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While many flavor chemists focus on the “chemist” aspect of their profession, John Houtenville’s (Flavor Infusion) 2009 Flavor Symposium presentation focused on the “creative flavorist” facet of the industry. The flavorist’s job requires a litany of different knowledge bases, he said, from food and beverage science to the creative arts. “We need to spend time building,” he said, highlighting the importance of time spent at the creative bench. “That’s the exciting part of being a flavorist,” he said. It’s there where one’s skill and passion are recharged. To do so, Houtenville underscored the importance of creativity and discovery and the evaluation of raw materials.
“Flavor creation requires a knowledge base that is grounded in science and expertise and is readily available through our memory recall,” he said. In addition, he noted the importance of courage, intuition and instinct, and cited Albert Einstein’s famous dictum: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
“That,” said Houtenville, “leads us to the heart of flavor creation, the process of discovery.” Referencing the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of “discover,” he put a spotlight on concepts such as “to make known or visible” and unearthing or “bringing to light something forgotten or hidden.”
This passion to discover new raw materials and formulation approaches, he said, is “what fuels us.” Flavor chemists become bogged down in workload challenges that sap innovation and creativity. “Often, it sneaks right up on you,” said Houtenville, “especially those of us who have to manage other flavorists. It can be very subliminal, robbing you of your opportunities and time to discover.” For instance, flavorists might be juggling as many as 15 projects at a time, depending on the size of the company. “It’s daunting to have the projects on your plate and do an excellent job on each one,” he said. “It’s hard when you’re trying to figure out, ‘How am I going to test out these new chemicals that just [landed] on my desk from our supplier. When am I really going to spend the time with them that they require?’”
Likening today’s flavorists to plate spinners, Houtenville noted that one is often asked to formulate on the fly amidst tightening deadlines. And then there are the QC demands. Fixing a problem with a new flavor can eat up time—it’s obviously a priority that must be resolved to resume production. “We’re excited about first-time runs because that means our flavor is being launched, scaled up,” he said. “Sometimes you have a scale-up team to rely on, sometimes you don’t.” Smaller companies require one to wear more hats. “Dealing with first-time productions, can be exciting on one hand; but on the other hand, stressful and time consuming to make sure the manufactured flavor replicates your lab scale creation. The pressure is on you to have all the solutions to the inevitable issues that come up!” All of this can come upon you in addition to ISO and regulatory compliance, shipping issues, marketing, company goals and department objectives, personal recordkeeping, intra-company meetings, and intra-office politics.