A Day in the Life of a Research Chef

More than a toque, their hats include sales, marketing, production and R&D.

By Rachel Zemser, CCS, Contributing Editor

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He finds his stimulus with competitors. “I am able to find inspiration in everything from fine dining to hole-in-the-wall restaurants,” he explains.

Pajor runs a lean R&D team, and while culinary is his main focus, he has his hands in everything from gold standard development to commercialization. “I have a hand in equipment selection and identifying new pieces that fit well into our growing portfolio of products. I also spend time researching new packaging technology.”

Spicetec’s Maack is responsible for culinary recipe development and customer guidance, but he also spends time supporting his own company’s internal customers and the marketing and sales departments through concept development and culinary presentations.

“I proactively support internal and external customers in developing concepts within current food trends to demonstrate company flavors, technology and strategic platforms,” he describes. “I provide technical guidance for the use of our flavors and seasoning blends with product development chefs and product developers. I also create culinary standards for benchmarking when needed, and provide culinary guidance in the form of concept development, preparation and presentation for in-house customer visits.”

Science is not a big part of Maack’s duties. He says, “For me, the most important part is being able to understand the relevancy and functionality of commercial ingredients, and then being able to apply that knowledge to the development process.”

HB's Slater uses her culinary background to ensure she presents their product to customers in the same way they plan to use it -- which means learning how to make their food items. “Everything is prepared just as the end user would prepare it: baked, fried, microwaved or steamed. We prepare presentation plates and demo booklets for the customers.” Demo booklets contain photos, formula numbers and processing instructions.

Before Slater entered into the world R&D world, she was, variously, a pastry chef, executive chef, personal chef and culinary instructor. “I can't forget about my first job: At 16, I was a crew trainer at Taco Bell. These positions helped me prepare for the research and development field, because I was able to build my love for food, enhance my palate, learn about the cooking process for various foods and learn the restaurant concepts that I work with today.”

She uses both her culinary arts experience and manufacturing expertise to provide recommendations on flavor, specifically balancing salt, sugar and acidity—all components that require a knowledgeable palate and the capability of using equipment like pH meters and a refractometer to measure exact levels.

Slater also explains the need for a strong working knowledge of functional ingredients to do her job well. “Starches, gums, flavors and colors all play a big role in R&D. Its’ important to know how to work with these ingredients to create chef-inspired flavors that can be reproduced in a manufacturing facility.”

She further notes how important it is to understand all the processing equipment, understanding how it will affect her product and ensuring she can replicate her lab product in the manufacturing plant.

As chefs continue to work in food manufacturing environments, their role becomes more clearly defined and their job descriptions are becoming more mainstream. The research chef position also becomes better understood by others interested in entering the field

Rachel Zemser is a certified culinary scientist, certified food scientist and food industry consultant with backgrounds and degrees in both culinary arts and food science.

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