The One-Two Punch of Food Science and Culinary Arts

In the world of product development, food scientists are often battling with chefs. We challenge each other on commercialization, equipment, and making a gold standard recipe scalable. Each party has an idea of what our product ultimately will be, and it is our battle — and our collaboration — that ultimately rules the day. The winner of our development process is always the customer.

Chef Eric Nakata and I had the pleasure of representing S&D and participating in a Research Chefs’ Association (RCA) Panel at Johnson and Wales University to discuss the differences between a food scientist and a research chef, the collaboration of the food scientist and research chef, and opportunities in the industry for both. We also touched on the emergence of the culinologist — a new hybrid scientist-chef. Johnson and Wales is launching a culinology degree program in Fall 2017, which will prepare students for employment in food manufacturing.

One of the panel topics that both chefs and scientists could agree upon was the importance of teamwork and checking your ego at the door. A scientist looks at food through the lens of process, scalability and consistency. A chef focuses on the importance of a food’s aroma, texture and flavor. These views must collaborate and fight for a compromise that brings into focus the customer’s objective. Neither side can refuse compromise to the point that the final product is not able to be commercialized or that the final product tastes like paper.

As a scientist who works with a world-class chef and a team of savvy scientists, I have a lot of fun developing new products and applications for our customers. We enjoy bantering in the lab about what a beverage needs to elevate it or how we cannot add certain ingredients on the manufacturing floor. Chef Nakata challenges our views on flavor, texture and back-of-house operational ease. We challenge back with the manufacturing of products that meet these objectives, plus shelf life and food safety. I love working for a company that utilizes both the chef and scientist as a one-two punch for the product development process. The products we create and only elevated from this solid, collaborative foundation.

Becky Beasley is a Food Technologist at S&D Coffee & Tea.