John Matchuk

Meeting the Challenge
Chefs and food technologists must work well together to function well within a multi-disciplinary team. To illustrate this in an informative and entertaining approach, a Culinary Challenge was featured at the recent Midwest Food Processing Conference (see p. 71).

In the Challenge, which was organized by Jonathan Crossland, Chef at Illes Seasonings, and John Matchuk, Corporate Chef at T. Hasegawa USA, two-person teams consisting of a research chef and a food technologist from different companies were created and coached by a third culinary professional. The four teams were challenged to each develop a food product in one day and present it to the conference attendees the next day. The Challenge was not intended to be competitive but rather to be a collaborative exercise illustrating the synergy that can result from chefs and food technologists working together.

The teams were given a “pantry” of ingredients and were set free to create a new food product. Any potential menu item could be developed; the specific challenge was to maintain or enhance the flavors, textures, colors, and presentation aspects of their entry while enhancing its functional and/or nutritional aspects. Products were to reflect processing realities and ideally would be pilot-plant ready. Formulations and samples of the optimized products were to be produced to allow for conference evaluation and sampling the following day. This was the real “challenge” for the participants, as they had to not only conceive, develop, and optimize a product in one day but also provide 100 tasting samples to be served the following day.

The teams utilized the kitchen laboratory at Chef Solutions, Inc., Mt. Prospect, Ill. They all succeeded in producing wonderful products within the timelines.

What did the contestants gain from their participation? Here are two examples:
Jim Reynolds, Research Chef at Chef Solutions, benefited from new knowledge shared about crusts and bakery items, the expertise of his teammate Mark Schaefer, Technical Services Manager at Northwestern Foods. Schaefer received information and examples of flavor systems and product layering, Reynolds’ expertise. Just as a sandwich can exhibit different tastes by changing the ingredient’s location within the sandwich, their Whole Wheat & Flaxseed Pizza with Herb Chicken and Rosemary Sauce benefited from layers of flavors. They found that adding an olive oil layer dusted with kosher salt to the crust enhanced their product, an idea suggested by team coach Ron Jolicoeur, Research Chef at Griffith Laboratories.

What made their partnership effective, they said, was good communication skills, respect for the other’s discipline, and specific skills that the other partner lacked.

Anne Hildebrandt, Research Chef at T. Hasegawa USA, and Joy Isaacs, Food Technologist at Griffith Laboratories, coached by Christopher Hansen, Corporate Chef at Quest, developed Black Bean and Brown Rice Quesadilla with Chipotle Citrus Dipping Sauce.

Because we had but one day for prototype development and execution,” Hildebrandt said, “issues such as target demographics, price points, manufacturing issues, ingredient availability, and hard nutrition data were mentioned only briefly at best. And because we had virtually no time to spend on the logistical/extraneous issues, it made me realize how truly important they are. Challenges that we faced included freeze-thaw stability, pH, and ingredient availability—concerns that can turn a great concept into a success or a failure.

“What I gained from this experience,” she added, “is the appreciation that the product development process does not exist in a vacuum. The combined efforts of the research chef and the food technologist (and others) are integral for any product to make it from idea to reality.” Each team participant contributed his or her strengths, and each deferred to his or her partner’s strengths. The food scientists contributed the ability to foresee and control outcomes via experience, practicality, desire to limit variables to know for sure what is causing change in the formulation, questioning, and a big-picture perspective which included both scalability and processing realities. The chefs chose the menu category, which led to selection of an item, which led to the flavors and textures involved.

Whether in the workplace or the workshop, team members must expand their capabilities. A chef who embraces the “scientific method” and a food scientist who has an intuitive grasp of ingredients and global cookery are both powerful agents for change and innovation. Management should plan to nurture both types of professionals through cross training to help them embrace the other’s skills and mindset. Exercises such as the Culinary Challenge can help.

by JOHN MATCHUK, Corporate Chef
T. Hasegawa USA
Chicago Culinary Center
Northbrook, Ill.