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8 Facts About Research Chefs

If you have ever dined in a large restaurant chain, you might have noticed that these restaurants have the same menu throughout each restaurant. Occasionally, a new featured item comes to light. Who are the individuals who develop these recipes?

Those that are responsible for creating these new recipes are research chefs. They combine their culinary knowledge with food science to create delicious meals.

1. Research Chefs perform research and development activities

Research chefs:

formulate and test new products for restaurant chains, coffee shops, food manufacturing companies and many other places. They combine their culinary training with their knowledge of food science to develop new menu items.

Research chefs spend a lot of time in the kitchen performing experiments and attempting to scale dishes up. Sources of inspiration come from consumer testing, industry trends and world traveling. They meticulously record all tests and use this information for all stages of product development.

When creating recipes, they ensure that dishes have adequate nutritional values and that the cost of ingredients matches the targeted price range. Finally, they lead and participate in product tasting and plan trials of new products.

Following trends is an integral part of a research chef’s job. This is because consumer trends dictate what dishes will be popular enough to sell. Research chefs read culinary magazines, cookbooks and follow social media outlets like Instagram. For example, according to the Campbell’s Culinary Trendscape, an expected food trend during 2018 was beverages that included ginger, matcha and turmeric. A research chef at the time might have foresaw this trend and developed a turmeric-based beverage that was sold to restaurant chains across the country.

3. Research Chefs have test kitchens

Research chefs cook in test kitchens similar to those at home, but with a little more science equipment. Test kitchens are supplied with tools like rheometers and water activity meters because they help research chefs to create reproducible dishes. It is essential that dishes can be recreated throughout restaurant chains because customers expect consistency in their meals.

4. Research Chefs work with a lot of departments

Research chefs are unable to perform their jobs alone – they rely on quality control for food safety matters, sales to determine the financial stability of the product and marketing to determine if the dish follows market trends. Furthermore, they travel to restaurants and work with restaurant managers and staff to ensure that the vision of their dishes is being correctly prepared in restaurants. 

5. Research Chefs generally need work experience

Research chefs are slightly different than your traditional food scientists because they combine their science education with culinary training. Some of these individuals first work in professional kitchens, working their way up the ranks. These chefs eventually reach a position where they are able to develop the items of menu.

Using this knowledge, they can make the transition to research and development positions using their experience in the kitchen. However, there are also alternative educational pathways for students such as completing bachelor degrees in chemistry, nutrition, or food science. Additionally, an associate degree in the culinary arts is another option.

Thinking about going to school to become a research chef? Than check out our interview with Chefs Warren Ford and Riley Bennett with George Brown’s Honours Bachelor of Commerce Program (Culinary Management)

6. Research Chefs can join an association

Although it is not required, some research chefs obtain certifications with the Research Chef Association. In order to become certified, candidates must have a sufficient amount of food service and R&D experience. Research chefs are expected to have a sufficient amount of education and to pass the CRC validation exam with an over 80% passing score.

Students interested in learning more about research chefs can investigate the Research Chefs Association. They offer membership options and even have a blog where students can contribute.

7. Research Chefs understand clients

Many research chefs work with clients or customers when they are developing new recipes. For example, a client may come to a research chef with a request to make a portable lemon cake for a restaurant chain. Sometimes it is difficult for clients to articulate the exact details of what they want due to their lack of formal training. That is why research chefs need to have intuition and high-levels of communication with customers.

Furthermore, research chefs must understand the production capabilities of the restaurants and production facilities they develop food for. For example, a research chef may have the idea to develop a jelly-filled dessert, but later discover upon further research that the process is too labor-intensive for the restaurant staff. Although an idea might appear appealing on paper, they have to take other factors into account and understand when it is time to move away from the idea.

8. Research Chefs are observant, creative and have a strong technical aptitude

Being a research chef requires a range of skills. However, there are a few which are more essential than others. These skills include:

  • Observation – Research chefs are observant to food trends throughout the industry. They also need to be alert in all their actions. Writing down everything they do is an important step. Keeping an eye for the details streamlines their work and identifies solutions for problems.
  • Creativity – Research chefs are creative and bring good ideas to the table through their years of experience and research. They take small risks in attempts to create the next successful menu item
  • Technical aptitude – Research chefs need to have a strong foundation of culinary knowledge and understanding of the various flavors and textures within cuisines. Additionally, they have a strong technical aptitude for learning new techniques and applying them to their food.

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