By: Philip Saneski
Featured Culinologist: Eric Iserman, Product Development/QA Associate Research Chef Save-A-Lot Food Store
How did you discover Culinology®? Can you briefly talk about your RCA involvement?Through my purchasing instructor in culinary school. I was having a discussion with him one day after class about my plans following graduation. I told him that I love everything about food & cooking, but have absolutely no interest in the restaurant industry. He introduced me to Culinology. I competed in the student competition twice; was a poster presentation co-author, and have been on the student membership subcommittee since July of 2014.
You were in the RCA Student Culinology® Competition. For students who have never competed, can you tell us about your experience?
The competition was an amazing and rewarding experience, but also extremely challenging for two different reasons. First, the proposal and product development aspects forced me to draw on all of the knowledge and experience gained through classes and projects. The competition validated all of the coursework I completed, and I never thought “When will I ever use this info?” in class again.
Second, and what I found more challenging, was the time commitment required. Between ideation, proposal writing, team meetings, development time, testing, and ingredient shopping, I spent around 20 hours per week preparing for the competition. Along with full-time classes and a part-time job, that doesn’t leave a busy junior/senior with much free time.
How did you find your current job?
By being actively involved with the Culinology department at school and the RCA. I was recommended for the position by my department head at the time, and hired by the director of product development and quality assurance at Save-A-Lot who I networked with at the 2014 RCA conference.
What does your schedule look like this week at Save-A-Lot?
My role with Save-A-Lot is multi-faceted and I get to wear a lot of hats (which, thanks to a Culinology background is no problem at all!). This week is probably descriptive sensory analysis of around 10 SKUs, finished product specification review, recipe development for package design & social media, exploratory product cuttings with procurement, and product reformulation conference calls with vendors.
In your professional opinion, where can we find the best barbeque in St. Louis?
Sugarfire Smokehouse. I’m a sauce man when it comes to BBQ; and I typically prefer Carolina style sauces (vinegar or mustard based). One of Sugarfire’s house-made sauces is a sweet molasses sauce, but has an anise/licorice flavor that I just can’t get enough of. Oh, and all of the meat is skillfully smoked of course.
What do you like to cook at home?
I like to say that my favorite food is “slop over rice”. So if I’m cooking at home, it’s usually soup or stew over a delicious form of carbohydrates. Lately I’ve been into making buttermilk biscuits and topping them with gumbo. Biscuits and Gumbo! Yum!
Who are you most looking forward to seeing at the annual RCA Conference?
Michael Cheng. He has always been one of my biggest cheerleaders both academically and professionally. I credit so much of my personal and career success to his support; and can confidently say that I would not be where I am today without him.
What are the benefits of student members who attend the annual RCA Conference?
Networking, and the opportunity to ask questions. Session speakers and exhibitors aren’t just potential future employers/colleagues, they’re also experts in the area of the products or services they’re representing. Take advantage of having a captive technical professional audience, and ask any questions you can think of. You’ll find that many professionals are just as eager to teach as you are to learn.
What advice do you have for students trying to land their first entry-level job?
Don’t give up! Do your homework before applying and interviewing. Vigorously research the companies you’re applying to work for. Understand their unique business ethos and goals; and leverage that knowledge for every application and interview. You will be much more confident and nimble when communicating; and interviewers will notice that you care enough to have done your homework.
How has the RCA recently affected your own professional growth and opportunities?
Back in October I was contacted by Catherine Proper to speak at one of the 2016 RCA conference breakout sessions. To practice for the conference, I built a 45 minute presentation about food preservatives; and presented it to Save-A-Lot’s procurement team (about 50 people). Since presenting, I’ve become more confident speaking about food science to large crowds of my peers; and the networking value that comes with speaking at the RCA conference is incredible.