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[Insider Interview] A Conversation with Cornell’s Christopher Gaulke and Heather Kolakowski

Food Genius recently partnered with the Cornell School of Hotel Administration to provide the culinary students matriculating through a Restaurant Management course access to the Food Genius Menu Analytics Dashboard. Through this partnership we have come to learn more about how students are educated in food and beverage management, many of which may go on to corporate jobs in restaurant chains that we work closely with. Students are leveraging the menu analytics dashboard as part of a project focused on creating a complete mock restaurant from scratch. Very exciting stuff! We spoke with lecturers Christopher Gaulke and Heather Kolakowski about the trends in culinary education, foodie culture, so called “clean-labels” and how restaurant management requires significant “on-the-job training”. Below is a compilation of our conversation. In a few weeks we will update the blog with stories and results from students using the Food Genius Menu Analytics Dashboard. We can’t wait to see what they come up with!

FG: How has culinary education evolved in the last 5-10 years from when you were a student. What has been surprising to you during that time? What areas are students more or less interested in than they used to be?

Christopher Gaulke: You’d think that since I didn’t go to culinary school that long ago, that not much has changed. In reality, the types of students and lessons have changed significantly. Just 10 years ago, the majority of culinary programs focused on teaching classic French cuisine and techniques. Escoffier’s brigade system, the five mother sauces, wet & dry heat cooking methods were the fundamentals learned by all. Today’s culinary programs have supplanted much of this material with significantly more modern methods and practices such as those related to molecular gastronomy, culinology, nutrition, and even human resource management.

Heather Kolakowski: The use of technology has increased dramatically over the past few years.  In 2000, the culinary programs focused on printed cookbooks and textbooks.  Now with the use of digital media, classic texts like the Professional Chef are now digital on tablets with access to video snippets and research through the web.  The small fast videos appeal to the new culinary student, as they are more used to short bursts of information through their social media platforms such as Twitter or “news” sites such as BuzzFeed.  However, with such a hands on degree, despite the fact that there actually is an “online culinary degree” the importance of putting the time in the kitchen and working with the mise en place is critical to the success of these students in the industry.

CG: Additionally, students ten years ago had a significant amount of prior experience before attending.  Today, a large proportion of applicants have selected to attend based on their experience with food from a consumer perspective. Another change that has occurred recently is the heightened expectations of culinary students. In the past it was expected that even after graduation you  would have to “work your way up” through the kitchen. Which took no time at all because they were appropriately armed with their prior experience and education. Today’s culinary graduates tend to be much less willing to accept this traditional practice. Many leave culinary school expecting to be able to walk right into a chef/management position.

FG:     How has the increased cultural relevancy of food in America impacted the types of individuals that are now joining programs like Cornell’s. Do you think it has had a noticeable impact? Do you think “foodie” culture has reached a boiling point? What do you think the benefits of more people being interested in food have been?

HK: Foodie culture has definitely increased significantly over the past 10-15 years.  Now the consumer has multiple venues to explore and learn about other foods and cultures, from the Food Network to reality TV shows, as well as social media platforms such as Instagram and Foodspotting.  Since we all need to eat to survive, I don’t think the fascination with food will ever subside, rather, other topics will emerge to dominate the conversation for a while (for example the farm to table movement has exploded recently, even though it has been around over 20 years in its current form).  Food is also a very personal experience, and often tied to someone’s cultural heritage.  I think one of the challenges that might emerge in the future is merging and blending of different cuisines that might create a bit of an identity crisis.  “Traditional” cuisine is often modified by region, taste preference, access to ingredients, so much in some cases that it no longer resembles its origins and has become something different.  Some of the major benefits of more people being interested in food has been the increase of job opportunities and the impact of consumer demand for transparency in product sourcing.  The next big benefit that I think we will see strengthening is the emphasis on healthy components of food, whether it is due to the aging Baby Boomer demographic or the increased scrutiny on obesity (particularly in the U.S.).

FG:    Consumers have become obsessed with “clean-labels” and transparency in where their food comes from.  Some restaurants have created success and popularity based on this principle. Do you think that this is a fad that will taper off, or do you think this is the new normal?

CG: Thankfully, obsessions fade. The voices of those most desiring of “clean”, “source-identified” foods have already begun to soften. The voices aren’t softening because the fad is passing, but instead because the industry has realized that the demand is not going away anytime soon. Industry has recognized that a large majority of consumers today are very interested in knowing what is in their food and where it comes from. That being said, I do believe that demand for increased transparency will/has become the new normal.

To learn more about Cornell, visit their website at: https://sha.cornell.edu/ To learn more about our Menu Analytics Dashboard visit: http://getfoodgenius.com/menu-analytics-dashboard

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