By: Melinda Russell
When people have a passion for food they think that going to a culinary school is automatically the path to follow. Degrees, like food science and Culinology®, are not as well-known and a lot of people hear about them after receiving culinary training. Some chefs decide to change their career goal from becoming executive chef of a Michelin star restaurant to becoming head of the research and development department of a major food company. These professional chefs are starting to become more popular and bring a lot to the table—literally. They have the creative thinking that comes from conceptualizing new dishes for menu development, while also having education on the technology used in mass production of ready to eat products.
A recent IFT article spotlighted Heather Mendenhall (product development specialist, Georgia Nut Company), Yvette Pascua Cubides (senior research scientist, Hersey Company), and Paul Rockwell (RCA Board of Director and corporate chef, Diversified Foods & Seasonings) all started in the kitchen and have since moved into test kitchens for coveted food production companies. All three chefs described always wanting to figure out why certain reactions and outcomes were happening when composing dishes, and chose to go back to school for a food science degree. Culinary experience helped in obtaining food science degrees because they were able to visualize what they were being taught because they actually had experience with the science first hand in the kitchen. Chef Rockwell—who I was lucky enough to meet during his RCA Conference student-to-professional transition educational session—asserted having mastered the two disciplines helps him in his current job. When he makes a gold standard recipe he utilizes his culinary training, and he utilizes his food science knowledge to determine large scale formulations to develop shelf stable products.
As for going back to a restaurant kitchen, the chefs say that they would probably analyze and debate things a lot more now because they now have the scientific knowledge behind the cooking that is being done. The advice they have, as food scientists, for chefs is that there is science behind everything chefs do. Having the knowledge of the enzymes and reactions at play while cooking is very beneficial. The advice they have, as chefs, for food scientists is that in the end, food is food. Sometimes, it is beneficial to take a break from all of the science and visualize the basic tastes, appearance, and aromas that will be coming from the product that is being made.
Culinary training techniques equated with the knowledge from a food science degree can mold beautifully together. The combined knowledge can give a person a new, creative way to look at a product that food scientists would not have seen. A chefs place is no longer only in a restaurant kitchen.
Cover Photo PC: University of Guelph; https://www.uoguelph.ca/foodscience/news-item/food-science-students-win-2nd-research-chefs-association-student-culinology-competition