Chefs take centre stage in developing future foods

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: National starch, Cooking, Restaurant

Chefs have long had a role to play in the food industry's
development of new products, but ingredients companies are placing
greater emphasis on how their sensory skills can be used to prepare
foods that are more appealing to consumers, and to determine trends
for the future.

At its new Food Creation Centre in Hamburg, opened at the end of 2007, National Starch is taking a hands-on approach to helping its customers bring to market foods that taste more like they have come out of a restaurant kitchen than out of a packet. The approach, Helmut Gronbach, market development manager for wholesome applications and Food Creation Centre, said, has been dubbed 'culinology' - that is, the blending of food technology with culinary arts. Since 2006, National Starch has worked with classically trained chef Chris Lightfoot. Lightfoot provides consultancy to the company in the development of recipes using its ingredients, and follows with input into formulation, cost management, and scale up to industrial level. He works in close collaboration with Janette Callagan, principal applications technologist for wholesome and culinary, who has specific responsibility for the clean label portfolio. Callagan explained that she and Lightfoot have had to develop a new language to communicate their thoughts on recipes. For example, while she would be inclined to talk texture and mouthfeel, he uses worlds that are more closely linked to sensory perception. Having a chef on board also helps communication with customers, since Lightfoot and Callagan can work directly with the manufacturers' chefs to offer practical advice on working with National Starch's ingredients. Crucially, the new Food Creation Centre means they can invite manufacturers' teams to collaborate on recipes on-site, and have a complete toolbox of ingredients to hand that they can play around with. The kitchen is also equipped with audiovisual equipment so executives can watch the action in the adjacent meeting room, and procedures can be recorded onto DVDS that the customer can take away for training purposes. In addition, the centre has facilities for the analysis and sensory evaluation of new concepts. It is located alongside the company's existing European Technical Centre. Chefs defining flavour ​ National Starch is not along in its emphasis of the importance of culinary skills in new food development, but others taking this tack are more involved in flavour than in texture, health and delivery systems. Givaudan, for instance, held its Chefs' Council in Barcelona this month, which brought chefs together from all over the world to present innovative dishes along different themes. The aim was to help attending flavourists determine future trends and product development. Buzz Baughard, vice president of global food service, said new flavours and combinations often start in fine dining, and make their way through casual dining to fast food and eventually to packaged goods in a process that takes three to five years. He said: "We are trying to shorten the gap between food made for fine dining and ingredients in packaged goods."​While flavourists sought inspiration, Givaudan's scientists were present to examine the flavours present in the chefs' creations. Similarly, Bell Flavors & Fragrances recently held a 'flavorology' event in Chicago, USA, in association with the National Restaurant Association Show. The event had two strings to it. On the one hand, it was a showcase for Bell's new flavours and technologies, and on the other it included a challenge between five food-industry renowned chefs to develop the best new menu concept. Jess Halliday's visit to National Starch's new Food Creation Centre in Hamburg, Germany, was funded by National Starch.

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