Today, chefs can be found using their skills and knowledge in places other than a restaurant's kitchen. With job titles like executive chef, sous chef, caterer, cook and research chef, they work in such capacities as consulting and research. A research chef may be hired by restaurants and food manufacturers to help develop new food products and menu ideas.
What They Do
Research chefs work with a team to take a food idea from the concept to plate. Along the way, they use their culinary skills and food science knowledge to develop new products. The chef may be part of a research and development team that also includes scientists and marketing staff. The chef is responsible for initiating a concept, creating recipes, cooking samples for testing, enhancing current products and providing input to taste, texture and packaging of food products.
The Research Chef Kitchen
Food manufacturers, large chain restaurants, flavor and spice companies and independent food service providers hire research chefs. These organizations have test kitchens where the chef begins the process. According to an article in the Fall 2002 Occupational Outlook Quarterly, these kitchens are designed to facilitate accuracy and consistency. Every ingredient is measured and detailed so the recipe can be reproduced if successful. Where a restaurant chef may toss in a pinch of something here and there, the research chef's ingredients must be precisely measured and documented.
Besides working in a test kitchen, the research chef may also offer his expertise on other research chef's creations and current products; participate in consumer product testing and analyze the results; evaluate texture and presentation of food items; and offer opinion on food packaging and even cost. Research chefs have an obligation to stay current on food trends, flavors and cooking techniques and equipments. The Research Chefs Association has established "core knowledge competencies" needed to practice the profession.
Education and Training
Employers hiring research chefs seek an innovative chef with about five years of cooking experience in a restaurant. Often they require experience in product development and a combination of a culinary degree and bachelor's degree in food science. The Research Chefs Associations offers degree programs, continuing education programs and internships. The Research Chefs Association's degree program is offered at several universities, while the continuing education is a series of workshops for chefs. After concluding studies of either program, the chef is prepared to take the association's exam, leading to certification as a Certified Research Chef.
With the popularity of cooking shows and celebrity chefs, the food industry is always in search of new products and creative ideas. The field of research chef continues to grow and develop with ever-increasing membership in the Research Chef Association, which considers the industry a "fast growing discipline." According to a survey by the Research Chefs Association, research chef's earned between $70,000 and $90,000 annually. Per recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, chef positions will remain steady between 2010 and 2018.
- Photo Credit serious woman image by Lisa Eastman from Fotolia.com
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