Let’s Work Together to Deliver the Culinary Gold Standard
The culinary arts, previously confined to the backrooms of multi-star restaurants, are roaring into our hallowed food science profession. Chefs educated at more than 600 schools throughout the United States are now integral participants in the food product development process at virtually all major and most second-level food processing companies.
Professional chefs comprehend the consumer’s needs and desires. They translate inputs from the marketing research and sensory professionals into truly wondrous dishes with unsurpassed eye, nose, and mouth appeal—“gold standard” products. Call them recipes or formulas, they are generations removed from Mom’s and Grandma’s “a little bit of this and a little bit of that” that dominated our growing up, and from the food technologists’ laboratory mixes and blends.
The Research Chefs Association was founded a few short years ago to marry—or at least afiance—science and culinary arts, and it has since grown to more than 1,800 members. Among its other accomplishments, RCA has coined and trademarked the word Culinology to describe its profession—one that many food scientists and technologists are joining. RCA is also in the process of developing courses and curricula that will be offered by the University of Georgia, Clemson University, and others.
But the concept of closely linking creative culinary arts—food preparation and cooking—to the “hard-science” disciplines of nutrition, microbiology, biochemistry, sensory analysis, and packaging has not quite gelled yet. But progress is being made.
One example is a cooperative venture between RCA and the Institute of Food Technologists that will be presented at this year’s IFT Annual Meeting + Food Expo® in Las Vegas, Nev., July 12–16. In the New Product Development Pavilion on the Expo floor, top chefs will work side by side with food technologists to create new culinary “dishes on demand” using specific ingredients. Each product will be accompanied by formulations and interactive discussion of development steps.
What is the the value of a chef ’s outputs to food science and technology? The answer is that only food that is acceptable to—nay, that delights—target consumers drives sales that in turn generate the financial resources that power the food research and development engines. Since food is an integral of total quality whose reference is increasingly what the consumer experiences during fine dining, the more influence that chefs exert in food processing companies, the higher the quality level the food scientist/technologist is driven to preserve and protect. The new quality demands can be achieved primarily with the chef ’s education, skills, and experience
What is the value of food science and technology to the research chef? The answer is that translation of the chef ’s creative outputs into food products that directly pleasure consumer’s palates requires the science and technology and engineering and packaging and marketing that are the foundations of safety and quality retention in food. As the chef ’s effect on food marketers and their consumers becomes more apparent, the laboratory/pilot plant and the kitchen become more of a unit enterprise in which one cannot function without the other.
While the effective interaction of research chefs and food scientists/technologists encompasses a too-wide array of cutting, blending, heating, cooling, enhancing, and much more, one critical interface for the two disciplines is “Getting the gold standard to market,” a topic that was addressed by us during the RCA annual meeting in March.
This intriguing presentation title refers to a perceived paucity in many chefs’ knowledge and interest—the disposition of the product after development by the chef. Chefs apply their skills to “creating” and refining a product that meets or exceeds the target consumers’ expectations. But because the chef is not personally assigned to the consumer’s dining table, the chef ’s output must be translated into delivery to those target consumers.
And so, as we of IFT are drawn into a new world with the overt participation of chefs in our once-insulated realm, we are charged with a responsibility of responding positively to our new family member, the research chef.
Just as many chefs have recognized that science and technology is essential to transfer of their outputs, so must we accept and welcome these skilled artisans. They not only relieve us of the daunting challenge of translating consumer information into consumer foods, but also offer means to emphatically elate consumers. And delivery of safe, delicious, and nutritious food products to target consumers is the primary reason for the existence of food science and technology.
by MARK D. THOMAS
Chef and President, M.D.T. Ltd.
505 Avignon Ct.
Atlanta, GA 30350
by AARON L. BRODY
President and CEO,
Packaging/Brody, Inc., Duluth, Ga.