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Something New is Cooking in UC (and Nation's) Culinary Offerings

With food fads, trends and tastes -- along with scientific food knowledge -- changing course so rapidly, today's culinary students need giant helpings of hard science in their academic diet. As part of budding trends, the University of Cincinnati just became the third school in the nation offering culinary students training in the hard sciences.

Date: 10/18/2004 12:00:00 AM
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824

UC ingot  

Across the country, universities with culinary programs are stepping up to the plate, offering a blend of science with art that has coined a new job classification – culinologist ™.  Culinologists stand somewhere between chef and scientist, and they’re changing what grocery shoppers will find on shelves and what restaurant patrons will find at their favorite eating establishments.

For instance, what was the despised frozen dinner of 20 years ago – and still requiring refrigeration today – will soon become a shelf-table “gold standard” offering, truly as good as though you cooked it at home from scratch. 

The professionals who will whip up new products coming straight from the laboratory to the dining-room table will be the products of a new kind of education taking shape at both universities and community colleges across the country.  The established recipe for change?  A university and nearby community college combine resources: One (the community college) providing the art of a traditional culinary-art program while the other (the university) provides a hard-science background that allows the newly emerging “culinologist” to understand and manipulate plant genetics, not just food and cooking.  In fact, the culinologist will manipulate the effects of processing to control the functional characteristics of foods.

So far, three universities – the latest being the University of Cincinnati which just began a Culinary Arts and Science Program with nearby Cincinnati State Technical and Community College – are now educating chefs in the hard sciences.  In the near future, other schools will follow suit, including schools from California to New Jersey.  The offerings they're presenting are popularly called 2+2 programs because participating students spend two years focusing on the art of food preparation at the communiy college before tackling the hard sciences at a baccalaureate institution..

Within a few years, it’s expected that about 35 such programs will exist, producing grads who will receive starting salaries as high as $50,000 a year.  (According to the Institute of Food Technologists, recent food-science graduates across the nation had a median starting salary of $45,000 in 2001, and as of 2004, food technologists with experience are earning $73,000.)

  • First in Ohio
  • Accrediting expanding four-year programs
  • Food trends both drive and are driven by educational changes
  • Industry downsizing also driving education
  • Each urban locale to have “culinology” program?
  • Restaurant fare affected
  • The theology of chemistry
  • Culinary student gets herself ready for the market
  • A matter of time

Meg Galvin, coordinator of the Culinary Arts and Science program at the University of Cincinnati, began that program on Sept. 22 in partnership with Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.  The new program – designed to prepare students for careers in food service, packaging, development and research – was the first of its kind in Ohio and one of the few in the nation, following in the steps of similar programs that began at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (in 2001) and one at Clemson University (in 2003).    Why the growth in such programs?  “Food trends – like all the low-carb products you now see – are accelerating, and the industry really requires a knowledge of science,” explained Galvin.

Candace Childers, accreditation manager of the American Culinary Association, is piloting a program that will, in the future, accredit the growing number of baccalaureate culinary programs.  She says they’re doing so because of industry and educational demand:  “There is no accrediting body for four-year programs because until the year 2000, there were virtually no baccalaureate or 2+2 programs.  Now, about 35 now exist or are in the planning stages at some point.”

(Note: The ACF is preparing to accredit stand-alone four-year programs all housed within one institution, not 2+2 culinology programs, which are approved by the Research Chefs Association.  The RCA, which owns the trademarked term, Culinology, has been instrumental in fostering and approving the existing 2+2 programs.)

John MacGregor heads the culinary/food science program that began in 2003 at Clemson University in South Carolina.  He says that the quick pace of trends in the food industry is driving the need for professionals who combine culinary skills with strong science backgrounds, such that starting salaries can be as high as $50,000 for graduates from these emerging programs.  MacGregor explains, “Our fundamental understanding of the science of plant genetics will increase, changing even the functional characteristics of foods.  For instance, products that now need refrigeration – like frozen dinners – will become shelf-stable food products.  And the texture and flavoring of such foods will become increasingly gold standard, really as though cooked at home.”

Jeffrey Cousminer, savory laboratory director, Firmenich, the largest privately owned flavoring company in the world, was the first “poster boy” of culinology, having paved the way for these new programs when he – as a chef – earned a master’s in food science in the 1980s and went to work for General Foods.  He is believed to be the first in the country to do so. 

Says Cousminer, “At first, people really questioned what value I would bring, but now, the downsizing in industry is a significant driver for the changes in culinary education.  Companies have less freedom to hire an individual for every required expertise.  Thus, the desirable employees are the ones who multitask, representing the combination of science and food.”

He adds, “Five years ago, the timing was right.  Pure food-science programs – with their emphasis on science – had been dropping in terms of enrollment while traditional culinary programs were rising.  Jobs became available in industry but required more than a chef’s education.  That paved the way for the programs at Nebraska, Clemson and Cincinnati.  Now other programs will soon start between Kendall College and Dominican University in Chicago and between Orange Coast Community College and Cal Poly-Pamona in California as well as ones we’re hoping will start at the University of Georgia, California State-Fresno and Rutgers University.”

Harry Crane, group manager for food service at Kraft Foods North America, is currently encouraging both Kendall College and Dominican University, both located in greater Chicago, to partner in a 2+2 “culinology” program.  Why?  “Most students in traditional culinary programs go to school close to where they already live.  They don’t necessarily relocate to one of the national culinary schools.  At the same time, the culinary field is growing and requiring more and more from education,” said Crane.

He added that it’s not reasonable to assume that Chicago-area students are going to travel to Oklahoma, Cincinnati or South Carolina to obtain the combination of art and science education increasingly in demand and that Chicago is a big enough metropolitan area to support a ‘culinology’ program.  Explained Crane, “We have several traditional, two-year culinary programs with students who would likely be interested in a four-year degree that includes science and makes them much more marketable.  Also, traditional chefs, already in the marketplace but working 18-hour days, would also be interested in such a 2+2 program, as a transition into a less hectic work environment.”

Michael Cheng, assistant dean, Metropolitan Community College, Omaha, Nebraska, worked with the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 2001 to offer the first combined culinary arts and science, 2+2 program in the country.  The program just graduated its first baccalaureate graduate in spring 2004.

“Food trends are driving the push for four-year degrees that include science.  We’re asking the question: What do chefs need to succeed in R&D?...The hybrid programs produce something new in the field, what we’re calling ‘culinologists.’  It’s a new term, not even recognized yet by the Department of Labor.”

The new programs will change what’s offered in restaurants.  For instance, chain restaurants – say Wendy’s and McDonald’s – have always had a high need to control the food product.  They must emphasize consistency, that the product is the same whether it’s in Maine or Hawaii.  Now, they need to broaden their lines, offering more ethnic cuisine while still offering a consistent product.  “They’ll need trained chefs who can replicate ethnic dishes, determine the optimal type and amount of ingredients, what equipment is required to produce the product and to train staff.  At the same time, people don’t want factory food.  Consumers frequently travel abroad now.  They’ve eaten international foods abroad and want to replicate that experience authentically.”

According to Michael Cheng, assistant dean, Metropolitan Community College, “The students all say, ‘I want to do it’ of the 2+2 programs.  Then, when they hit the hard-science requirements, they say, ‘My God, this requires chemistry!’  To offset the science shock, we try to give them specifically food-science courses early on so they can see the connection to their work.”

Cincinnatian Nichole Wiley, 29, is currently working as a chef’s assistant but wants to eventually transition to the food-development and flavoring industry.  “This is the next step for me as it’s a very portable degree, and the industry is really broadening because of so many ethnic cuisine offerings,” she explained.

John Caldwell, a resident of the Cincinnati suburb of Cheviot, has worked as a chef/cook for about 15 years and recently began school at UC in the 2+2 program the university has with Cincinnati State.  He explained, "The food science program is an advantage if I want to move into the industrial side of the business.  I figure with a lot of the industrial companies, the money might be better, and the hours would definitely be so."