, until about six years ago I started looking at the ketogenic diet as well as the metabolic diet.

Working for Nutricia has been great. My role is in specialist nutrition, so I get to see how they help adults, children, babies with allergies to cow’s milk, people on ketogenic and metabolic diets - they cover so many areas and help so many people. If I can take one of their products and turn it into a cupcake for someone with PKU, for example, I know I’m helping somebody out there who’s struggling. So that level of patient focus is wonderful to see and be part of. Danone is one of the biggest food companies in the world, but it’s even more than that when you realise Nutricia is part of it; when you think about all the science and the medical training that goes into their products, it’s just phenomenal.

Every day at work is completely different from me. I get to sit in on marketing department meetings, medical team meetings - things I never thought in a million years I’d be doing - and I’m learning so many things about all sorts of different conditions. Sometimes it just blows my mind, I’m learning new stuff all the time. Then I might go from a day of meetings to a day of filming in the kitchen - that involves a lot of food preparation, getting things ready to be filmed, or developing recipes. On other days I might just be experimenting with ingredients, trying to make something new. I had to come up with a purple cupcake for Rare Disease Day, and that involved finding a way to make a cupcake from boiling and mashing up beetroot!

When I’m developing a new recipe for people with a particular condition, my first point of call is always the medical team - so I can understand the foundations of the diet and what I can and can’t use, and then I’m able to build on that. I look at the properties of any Nutricia product that I’m using in the recipe, and to do that I need an overview of how it’s made. We’ve got a factory in Liverpool where our products are developed, and I like to think I’m geeky in the kitchen but those guys are super geeky. They’ll be able to tell me about the vitamin C content, what thickening agent is used, what temperature I can heat the product to, things like that. So I’ll go and chat to them and they might tell me I can’t apply too much heat, or that if I cool it below freezing point I’m going to destroy some of the vitamin C. This gives me an idea of the kind of recipes I can come up with for certain products.

Before I started working for Nutricia, especially in the metabolic category, there were a lot of recipes out there, but they were sort of spread across a variety of books and sources. Some recipes didn’t work, and in some cases the product had moved on a bit. When I started working for Nutricia, I wanted to produce a recipe folder that was filled with recipe cards catering to the low protein diet. I started with a collection of 60 baking recipes - bread, cupcakes, scones, biscuits and so on - and I worked my way through creating those recipes, baking them and photographing the finished products. It took a whole year, and once it was produced I was so proud of it. It was a huge learning curve. This year, I’ve done another collection of 50 recipes covering main courses and pasta. I thought really long and hard about how I’d want to use a collection of recipes if I was a parent cooking for a child with PKU.

With Nutricia, you know that whatever the condition, whatever the product they’re making, they’re not entering into it lightly - and I try to follow that example. There’s so much research that is done, and when you speak to anyone in the medical team they are so knowledgeable about their specific area - whether that be allergens, metabolic, ketogenic, dyshpagia or foetal growth - and every single product that is produced is there because a patient needs it. I’ve been doing some development work on a new ketogenic product, and it’s amazing to see the amount of effort and expertise that goes into making just one product to help one specific group of people who are actually quite a small market. Yet every single person involved in creating the product cares so much - whoever you speak to at Nutricia, you’ll always find they’re passionate about wanting the best for our patients.

Nutrition is such an important part of all our lives. Whenever you make food for someone - if I was to bring you a cake, for example - it just puts a smile on your face. There’s something about sharing food that just cheers people up. I think back to when I baked wedding cakes and how happy it would make people, and it’s the same feeling now, just in a different context; making food for people who have conditions that make it a lot harder to share and enjoy food. So if someone on a ketogenic or low protein diet comes up to me and says they loved my chocolate fudge recipe, that just feels amazing. Because sharing food is about sharing love.