You know those lucky folks that turn their passion into a career? I’m proud to say I’m one of them.

My love for cooking was born from watching my mother and grandma making meals in the kitchen. As I got older, they gave me little tasks to help them, like washing and cutting the vegetables. Cooking with my family became my favorite ritual.

During that time, I started developing my basic taste palate through Vietnamese food – my family’s background is Vietnamese – like spicy, sour fish soup, fresh and country spring rolls, and sweet and salty braised pork belly. I enjoyed being able to describe the taste and learning what I liked and didn’t like about certain dishes.

Later, I worked in almost every role you can think of in the restaurant industry to support myself through college. After college, I had several positions in the food industry, working with formulators, recipe testing, sensory sampling, research and development (R&D), and technical operations.

Robert Tran Herbalife

For the last 15 years, I have put all those skills to practice at Herbalife Nutrition as a Culinary Manager.

What Does a Culinary Manager Do?

As a Culinary Manager for a global nutrition company, I have the joy and privilege of applying my experiences and love for food in a variety of ways. Here are a few ways:

Training Others on Sensory Evaluation

I train teammates from Quality, Marketing, R&D Formulation, and the general employee population on how to evaluate food and describe what they are tasting and feeling. Not everyone’s taste is the same, so we start with aligning on language: what is sweet, what is salty, what is bitter, what is creamy?

Once everyone understands and agrees on the basics, we can start going into more complex aspects like flavors – for example, the different components in vanilla – dairy notes, buttery notes, toffee notes, and molasses.

Robert Tran as Herbalife shake challenge judge

You can break things down, which I try to do for our panelists. My team also does product tests with employees and customers, where we compile a report of their experience that helps evaluate if a product needs any improvements or is ready to be launched.

Applying My Culinary Expertise at Events

I work with the Global Portfolio Marketing team to showcase a new product, a recipe, or product launches worldwide.

Depending on the theme, I can prepare something for 20 people, such as our Board of Directors, or prepare food for a thousand people an hour, as I did in our Detroit Extravaganza. I also get to do fun one-off events – we recently had a meeting with the LA Galaxy, and I was asked to try making shakes and beverages in the colors of the LA Galaxy: blue and yellow. I always love a challenge!

Robert Tran LA Galaxy Herbalife Event

Developing New Recipes

I work with the R&D formulators in the lab to come up with recipes that bring out the great taste of our products in creative and fun ways. When developing a recipe, I highlight our products as best as possible. I want them to be visually appealing, to add textures to enhance the tasting experience, and to deliver something unique so people can have a comprehensive experience when consuming our products. Susan Bowerman is our main recipe developer, and I enjoy working with her. We learn so much from each other.

Styling Food

I use my culinary and aesthetic skills to make our products look the best for media assets. I draw inspiration from distributors who make their shakes and teas look so vibrant that you just want to look at them and try them immediately. I try to pay homage to them for that. 

How My Role Contributes to Creating Best-in-Class Products

It’s really simple: if we don’t like what we eat, we’re not going to eat it again. Just like your favorite restaurant, there’s that one dish you always go back to.

Why? Because you love its taste consistently: your expectations are set, and you know they will be met.

Herbalife Protein Acai

Same thing for why sensory and culinary aspects are essential to make our products the best in class, particularly in three elements:

My team is driven to achieve top-quality taste, texture, and creativity to meet our customers’ high expectations.

Quality Food Is Also About Evoking Emotions

My dedication to my job stems from knowing that high-quality products go beyond just enjoying a tasty shake, tea, or snack. It’s about what those foods can evoke.

For example, I enjoy combining products when creating recipes, but my favorite Herbalife Nutrition shake is really simple: I use two scoops of our Formula 1 Orange Cream with two scoops of our Protein Drink Mix Vanilla. The reason I love that one is because it brings back childhood memories.

We were a big family of seven kids, so I hardly got to have alone time with my mother. But on the rare occasions, it was just her and me, we used to go to the mall, and at the end of the shopping trip, we would always get an orange smoothie and share it on the way home. The Formula 1 Orange Cream shake immediately takes me back to those summer afternoons, and I think that’s one of the most amazing effects good food can have.