Holly Strauch is proof that when you set your mind to something, you can achieve it. Since the eighth grade, the Chagrin Falls, Ohio native knew she wanted to work for Stouffer’s and not only did she make it happen, but she’s spent her entire career testing recipes, whipping up new ideas and helping the family-founded brand keep up with trends and innovations in the food space.
Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to visit the Stouffer’s Open Kitchen at the Nestle headquarters in Solon, Ohio. Stouffer’s wined and dined us for the better part of two days while introducing us to the brand’s hero products, including its world-famous Stouffer’s lasagna recipe, which was recently recreated using only the same ingredients you would make at home: handmade pasta, fresh cheese, house made sauce and the same fresh herbs you’d find in your own kitchen.
Even though we ate really, really well while we were visiting, the biggest treat of the weekend was partaking in a lasagna-making class led by Stouffer’s own chef Holly. We split into groups and tackled four different Stouffer’s lasagne recipes: Lasagna Italiano, Lasagna with Meat Sauce, Meat Lovers Lasagna, Five Cheese Lasagna. If you think this sounds like a lot of lasagna, then I’m here to tell you it was the perfect amount, maybe even not enough, lasagna.
At Stouffer’s, I fell in love with the vintage cookbooks and family recipes that have inspired some of the brand’s most popular dishes. Chef Holly, having worked her way up from an entry-level position at Stouffer’s to her current role as corporate chef, seemed to have some of the most interesting tidbits of knowledge about the history of the iconic brand. So, we chatted with Holly about what it’s like to spend her days in the test kitchen tooling with recipes, testing baked goods and living the culinary dream.
What was your first job out of college?
My first job out of college was working as a Research Assistant in Product Development for the Stouffer’s Food Corporation. Being a Cleveland native, and growing up going to Stouffer’s restaurants, I knew that I wanted to work for Stouffer’s since I was in the eighth grade. I pictured myself working in the Stouffer’s Restaurant Test Kitchen, so I went to college and pursued the necessary education to get me there.
Alas, when I submitted my resume, there were no jobs available. My resume was sent to product development in the frozen foods division, and I have been there ever since. It was such a thrill for me to see the products that I developed in the freezer section of grocery stores all across the country. I always have been a creative person, which has led me to my position of Corporate Chef.
You’ve been at your job a long time! You must love it. What is your favorite thing about Stouffer’s?
Stouffer’s is committed to making food with ingredients just like the average American would have in their own kitchen. We are working on making sure that all of our products meet this standard. As an added bonus, there is so much passion behind the brand.
How do you start each day? You must be busy!
I am very much a morning person, so I pretty much jump out of bed, shower, make a cup of coffee, and come into work around 6:00 a.m. I enjoy the early morning peace and quiet in the office.
What does your typical day include?
A typical day is answering e-mails, and then going into the Culinary Center to create ideas to inspire marketing in many different operating companies. We work on ideas for Prepared Foods, Pizza and Snacking, Baking, Coffee Mate, Ice Cream, Confections, and Tribe.
What is your favorite Stouffer’s recipe?
Macaroni and Cheese.
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
When I was a little girl, I had a much coveted autograph book. My mom wrote “Holly, always keep a smile on your face.” I heed her advice every day.
It’s 5:00 p.m. on a Friday. What’s in your glass?
One of my favorite wines from the Finger Lakes of New York, or an ice cold beer.
I was so surprised to learn that Stouffer’s began as a family business. What is one thing you wish everyone knew about Stouffers?
Abraham and Mahala Stouffer lived on a farm, and brought fresh buttermilk, three types of sandwiches, and Mahala’s famous deep-dish Dutch Apple Pies to their stand in downtown Cleveland during the work week. Their first restaurant opened in downtown Cleveland a few years later.
Tell us the secret to making the perfect lasagna!
Use the best ingredients, and layer with love.
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post on behalf of Stouffer’s. For additional information about the Stouffer’s brand, dishes and recipes, please visit their website.