It’s not exactly news that science plays a hefty role in the culinary arts. From the moment a chef turns on a pot of water to boil, basic scientific principles are in play. Plus, with molecular gastronomy capturing headlines over the last few years, the role science plays in the foodservice sector is not only apparent, but also quite trendy.
Many chefs are already embracing science and technology, particularly as they look to bring the pioneering flavors and techniques developed in their own kitchens to higher-volume food production environments, such as chain restaurants or food manufacturing. So it makes sense that The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) is collaborating with the likes of Harvard University’s Public School of Health, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, and the University of California-Davis to further the consideration of science in foodservice to build a better industry.
The Harvard program, Menus of Change, looks to educate culinary professionals and students alike on sustainable practices. The USC-Davis slate is a part of the Health Flavors Research Initiative, which includes Flavor, Quality, and American Menus. The MIT program, called Re-Think Food, is focused on consumer behavior and behavioral science, and centers on the depth of influences behind food choices consumers make.
Just announced is a CIA collaboration with FIRST, a not-for-profit organization that hosts a leading robotics competition for children and young adults, to promote the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in education. The collaboration with FIRST is part of the institute's larger direction to look at opportunities around science and technology and how they interface with the culinary arts, and, indirectly, restaurant efficiencies.
“As we grow our culinary science program (which began in February 2013), these partnerships are a wonderful way to meet experts in these various fields, and bring talent and fresh ideas to our degree program,” says Greg Drescher, vice president of strategic initiatives and industry leadership at the CIA.
“Historically, chefs see themselves as artists, professionals, and crafts people,” Drescher adds. “But science has always been a part of the culinary experience—it’s a big part of the food sector and will become even more so in the future.”
Furthering its science advocacy, the CIA, in partnership with MIT, also announced the first annual Re-Think Food: Mind, Behavior, and Culture conference, which will take place Nov. 7-9 at the CIA's Napa Valley site. Bringing together chefs, behavioral economists, neuroscientists, sensory scientists, and cultural experts, the conference will “explore everything that surrounds the culinary decision—from the brilliant flavors on the plate, to what makes that meal memorable, to the intangibles that shape bias and perception when it comes to food or beverage choices,” Drescher says.
Looking further into the future, Drescher says science is not just limited to food; it also applies to robotics, which he says will impact every area of life. “Food robotics is not just for chefs cooking in the kitchen, but the entire sector, from agriculture to cooking, manufacturing, distribution, and retail,” he says. “Whether it’s actual moving robots or technology that flows out of robotics, chefs need to be part of the discussion and not be bystanders.”
Robotics can solve some of the food sector’s ongoing challenges, such as labor- intensive agricultural practices, and end up delivering a higher quality product in high volume food service market. Technology advancements such as the turbo and combi ovens, meanwhile, have changed—for the better—food preparation in these high volume environments.
“Chefs have an important role to play on a broader platform,” Drescher says.“At the CIA we are looking to engage leaders in a variety of sectors that touch on science and technology and see where this goes.”
By Joann Whitcher