Culinology: A great food combo

(MCT) – California State University, Fresno’s Department of Food Science and Nutrition has officially turned cutting edge. Its program in culinology – a blend of food science and culinary arts – recently was approved by the Research Chefs Association, a trade group for food product developers.

The program at Fresno State is only the eighth to gain approval from the association. Creating a course of study that met the association’s standards took 2 years, says Dennis Ferris, the Department of Food Science and Nutrition’s acting chair.

Fresno State’s curriculum was already geared to train food scientists, dietitians and professionals in food service management, Ferris says. But as consumers demand food that’s delicious and healthy as well as shelf stable, it’s becoming increasingly important for product developers to also be trained as chefs.

And with fewer folks cooking from scratch, the market for convenience items such as pre-marinated meats, meal kits and takeout food has grown dramatically. Hence, the rise of culinology.

A good example of culinology in action is Lyons Magnus, a Fresno company that creates food products for businesses.

“Everyone is so much more sophisticated culinary nowadays because of the Food Network,” says Chris Wilmoth, Lyons Magnus’ director of culinary applications and corporate executive chef. “At the same time, a lot of people don’t have the time to cook. They’re relying on the taste buds of chefs.

“I will develop a gold standard based on flavor, and the food scientists make sure that we can get it through production,” he adds. Lyons’ products include fruit infusions that flavor lemonades, sodas, teas and ice cream shakes. Wilmoth also is working on dessert sauces for national chain restaurants.

He’s excited about Fresno State’s new program.

“There are companies out there waiting for these students,” Wilmoth says. Formal culinology training “is a huge advantage because you have the culinary mind. And in developing these creative ideas, you have the science aspect that’s going to assist you in the formulation of the product.”

Before culinology programs were invented, product developers had to gain a blend of food science and culinary skills on the job, culinology training is a more efficient way to gain this experience, says Harry Crane, an executive chef at Kraft Foods Global in Glenview, Ill., and a member of the Research Chefs Association’s board of directors.

It’s not just a matter of making things taste good, he adds. Food safety is also paramount. At Kraft, Crane’s team extensively tests cooking directions for macaroni and cheese and pizza to ensure that shoppers know how to cook these items safely.

Given the central San Joaquin Valley’s huge food industry, a culinology program here is a natural fit. But Fresno State’s program didn’t have a chance of gaining approval until it improved culinary training.

Fresno State “did need to add an enhanced culinary piece, which they did in the person of chef Klaus Tenbergen,” writes Tim Kline, the director of education and certification of the Research Chefs Association.

Tenbergen, an assistant professor of culinary science, is a certified master baker and executive pastry chef. He founded a bakery and catering business in South Africa and a fine-dining restaurant in Peoria, Ill. He also headed baking and pastry arts at Kendall College’s School of Culinary Arts in Chicago.

“Culinologists determine the taste and trends of millions,” Tenbergen says. “Food production and preservation research, quality, taste, texture and visual appearance are becoming increasingly important.”

In one of Tenbergen’s recent classes, students learned about these concepts while cooking two soups: apple curry and tomato-orange. With the leftover egg whites, they made macaroons, using spoons to form them into three-sided shapes called quenelles.

“I taught them to not waste, I taught them how to be creative, and I taught them how to make quenelles,” Tenbergen says.

He also gave a peek into Fresno State’s plans for a new teaching kitchen. Using a magnet and pots of different materials, he demonstrated how to operate an induction cooker. With this device, heat is conducted through magnetic waves, he says. Pure stainless steel, a substance with a strong magnetic attraction, heated up instantly.

Expect to see a lot more induction cookers in the cooking laboratory at Fresno State. This summer, almost $400,000 will be used to update the lab, outfitting it with induction cookers, broilers and gas stoves, he says. The money comes from a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and matching university funds.

“Everything will be up to date,” Tenbergen says.

The marriage of food science and culinary skills results in diverse experiences for culinology students. They make yogurt, test its microbial count and study which spices help inhibit microbial growth, says student Quinn Zweigle. They study biochemistry and microbiology. They learn to work with chocolate. They ask passersby to taste early versions of products for the Fresno State Farm Market, such as truffles, tamales, muffins and cheesecakes.

After all this work, the payoff is a starting salary of about $40,000-$45,000 a year, the Research Chefs Association’s Kline writes in an e-mail. The students face relatively little competition – only 206 students are enrolled in undergraduate culinology programs spread across the country.

The others approved by the association are at the University of Nebraska and Metropolitan Community College; University of Massachusetts at Amherst; University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati State University; Southwest Minnesota State University; Dominican University and Kendall College; Clemson University; and California State Polytechnic, Pomona, and Orange Coast College.

Students at other programs have seen success. “Job placement has been 100 percent so far, and students are in high demand,” writes Michael Cheng, director of the culinology program at Southwest Minnesota State University. “The graduates out of Nebraska and Clemson have found positions such as culinologist, food technologist and corporate sous chef.

“The industry itself is still evolving, but culinology students have been welcomed with open arms by industry veterans,” he adds. “This tells me that they recognize the impact and benefit of having both sides of the discipline in a single curriculum, and some have even voiced to me that they would have done this had it been offered to them years ago.”