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A recent book, Eating in the Dark, discusses how in the late 1970s biotech companies petitioned the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, asking that the two agencies monitor biotech foods with an eye toward regulating the products of biotechnology, not the process itself. In a similar way, I feel that chefs in food technology are often the ones who should be providing the nuances of flavor, aroma, and appearance (the product) which prepared foods of the past so often lacked. Greater attention to tastes and flavors and better/different packaging are changing this dynamic. Technologists, by virtue of their training and experience are more generally focused on the nutritional content, safety and health issues, and the plant capability and packaging constraints they must overcome (the process).
Even in a perfect world, I believe chefs cannot be technologists and vice versa. Their passions are simply too divergent.
That perfect world did present me with a solution to this seemingly intractable dilemma. The Product Development Team approach, which Guy Livingston of Food Science Associates put together, provided the perfect blend of creative recipe development with practical and necessary plant and processing problem solving. Here’s how it worked.
In 1994, I sent an open letter to food consultants and technologists. I was not necessarily looking for a job at the time. I was more interested in learning about the field of food technology, and whether I should pursue a degree in that discipline. After nearly 20 years as a chef, I was floundering a little bit, and was unsure of what direction to follow. My letter led to so many interesting and informative meetings and discussions that I was just overwhelmed. I was, and continue to be, fascinated by the varied backgrounds and experiences of the food technologists I was privileged to meet. Carl Richter, Guy’s product development chef of many years, had recently and unexpectedly passed away. I suddenly found myself having to fill some very large shoes.
Like any professionals from different disciplines who are suddenly thrown together, Guy and I had to create a methodology for working and a language to use to communicate with each other. I was accustomed to dealing with chefs, suppliers and clients. Guy was accustomed to dealing with scientists, suppliers, and clients. Not so different, perhaps, but different enough.
As a chef/owner, I had felt that I was the final arbiter of taste and aroma for my restaurants. Everyone did not have to agree, and sometimes people did not. But in my kitchen, the recipes we used, the tastes we aimed to achieve, and the person we had to satisfy, was me, and, ultimately, of course, our clients. In a product development setting, I had to satisfy the client, the manufacturing needs of the plant and packaging process, sensory evaluation personnel and equipment, repeated ideation and iteration sessions with my team colleagues as well as with the clients, focus groups from all over the country, and my own senses of taste and aroma.
I had always felt that I was a fairly good communicator. But suddenly, the multitudes I had to communicate with on a daily basis were asking much more of me than they ever had before. Learning to successfully fit into these sessions and bring to them a value-added component as a food technology–trained chef was at once the most challenging and rewarding job of my life.
It is this aspect of the cross-training of food technologists as chefs and chefs as food technologists which I would like to address. I am proud as can be of my schooling at the Culinary Institute of America and cannot thank the program, chef-instructors, and fellow students enough for what I learned there and the doors which that education has opened up for me. On the other hand, I continually hear from chefs and human relations personnel that the biggest problem with new graduates of culinary institutions (and certainly not only the CIA) is their sense that they are trained chefs, ready to take the reins of America’s finest and most prestigious institutions.
Let’s face it. Two years at the CIA is not the equivalent of an education in the school of hard knocks. By the same token, a three-day program teaching CIA grads about food technology (or food technologists about professional kitchens) is barely going to scratch the surface. I think the basic idea is a great one, and should probably be incorporated into every culinary school and food technology program. But just as “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and “A little education is a dangerous thing,” I’m wary of programs which seem to promise too much. For the sake of the integrity of the Institute of Food Technologists and the Research Chefs Association, as well as those who successfully complete these programs, I hope that will not happen here.
—Harvey Neil (Hank) Kornfeld, Product Development Chef, Food Science Associates, Katona, N.Y.