Every month we’ll be spotlighting a different Woodlands employee to connect you with our team and feature what they do day-in and day-out to keep their department running smoothly. We appreciate our hard-working employees and want you to get to know them!

Rocky Packard came to Woodlands from the restaurant industry nearly 20 years ago. His experience, great taste and discipline are a huge reason why our prepared foods are consistently delicious, and Woodlands is very lucky to have him.

Can you describe your job for us?

I mostly work at Woodlands’ commissary in San Rafael, the production kitchen where we prepare all our Grab-and-Go deli meals and catered foods. I drive our research and development and help come up with new dishes, streamline labor and fine-tune existing recipes.

I’m in the commissary around 60 to 70 percent of the time, helping to prepare and craft recipes. The remainder of my time is spent in the stores and the Café, where I watch for quality control. It’s my job to make sure that we train employees on how to prepare and present our products in the best way possible.

What is your background in food service?

I’ve been in food service for 40-plus years, as a classically trained chef. I joined Woodlands Market in 2000, at the Kentfield store. I left in 2008 to pursue other opportunities that included working at a non-profit, Homeward Bound of Marin. I taught in their culinary training program, where homeless clients could learn culinary work and get a job as a line chef.

I came back to Woodlands in 2016 and ran the Café for about a year and a half before I was asked to help open the San Francisco Market. I now work with the Deli and store managers at all Woodlands locations to make sure our prepared food is the best it can possibly be.

What does a typical week at Woodlands look like for you?

I start each week out in the field, checking what’s being done in-store. I make sure everything is cooked properly, inventories are in-line and orders are made appropriately. By the end of the week, I’m back at the commissary to work on fixing any issues I may have found. This includes working with our cooks on optimal food preparation, to make sure our customers get the proper experience from Woodlands.

We prepare our Grab-and-Go meals at the commissary: salads, entrees, dips and everything else. The proteins, vegetables and side dishes served at our hot bars, which I also oversee, are the only food we prepare in-store.

Because we prepare food on such a large scale, it’s essential to train and mentor employees to make sure they follow practices and procedures properly. Take seasoning food: adding salt and pepper properly is a major educational point for me and the cooks. I always emphasize that cooks should taste the food as they prepare it and as it comes across their stations.

Tasting is easily the most important factor in being a good cook and is probably the single most important thing I teach people about food. If it doesn’t taste good in the kitchen, it won’t taste good in the store. You can spend hundreds of dollars on a meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant, but if it’s not seasoned right, you just wasted a lot of money.

How has Woodlands’ deli menu changed over the years?

Ten or 12 years ago I would have never thought that gluten-free would be as big a category as it is now. We also recently introduced a line of healthy-living salads that are very low on carbs. They have no added sugars or fake ingredients, and they’ve gone over very well. We’re now looking to develop an entrée line along the same lines: protein-based with lots of vegetables and grains.

At the same time, we’re dropping many of the old standards that just don’t move like they used to. We used to have a huge pasta selection, but people don’t like carbs as much as they did years ago.

My job is currently a bit of a challenge, as we have three stores with three totally different demographics. It’s tricky to please everyone at the same time. All you can hope is that whatever new item you introduce will work for all three demographics.

How do you go about developing new dishes?

First, I prepare a prototype. Then I sit down with the managers and try to tweak the recipe. If we like it and think that can work for the stores, I write a large-scale recipe, with a procedure simple enough to convey to a cook down the line.

I’ve been doing this so long that really high-end, white-table restaurants don’t really do it for me anymore. I’ve gotten to the point where, if I have five or six really high-end ingredients in a single dish, it works. A lot can be said for simplicity.

What’s your favorite part of working at Woodlands?

I really appreciate that Woodlands is family-owned, and that the Santa family is local and active in running the business on a daily basis. They have been very generous about giving back to the community and taking care of their employees. The customers, especially here in Kentfield, are also very loyal. When I rejoined Woodlands after almost a decade away, it was so great to get back to the customer service part of the job and see faces I knew from 10 years ago.

I delivered a hot meal to an older customer with health issues on Christmas Eve, and it made my day. Her face brightened up when I knocked on the door, she got some food, and everyone was happy. That’s really what this job is all about for me.