Research chefs play a unique and crucial role within flavor and consumer product manufacturers, combining expertise in food science, culinary techniques, research and development, and trend hunting to drive successful product development. In practice, research chefs throughout the industry cooperate with flavor chemists, applications staff and food technologists in product development, the formulation of benchmarks, identification and leveraging of trends and local tastes, customer presentations and more.
“It’s a team effort,” says Christopher Warsow, corporate executive chef at Bell Flavors & Fragrances. “Marketing, science and sales all get involved to get a flavor from an idea through to production and sales. It takes a lot of moving parts to get that to completion.”
Research chefs work to create gold standards of key food items such as demi-glace, says Warsow. The gold standard, in this instance, would maximize roasted, toasted and umami facets of the demi-glace, against which flavor chemists would compare an array of aroma chemicals to create a matching profile. “Chefs develop gold standards (benchmarks) and present them to our flavorists and food scientist so they become familiar with the bench marks,” says Kevin McDermott, senior research chef at International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. “In the case that the flavor chemist doesn’t have the tools to match the bench mark, we conduct further analysis through our research team. This may involve headspace and other analyses to determine what flavor compounds make up the target. The flavorist reviews the analysis and builds flavors accordingly. When the flavors are developed they are reviewed alongside the benchmark to determine how close it has come to the target. We work very closely with our food scientists in a similar way, except that in most cases it involves applying the finished flavors in a well rounded base that is applicable to our clients’ needs.”