Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Potential of the CIA’s Culinary Science Program

By Mark Erickson '77, CIA Provost

I’m certain that nearly everyone at the CIA is aware that we have a new BPS degree -- the first of its kind -- in Culinary Science. It’s also quite likely that many folks are aware that this program teaches students advanced and emerging concepts in food preparation which often times is mistakenly referred to as “molecular gastronomy.” But I’m not so sure that many folks realize what the outcome of this education might be in terms of how it could be applied in the careers of the alumni of this program. No doubt some of these graduates will go off to open fine restaurants and push the envelope of creativity of food in “high-end” restaurants. The next Grant Achatz may be in our midst already, and we’d be very proud of that. But, that was not what I saw. I saw something even more exciting.

The assignment for the students in this class was to use concepts of precision temperature cooking to develop a food item responding to the parameters of a “project brief” in the same way that a culinary development chef (R&D Chef) would in a commercial environment. The project brief in this case was not designed to challenge students to stretch the boundaries of food to create a dazzling effect of haute cuisine (although I’m sure the students could have done so). Instead, this project brief was written with a much more important purpose in mind.

The project brief described the circumstances of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and resulting tsunami disaster causing indescribable destruction and death, but also hundreds of thousands of survivors needing food. The task at hand for the students was to develop a food item that could be used by relief workers to supply a meal that could be safely transported, easily reheated, and at the same time be nutritious, satisfying, and culturally appropriate -- oh, and by the way, the budget was to keep the cost under fifty cents per portion.

I did not get a chance to see all of the projects, but the ones I saw made me confident that what we are doing here is very important. Sure, we turn out some wonderful cooks who go on to become culinary icons -- and we need to continue to do that. But, this experience also reminded me that what we do at this institution is driven by a mission that goes well beyond teaching young people how to prepare extravagant food for the affluent.

Want to stay up-to-date on what's happening in the CIA's Culinary Science Lab? Follow them on twitter @CIACulinarySci.

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