Meet our Team: Payton Irlbeck, Culinary Intern

By June 22, 2016KOR News

Payton_ColorGrowing up in a small town in Iowa, Payton has always had a deep appreciation for food and how it comes to our plate. Working in the garden and preparing food straight from there fed her desire to work with food as a career. Her passion for fresh food and sustainability in the food industry lead her to graduate from Southwest Minnesota State University with a degree in Culinology® and a minor in Nutrition. While in college, Payton experienced restaurant life while interning at a local restaurant and helping lead the student-run restaurant on campus. She also has had experience working in food production facilities, which helps her understand how food is produced once a concept is sent to be manufactured large-scale.

Payton is a member of the Research Chef’s Association (RCA) and competed in the 2016 RCA Culinology® competition. Working closely with her team, she learned the ins and outs of product development while also further expanding her knowledge of food production. From her team’s performance in the competition, the US Dry Pea and Lentil Council invited them to the 2016 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) to represent the United States in a series of presentations highlighting pulses.

Payton’s roots have led her to have an extreme passion for sustainable, healthy, and fresh foods. In her free time, she enjoys tending to her vegetable plants, browsing all the local grocery stores for new products to study, and experimenting with new and unusual ingredients. Outside of food, Payton loves to play rugby, read, and do anything that keeps her active.


When did you realize that you wanted to begin a career that’s surrounded by food?

For the longest time, I had always wanted to be a veterinarian, but I realized sometime around middle school that I wasn’t really passionate about it. I wanted to be a vet because they made good money and I wanted to help animals, but there was no deep, driving desire to become one. So I looked around me and took notice of what I loved most: food. I would rush home after school to help my mom with supper and picking vegetables in the garden. I would talk about food to all my classmates to the point they would beg me to stop. I watched Food Network religiously and fought my sisters to maintain control of the TV remote. I needed to be in the food industry. It was what I loved, what I was passionate about, and what I ended up doing with my career.

What goals – short or long-term – have you set for yourself professionally or personally?

Really, my goals are pretty simple. I want to find a job or career that I can follow my personal philosophies on and be happy. I want to work to make people’s lives better and healthier. It’s always hard for me to set concrete long-term goals because I never know what choices I make will lead me in the right direction, but I do have some short-term goals. Professionally speaking, I am always making an effort to expand my network of connections. Personally, my goals include things like going surfing, getting my yoga instructor certification, sky-diving, and eventually a triathlon.

What inspires you to stay sharp and up-to-date in the industry?

Every once in a while, something in the food industry really strikes me as ingenious or jaw-dropping and it’s these nuggets of inspiration are what keep me coming back for more. I love when a person finds new ways to use ingredients or pairs a new set of flavors together because I probably would not have thought of them myself. It keeps my creativity flowing and is also important for development. The food news that we read shows what people are looking for and what they’re craving for, so I can better decide what foods we should produce.

What do you always have in your refrigerator or freezer?

There are a few things that I always will have on hand at home. Definitely lots of fresh vegetables and fruits. Guaranteed, I will always have broccoli, carrots, and apples. I also will always have a carton of cashew milk for chocolate Mini-Wheates (my kryptonite). For the freezer? Not too much different. I will always have bags of mixed vegetables for quick stir frys or soups. Occasionally, I will divulge in another food weakness and have fudge pops sitting in my freezer waiting for me to devour them on a hot day or after a good workout. My pantry is a much more exciting place with spices from ras el hanout to sumac to several different curry spices and a never-ending supply of lentils and kettle corn.

What is your spirit vegetable? Why?

There are so many vegetables that speak to my soul that this is a hard one! Considering I have a t-shirt that says “Hi, my name is Payton and I like kale,” I think I will run with that. Kale is versatile and a superfood, so it’s hardworking and giving. Kale is always shows up in places you least expect it and can surprise people with what it’s capable of, something I always strive to do. The only thing kale and I disagree on is that kale holds up to heat well, while I much prefer cold and snow.