The question often arises as to the benefits of having a culinary chef involved in new product development. In the past, a few chefs have been seen as undisciplined, poorly educated and overly artistic by some “hard core” scientists. Technical members of an R&D team may find it hard to relate to the freewheeling style of a true culinary artist. However, when a little mutual understanding is established and all parties respect each other's talents and training, better products can be created by a multi-talented team than by a food technologist or chef alone.

The absolute need for degreed food scientists in the development of products intended for a national introduction is recognized and understood. The current sophisticated methods of manufacturing and distribution require a product perform and adhere to incredibly tight specifications. Every new item gives challenges in formulation and engineering that are beyond the talents of even a well-trained culinary artist. Every chef realizes this. And every culinologist respects the knowledge and abilities of our technologists and engineers.

However, the end users (i.e., the customers) do not see the trials and tribulations that must be overcome in a product's formulation, manufacturing and packaging. Nor do they understand the difficulties in distribution and storage to be surmounted. They focus primarily on two product characteristics: appearance and taste.

Customers, increasingly, are learning to read the FDA-approved labels on which companies spend so much time. Value is very important, as well. However, at the end of the day, if a product doesn't look good, it won't be purchased. Clever packaging and beautiful graphics encourage an initial purchase, but a poor-tasting product won't be purchased again...even if all specifications are met.

True chefs live for food's appearance and taste. Their lives are devoted to studying and understanding techniques and methods to improve food's sensory properties. A great chef spends years developing these skills. It takes longer to become a certified executive chef than it does to get a Ph.D.

During prototype development, chefs should be listened to with open minds. They are in tune with current restaurant trends and current dinning habits. Good chefs understand style and fashion. To celebrate a fiftieth anniversary, wouldn't you want a chef to cook the dinner?

Chefs should be allowed to innovate, but be gently reeled in if ideas are untenable. They assist companies in staying in front of the latest trends. That can be accomplished with all parties working together.

Chefs may well have one clear advantage over technologists when it comes to being innovative. Because they do not have a degree in food science or one ever taught them what's impossible.

Sidebar: Creating With Chefs

  • Chefs think and work intuitively. They don't always know “why it will work,” but it often does. A good chef will want to know. As the scientist, tell him why.
  • Chefs are artistic. They hate food rules and want to be ahead of the curve in regards to food trends. Let them innovate, sort out what's great from what's too far out...but be gentle with criticism.
  • Chefs know the difference between “gourmet” and “quality.” Let them tell you which is which.
  • “Meeting specifications” is not gourmet. Let your customer tell you what is required.
  • Chefs like gourmet ingredients. Don't expect them to be frugal during prototype development.
  • Create great-tasting, great-looking prototypes