Is food art or is it science? Anyone who has plated a culinary masterpiece or painstakingly followed a baking formula knows it’s both. And as someone who has made a career of combining the culinary arts with food science, CIA graduate and food scientist Dr. Chris Loss ’93 has a unique perspective on the interplay between the two disciplines—and on why it’s important for busy chefs to take the time to delve deeper into the science behind their cuisine. “Understanding the basic scientific principles underlying culinary methods will allow chefs to be more creative and authentic in their cooking,” Chris says. “When chefs ask me why it’s important for them to understand food science, Vincent Van Gogh comes to mind. By creating his own paints, canvases, and brushes, he was able to give greater depth and meaning to his creations. This deeper understanding of his medium made him the great artist we all know. I believe that we in the food industry would also benefit from a more complete understanding of our medium, the ingredients we use, and how they interact.”
Chris has devoted his career to doing just that. Before joining the CIA in December 2005 as director of the college’s new Ventura Foods Center for Menu Research and Development at Greystone, he was a research assistant in the Department of Food Science at Cornell University in Ithaca. NY, where he earned his doctorate, master’s, and bachelor’s degrees. But it was the CIA’s associate degree program that first turned him on to food science. “I had to prepare a report about seafood preservation for Chef Clark’s class, and the research I did for it piqued my interest.”
Encouraged by several of his instructors to pursue his passion further, Chris headed to Ithaca where, in addition to his studies, he worked for a small contract R&D group and developed and taught the CIA’s Food Science and Technology Applications in Menu R&D online MenuMasters® course. Chris recently worked with Chef Jonathan A. Zearfoss and the CIA education department in developing the curriculum for the new PBS program in Culinary Science. “I view my role as a liaison between the culinary arts and food science, helping them meld together,” Chris says. With experience in both disciplines, Chris can see the benefits of a shared understanding of what goes on in the lab and in the kitchen.
“Food scientists are equally interested in what chefs know,” he says. “Having been on both sides, I think chefs have a unique perspective on food from working so closely with it. They have this empirical knowledge of food—they feel, see, smell, and taste it firsthand. Food scientists for research purposes, often have to work with model systems where they focus on one type of bacteria, one flavor compound, or one protein. Food systems are inherently complex, and in order to understand them better, I believe it requires a variety of perspectives from the culinary artisans to the food scientists. We have a lot to learn from each other! “I would encourage all grads to get involved in food science. Especially with the focus on health and wellness—and that’s a trend that’s not going away—understanding scientific principles will help chefs better meet their customers’ needs.”