The Culinologist Podcast: The Key to Successful R&D with Chef Barton Dewing

Ragozzino Foods Executive Research Chef Barton Dewing says that the measure of successful R&D is in the product's successful scale up - going from benchtop sizes to large manufactured sizes. Practically anyone can make a delicious dish or item when you've got ample time, direct control over all the elements, and the budget to make it. But can anyone make it in the quantities desired within the cost targets? Chef Barton has worked in restaurant kitchens, front-of-the-house, corporate restaurant management, online grocery, and manufacturing. He's also an active member in the Research Chefs Association and is the commissioner of the RCA certification committee. 

Find out more about the RCA certification programs and which one fits your career: http://www.culinology.org/Education/Certification.aspx 



From Bombs to Bunsen Burners, Part 2

Kimberly's note: Jonathan Valdez wrote this guest post describing his process in researching and selecting a food science graduate degree. Thanks for sharing the start of your journey, Jonathan!

My first steps were integral to getting to the point I am now. 
First, I looked at the top schools and weighed my options. 
I made a spreadsheet with all the schools that ended up on the top food science lists I could find on google. Then I started researching what I would need to do to get into one of these schools.   


Taking the GRE’s is an obvious one, and I spent a couple months studying for hours on weekends to prepare to take the test. 
I also looked at pre-requisites to see if I would be disqualified from any of the programs. There were a couple schools that required statistics, but for the most part, since I majored in biochemical engineering my bases were covered. I had a list of 11 or so schools to work off of and I started to apply.
 There was a lot of work in the beginning, creating all my application materials from scratch. I had to identify and contact the angels who would write letters of recommendation on my behalf. The standard was three, and this held for all the schools, so once they were contacted and I had provided them with enough information to write the letters, all I had to do was keep up with them to make sure they were submitting as each new application was completed. 
Then there was the statement of purpose. Most online authorities on applying to graduate school stress the statement as the lynch pin of your application. I can’t confirm or deny this, but I did spend A LOT of time writing and re-writing the first one. Once I was satisfied with it I sent it out to friends and family for their thoughts and edits and then wrote it again. 
After the first school’s statement I would tweak it a little. Sometimes this was out of necessity. A couple schools had a statement of purpose and then more detailed essay questions which covered topics I included in my statement. So I had to cut-and-paste and wordsmith to satisfy each school’s requirements. Many of the schools had character or word limits, so that would prompt editing as well. I also continued to read up on grad school applications. So every time I’d read some new insight I’d incorporate it and stress about the missteps I’d made in the applications that were already submitted. 
The resume or CV is another element which was universal amongst the applications. Luckily, I had previously attended a military transition workshop, so my resume was polished and up to date. I did one big edit to target the resume to grad school and would make periodic updates as things changed, but that was about it for that. 
Probably the biggest time-sink was reading up on professors at each university and contacting them about the possibility of them serving as my graduate advisor. It was also where I learned what food scientists actually did - so well worth the time! This was another subject where I did a ridiculous amount of research: reading blogs on how exactly one picks an advisor. Even more importantly I had to formulate a strategy on how to contact these potential advisors. 
I drafted a short email that served as the basis for all my first contacts. With that I tried to apply to one school per week, not submitting the application until I had an advisor who at least didn’t say no. 
My final big transformation happened when I was applying to UMass Amherst. Two professors there were working with “nutraceuticals” (wordplay with “nutrients” and “pharmaceuticals”) and how to increase the amount of the nutrients we absorb from our foods. Specifically, they were working with phytochemicals (chemicals from plants). The idea fascinated me, and I now knew where I was going to focus my studies. This cut a few schools from the list and many professors who’s work didn’t fit with my new interests. Granted, there is no guarantee you’ll experience this moment, but I recommend looking at as many professors as you can early on, to save yourself some money (each application usually costs between $50-$100) and a whole lot of time. 
The added benefit of narrowing down my aspirations was now when I spoke with professors I could contribute to the conversation intelligently. Being informed on a lot of the literature pertaining to a small sector of a small field meant we were speaking the same language. I believe it also leant me a huge amount of credibility with the professors. 
 I remember reading a professor’s thoughts on statements of purpose, and he said that he had been told that a big factor in his acceptance was his proposal for a thesis. It was off the wall and not in the slightest feasible, but the effort in researching and thinking critically were exactly what they were looking for in a graduate student. 
So here I am now. I’ve made numerous connections with professors in the top food science programs in the country. I will be attending University of Wisconsin at Madison under a research assistantship paying full tuition and stipend. As the days build to officially being a civilian and then becoming a student again I get more and more excited.
Like I said, this path will not work for everyone, but I hope this story inspires some career changers to go out there and pursue their dreams. Sometimes the winding path is the best one, or at least the most interesting. “Remembering you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart” - Steve Jobs 

Kimberly inspired me to start my own blog to share some of my insights as I go through this process and also highlight some of the cooler stuff I find in my research. So far I’ve covered how chef's bend the FDA food safety rules, new recommendations from The Global Panel on Agriculture and Food systems, and I’m in the middle of a multi-part series on the exploration of the health benefits of coffee. If you’re interested in food science and nutrition come check it out!


Jon Valdez is a former Air Force officer heading back to graduate school at University of Wisconsin-Madison to study Food Science focusing on food chemistry and the health effects of phytochemicals. He shares his experiences as a transitioning military officer and food researcher here on PeasOnMoss. For more of his insights on the latest in food science, nutrition, culinary science and general musings of a food science graduate student visit his blog at foodplusscienceblog.wordpress.com.

From Bombs to Bunsen Burners, Part 1

I was asked to write a blog post about my transition from a military officer to going back to graduate school in food science. There are so many different aspects to this: 
  • transition from military to civilian 
  • transition from full time work to full time grad studying 
  • using a graduate degree as a springboard to change careers 
  • going back to school after almost a decade
  • (most importantly) what I learned about food science along the way 
This situation probably won’t fit many of you. I don’t know too many military members out there who are going into food science. In fact, there were only a couple who actually had a ballpark idea of what it was. Heck, up until about a year ago I didn’t know it was a thing. 
Probably the most entertaining explanation I came across was from my Squadron Commander. “Clark Griswald! You’re gonna be like Clark Griswald.”
 Me: *Quizzical look* ”Sir?”
SC: “Clark Griswald, from Christmas vacation. He made the coating so the cereal stayed crunchy.”
Me: “Yeah, sir. That’s my plan.” 
So that’s where I’m going to focus this journey. How a B-52 Radar Navigator, acting as an Air Liaison Officer to the Army, preparing to go back to school as a physician’s assistant ended up going to graduate school for food science. 

Since I’ve been in Germany I had a lot more free time than I have had in the past 6 years so I spent it in the kitchen. I started following chef’s such as Alton Brown and Kenji Lopez-Alt, admiring their pragmatic and scientific approaches to cooking. I’d spend whole weekends experimenting and making loads of food that I’d either eat for every meal until it ran out or bring into work for my shop to eat. 
Everyone loves the boss who brings in treats, right? (It was probably more like “S*@!, the captain is using us as guinea pigs again”
This is what it was like to have a passion?! This is what I’d been missing.
 So now I had passion, but that’s about it. 

I think there were a good couple of months where I was contemplating becoming a chef. Not to dissuade anyone who is thinking of doing that. I wish I had the courage to jump into that arena. The thing is the military paid me pretty well, and I’ve gotten used to nice things (healthcare, job security, etc.). While these things are definitely attainable as a chef, from what I understand it takes a while. I’m 31 and not getting any younger! So I was frantically trying to turn this passion into a job that paid well
I don’t even remember how it happened, but I stumbled upon the profession of a research chef. Hours of googling and I found it. Later, I would join the Research Chefs Association and post a plea for someone to explain to me what this research chef thing was all about and how I get there. 
The response from the community there was overwhelming, and I will always credit the RCA with getting this new career jump started. 
I made a bunch of great contacts who were more than willing to chat on the phone or over email and provide advice to get this whole thing sorted. Kimberly is one of those contacts, and as you can see we still chat every now and then.
I started to get really smart on culinary science (Culinology as the RCA has recently coined it). I spent my weekends cooking, but now I was documenting it. I tried to make as many original recipe as I could. I used Cookpad to document many of these recipes (if you’re interested that link will take you to my recipes). 

A few months into my food science odyssey I started to focus on how to get into graduate school. I had no idea what food science actually entailed, so the majority of my most fruitful moves came later in the game. 

Jon Valdez is a former Air Force officer heading back to graduate school at University of Wisconsin-Madison to study Food Science focusing on food chemistry and the health effects of phytochemicals. He shares his experiences as a transitioning military officer and food researcher here on PeasOnMoss. For more of his insights on the latest in food science, nutrition, culinary science and general musings of a food science graduate student visit his blog at foodplusscienceblog.wordpress.com.


Bonus interview: Crossing from the Air Force into the Industry

Jonathan Valdez is an Air Force officer looking for the next career, and he is (wisely) choosing the food manufacturing industry. He reached out to the Research Chefs Association connect forum, and he simply asked how one gets into the field and whether more schooling would be required. The answers poured in, including a post chez Schaub. 

The conversations that resulted from that chain have resulted in new found friendships and mentors, and I can't praise a professional organization enough that has individuals and leaders who actively develop the younger ones.

Most of us veterans have to spend some careful time thinking about what we want to do once we get out of the military. It was fairly easy for me; I wasn't in very long and had chosen a degree that had many different applications, from clinical to food service.

What followed my active duty years were four years of multiple part time jobs, some continued education, and questions about what the heck I was doing. Imagine with me what it feels like to have served as an officer and then to be told by a customer at a cafe that "you should go to school; you're very articulate."

Graham Kerr is the one who eventually turned the lights on the path of culinary school, saying that the Seattle Culinary Academy is the school he would choose to study at, if he were to start all over again. (Obviously, I enrolled and studied there)

Modernist Cuisine was where I finally saw physical science and culinary arts come together in a deliberate and gourmet way. Beecher's Handmade Cheese is where I began earning my research chef stripes.

But in all those milestones, the pathway getting to R&D was rocky, dark, and confusing. It also led me to work that I have found myself doing in my spare time - exploring a food concept and playing with a recipe until it is the best I can render it.

Jonathan and I chatted when he first reached out the RCA, and it's not really "podcast material" but is worth hearing the story of another Airman who has had to figure out his post-military life. So, in honor of Veteran's Day, exactly 10 years after my final Veteran's Day Parade, I offer you this conversation with Jonathan and ask you to think about a veteran today.

Update: Jonathan has been accepted to a great food science program and will start soon! Welcome to food science, Jonathan.