Monthly Archives: May 2016

I’m not just being sappy. I mean it!

We’ve often viewed bacteria and microorganisms as something to kill and sanitize away, but an increasingly large pool of research and studies points to the integral role they may play in our physiologies and neurology. As a result of this, current food culture is saying “all hail” to probiotic foods, even though they’ve existed for centuries. As pro- and pre-biotics support the health of the microorganisms that live in the human intestines, this promotes their ability to function and flourish. Scientists are now viewing these residents of our gut as crucial as an organ, and work in tandem with the newest recognized division of our nervous system, the ENS.

The ENS, two thin layers of nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract from esophagus to rectum, is thought to modulate mood through our digestive processes. The tasks of breaking down and absorbing nutrients from food are delegated to the gut, which works independently of the brain’s command but is equipped with somewhere around 400 to 600 million neurons. These neurons produce about 95% of the serotonin and 50% of the dopamine found in your body, as well as some other major chemicals such as ghrelin and leptin.

So, the ENS and the community that lives within it seem to be a major bodily hotspot for influencing our behaviors and moods, controlling our sleep patterns and our stress responses, as there have been findings that bacteria too may be able to produce their own versions of neurotransmitters. Good bacteria aid in nutrient absorption; protect against pathogenic flora, viruses and parasites; prevent infection by acting as a physical barrier against toxins that could leak into the intestines; neutralize food toxins, perhaps as a second liver; control certain immune cells thereby preventing autoimmunity and unnecessary inflammation (Perlmutter 2015). In studies conducted on mice that were altered not to have any microorganisms in their guts, the mice were shown to have poor ability to cope with their stress, chronic inflammation, and lower levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This protein is produced by good gut bacteria and is really important for the growth and survival of neurons, thereby allowing for learning, memory, and higher thought processes. Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, anorexia nervosa, depression, schizophrenia, OCD, and many more neurological conditions are linked to low levels of BDNF.

Several studies have also shown that levels of pathogenic intestinal flora are elevated in the guts of children with autism as compared to children without the disorder. It has been found that children with autism had 10,000 times the normal level of aerobic gram negative bacteria such as E. coli (Rosseneu ). What does it mean to be a “gram-negative bacteria?” It means that these bacteria do not retain the purple dye used in some bacterial differentiation methods. The combination of fats and sugars, lipopolysaccharide, that is the major component of the outer membranes these bacteria are shown to be endotoxins that can induce the inflammatory response system and lead to many autoimmune diseases and depressive symptoms found in major depressive disorder.

What if obesity were less to do with will power and genetics, and more to do with the composition of microbiota existing in one’s gut? New research shows that the little bugs that dwell in our intestines play a crucial role in our metabolism.

While bacteria as a whole seem to aid in the digestion of food, the type of food they are most efficient in breaking down will vary. Firmicutes are equipped with more enzymes to digest complex carbohydrates and can extract more energy from fats; Bacteriodetes specialize in breaking down fibrous matter into shorter fatty acid molecules that the body can use for energy. If you’re a home for too many types of bacteria that can efficiently extract more calories from food, you’re prone to absorbing more than you need. The ratio of these two bacteria listed above are now looked upon as the “obesity biomarker,” as lean individuals will have less Firmicutes and more Bacteriodetes, whereas heavier individuals will have a higher ratio of Firmicutes to Bacteriodetes (Pearson 2006).

The quality of our diet, the quality and diversity of our gut bacteria, and our obesity risk are all interconnected. Eating foods that promote the proliferation of good bacteria (sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi, legumes, and high-fiber vegetables) as well as diminishing foods that promote the presence of bad bacteria (refined sugar- and fat-based products) can lead to a more favorable composition. Stress, lack of sleep, and exposure to antimicrobial soaps, sanitizers, and environmental pollutants can do the opposite!

The Good

  • Exercise: Promotes the right bacterial balance and positively influences the gut’s balance of bacteria to favor colonies that prevent weight gain.
  •  Fermented foods are probiotic because bacteria have converted the sugar molecules in these foods into lactic acid. By creating an acidic (low pH) environment, pathogenic bacteria are unable to thrive. These include:
    • Live, cultured yogurt, an exceptionally probiotic, healthy-bacteria-promoting food. In studies conducted on mice with genetic predispositions to weight gain, those fed probiotic yogurt three times a week remained lean even while consuming just as much fast food as control mice.
    • Other fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, tempeh, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickled fruits and vegetables, and cultured condiments (see another blog post about this here!)

The Bad

  • Antibiotics: As observed in the NYU Microbiome project, mice that received doses of antibiotics comparable to the amount that livestock receive (based on drug to bodyweight ratio) had their body fat increase 15% more than those not exposed to the drug. Fluoroquinolones and sulfur-based antibiotics trigger the overgrowth of C. Diff., a clostridia strain of bacteria that is correlated with autism and carbohydrate cravings. Processed carbohydrates feed these bugs and causes the colonies to grow.
  • Fructose is a feeder of pathogenic bacteria and disrupts a healthy microbial balance.
  • Artificial sweeteners like saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame are said to change the microbiome in ways that favor dysbiosis.


The study of the ENS and the microbiome that resides within all of us are new and exciting, uncharted territories. I hope you take comfort in the fact that you’re never truly alone with all three pounds worth of bugs in your intestines, because if you’re treating them right, they can help heal you!


Pearson, H. (2006, December 20). Fat people harbour ‘fat’ microbes. Retrieved May 29, 2016, from

Perlmutter, D., & Loberg, K. (n.d.). Brain maker: The power of gut microbes to heal and protect your brain–for life.

Rosseneu, S. (2003, October). Aerobic gut flora in children with autism specturm disorder and gastrointestinal symptoms. In Defeat Autism Now Conference. San Diego (CA).


(*From May 19, 2016.)

The visit to Applegate Farms today was tiresome but worthwhile. It was a lot of running back and forth to the kitchen and to the photoshoot area! Though I was mostly just a helping hand and wasn’t involved in the taking of pictures, I was able to observe as it all went down in between heating toppings up, grabbing forks and knifes and washing dishes. The cool part was that my hand-writing on the recipe cards was featured in a lot of the photographs!

Setting up was everything you’d expect. We had to lug in all of the coolers, dry goods, the placemats, cutting boards, and cooking ware, but with 4 people in total we were able to do so pretty quickly. The atmosphere of Applegate Farms Headquarters was very open and fun. They pride themselves on their sustainable, organic and natural meats and they’re concerned about animal welfare.

The photoshoot itself took place in the studio room called “Jugtown.” There were pictures on the walls that depicted the company’s history in sepia tones (very cool!) and Kate and Guy had to move some of the tables around so that the photoshoot could take place in the best lighting possible. It’s funny, I always thought that natural lighting was good, but it appeared like it was working against what they had envisioned for the pictures. Kate and Guy had to set up a tarp on one of the larger windows to dim the light out. I realized just how particular everything is for a photoshoot—it has to look really proper and tidy for social media and each and every aspect of the picture is scrutinized. Because the main focus of the pictures was the differently-dressed hot dogs, there was lots of fuss over “thumb placement” and how the model’s hands looked. Time is also of the essence here, you have to move quickly but not too quickly. Move too slow, and the hot dog will start to look old and stale and the toppings will move around; move too fast and obviously chaos will ensue and things will get sloppy.

One of the most redeeming parts of the visit was the networking and the people that I met. The people that work at Applegate Farms seem like they really value where they work and they have fun. They hire out a lot of young, health-minded individuals it seems (a lot of which didn’t really eat hot dogs or meat for that matter, which surprised me). The highlight of my day was being able to meet with the Research and Development staff of Applegate Farms (essentially, food scientists)! We had nearly an hour long discussion talking about what I could expect in college, what I could do with my major, intern opportunities, and the importance of staying curious about food. They told me that they too are foodies and food science “nerds.” It felt nice to have people to talk to that also take inspiration from looking at new products at the grocery store, and trying out weird and quirky food combinations. I met someone in marketing, who gave me a brief summary of what she does: essentially, she analyzes trends (through more than just social media) to see what customers like and what they believe will do well at retail stores.

From the experience today, I learned through discussing with two R&D specialists more about the industry that I will be a part of and the importance of maintaining one’s creative side when developing a recipe or product to put on the market. I learned what really goes into professional photography and what it takes to put a product on social media or on a grocery shelf. What I learned today was really essential but difficult to put into words, all said and done. I’m exhausted but it was a worthwhile experience.

(*From May 17 & 18, 2016.)

Today was my first day of helping Kate of And We Ate, a husband-and-wife duo of food photographers and recipe developers. I could not have picked a better week to start as a helping hand, as they are currently preparing for a photoshoot on Thursday featuring Applegate Farms, a Bridgewater, New Jersey based meat-farm that was just recently acquired by Hormel. Applegate Farms is focused on natural and organic meat products made with ingredients any consumer can pronounce.

The photoshoot features their various kinds of hotdogs, with 31 variations of flavor combinations based on cities in the United States. Today we had to gather the ingredients. Just going to the grocery store and searching for all different kinds of exotic pickled vegetables and sauces was a learning experience in and of itself! Kate is very grocery store savvy—even I didn’t know about giardinieras, pimiento peppers, and what a chiccaron was (it’s a pork skin).

After that was done, we headed down to her studio. I helped her make the recipe cards and then we began cooking. I helped her make pineapple relish and lemon mayo for the Honolulu Hot Dogs, the Pimiento cheese for the Cincinati Hot Dogs, and my favorite, the Olive Mufuletta Salad for the New Orleans Hot Dogs.

I was able to learn that I’m terrible at juicing and zesting citrus, and really bad at mincing parsley and garlic. I think Kate will teach me some good kitchen habits—she made sure that I continually cleaned up after finishing each recipe. My old method used to be to let all my bowls and dirty utensils pile up in the sink! I was able to see how much stress is taken away from the equation when you clean as you go. Being in the And We Ate studio kitchen, I realized just how much I have to learn about cooking—and how different cooking for a professional styling shoot is than cooking for yourself.

On day two, Kate and Guy demonstrated the appropriate chopping and slicing techniques. There’s a specific way you have to hold whatever you’re cutting and the knife itself. They also showed me that you can put a damp washcloth underneath your cutting board to keep it stable. And if it wasn’t the onion itself making me tear up, it might be how difficult it was to properly dice it (I’ve been cutting them wrong all my life!) I’m not the best with a knife still, but hopefully with practice I’ll become better. It’s funny, I never realized there was skill involved in such a common kitchen activity, but I think it’s truly what sets apart good dishes from bad, because how foods are cut can impact their texture. I also feel like it’s such a baseline ability that I should have if I plan on working in the food industry!

After the chopping lesson, we prepared most of the colder toppings, as yesterday was mainly for the toppings that had to be cooked on the stove top. I made a pepper hash, delicious guacamole, herbed mayo, cole slaw, snacked on copious amounts of pineapple helped Kate clean up along the way and set up a “game plan” for the next day. With 31 different variations of frankfurter sandwich, you can’t even imagine how much preparation goes into each one. We assembled the recipe cards in order, grouping them by toppings that were utilized in each and made sure that we had everything that we needed from the pantry and most of her food styling tools.

I think it’s fair to say that we’re ready for tomorrow. We’re getting up bright and early for an all-day shoot at Applegate Farms’ headquarters.



I’ve visited places that give me an image of how the ingredients I use in my product are grown, and now I’m off to visit the next step in the process, and the integrating piece between farmers and chefs (and jointly, the customers). “Distribution is the missing link, and you’re here to do it,” farmers, growers, and chefs tell Mikey Azzara, the man behind Zone 7. Zone 7, named after its agricultural growing zone, is a New Jersey based, 100% local farm fresh food distributor located in Ringoes and delivers daily to restaurants, chefs, grocers, schools and more. They source “only the best, highest quality [fruits, vegetables, cheese, eggs, herbs, and grains] from [over 120 of the region’s best farms] 52 weeks a year,” with hopes to “[lead] the way in promoting [their] farms and customers while changing the way people see the local food economy.”

Well, Zone 7 is accomplishing what they set out to do, at least in part. After my visit, my own outlook on the concept of supporting locally and sustainably grown foods has been strengthened. Zone 7 works with more than 120 sustainable farms and more than 300 different restaurants, schools, and grocers. It’s clear to see why.

A food distributor works as the intermediary between food manufacturers or farmers and the food service operator. The distributor will purchase and store in their warehouse products that will be sold in bulk (wholesale) and delivered to these food service operators. By doing this, a food distributor gives the food service operators access to items from a wide variety of manufacturers and/or farms, by which they can order on a daily or weekly basis.

I was able to see as Mikey toured the Zone 7 facilities with me all of the different kinds of fruits, vegetables, herbs, grain, dairy, and eggs they keep on hand. Their warehouse is like one big refrigerator at 35°, and keeps produce fresh. They post what’s available for local food service operators to buy online with the farm of its origin and the pack size. The food service operator must order at least a full case and Zone 7 will only deliver an order minimum of $100-150, depending on the product.

A lot of the produce they receive and the products that are made from them have “stories,” just like my own products. Here were a few that I thought were most interesting:

  • From Barefoot Gardens, Zone 7 purchases all kinds of herbs, alliums, microgreens, and my favorite—edible flowers! These flowers act as colorful garnishes and help salads and sandwiches stand out. This farm also grows chamomile (which is pretty neat as most conventional chamomile is farmed in Egypt), and mentha (a relative of mint with a chemical composition similar to oregano or thyme!)
  • Ridge Valley Farm in Southeast Pennsylvania produces their own Maple Syrup from a neat hole tapping process whereby they extract the maple sap that runs down the tree when the temperature warms. They use a maple syrup evaporating contraption that creates a 64% sugar maple syrup.
  • Juicewell creates “fresh pressed remedies,” using the fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices that Zone 7 provides them. They intend to connect people back to their food source in a “harvest-to-bottle” process, whereby the farmers generally pick the produce the day before and Zone 7 delivers it to Juicewell the next day, when it can be cold-pressed. Produce is titrated, ground up, caught in a bag, and hydraulically pressed with 10 tons of pressure. This extracts more nutrients and extends shelf life in comparison to a traditional centrifugal blender because there is no air to allow for oxidation.
  • The Rutgers Research and Breeding Center experimentally grew hazelnuts for many seasons before they were urged by one of Zone 7’s employees to begin having them be distributed them to local businesses that would want to incorporate them into their menus. One such business, who cracks open these nuts, toasts them and sprinkles them for pleasant flavor and crunch on their salads, is over the moon to be a part of their local agricultural and food system. Instead of purchasing hazelnuts from Turkey or wherever, they can make a change by being in contact with the breeders that are within driving distance.
  • Cherry Grove Farm is a grass-based dairy that has been making cheeses and raw milk for eight years, with flavors such as award-winning buttermilk brie, trillby whiskey washed cheese, their Havilah with notes of caramel and pineapple, harvest tomme, herdsman, and flavored jack cheeses that blend herbs such as fresh nettle and spicy oregano directly into the curd.


When Mikey asked me about my own product idea, he immediately grabbed a notebook and pen and asked me the ingredients I use and how much I use of each. When I told him I used 12 out of a pallet of two-and-a-half dozen eggs, he looked confusedly at me. In food distributor speak, a pallet refers to an enormous slab of wood that encases enormous quantities of a food product! That clearly hinted to him that I was working on a very small scale. This prompted him to ask me what I intend to do with my kitchen science experiment. Did I want to open my own storefront or sell to grocery stores and markets?

Mikey told me the upsides and downsides of each. Owning one’s own storefront means that the cooking process is much more hands-on and labor intensive, but you get to know each and every one of your customers. In contrast, mass producing and distributing a product to different retailers requires the help of a co-packer, who takes on the processing of your product by following your method and your specific instructions. This takes the labor out of the cooking and creating on your end, but there are a lot of expenses and regulations involved.

As I quickly learned, Zone 7 does more than provide the people on the receiving end with the constituents for their recipes. Zone 7 helps the growers of the food, by giving them access to a customer base. One day, I hope to be one of these customers. My visit evoked an enthusiasm and excitement that I live in an area with so many amazing resources readily available to me. There is an abundance of ingredients that are grown so close to my own home. I wish I had taken advantage of them sooner, but with the knowledge I have now, it is very much possible!


As a young person wholeheartedly adhering to their personal health and wellness, and inspired to design a product that fits into the category of a “functional food,” I was curious to know if there was a discrepancy between the real and ideal culture of the rest of my generation’s interest in nourishing themselves with these kinds of products. According to large trend databases on Google Search Engine, health-beneficial products have become all the rage among kids of high school and college age (Google Trends, 2016). We are a generation that has knowledge at our fingertips and are mindful that we are living longer and want our extra years to be pain-free and disease-free.

So, we’re motivated to make more informed choices about the forks that we raise to our mouths and enlist upon the help of our technology to answer our qualms about what sort of elixir or item is best for our current predicament. We shell out cash for mysterious ingredients like bee pollen, turmeric, apple cider vinegar, hulled hemp hearts, and spirulina in hopes of a fresher face, a clearer mind, a flatter tummy, or a happier outlook. We’re more likely to gobble up a whole box of gluten-free cookies or fiber-rich crackers without feeling remorse for our choice. But when these kinds of foods are presented to us amidst an array of traditional snacks– like donuts, chips, cakes, and soda—do they still have that irresistible aura that we can’t help but fawn all over via the internet?

This actually wasn’t what I intended to find out with the goods that I baked and brought for my peers during two separate parties on our last formal days of school. One was more subtlety-healthy, and the other purported the promises of so many superfoods, it practically sang, “I’m for hippies!” I mainly wanted to see what students thought of the taste, but the presentation of both the muffins and the cookies that I brought was enough to deter most students from giving either a chance. It made a real statement of the real and ideal cultures that conflict with each other within my age demographic. We want to make the right choices, but we’re easily swayed by the artificial “charms” of modern day junk food fare—the synthetic colors, flavors, and textures.

Two-thirds of the gluten-free, paleo banana-chocolate-chip muffins that I put out for students were taken. This is a significantly higher amount than the takers for my flax, pepita, dried apricot and goji berry granola cookies. Students might have had taste concerns considering the exotic ingredients and their flawed, homemade look. The muffins may have seemed “friendlier” because bananas and chocolate are simple and familiar ingredients, and humans love labeling things. The fact that these muffins could be lumped into two currently trendy food categories—gluten-free and paleo– may have been a plus.

Failures happen. It’s an essential part of the learning process, an element of experimentation. Especially when we work with humans (fussy teenagers, for that matter). What can unfold with an improperly conducted observation or survey can profoundly impact the results that you hope to get! However, what was revealed to me honed in the essentiality of how a product is conveyed to others and how it looks. While what I set out to do isn’t what panned out, I learned of another dimension of food engineering: creating intriguing, delicious products that look good enough to eat and flawlessly blend into the palate of modern-day consumers.


Pina, Pedro. (2016, April). 2016 Food Trends on Google: The Rise of Functional Foods. Retrieved from



The farm-to-table movement, which started as means of aesthetic undertaking, quickly grew to an agent of social activism. It’s a term coined to describe the collecting, storing, processing, packaging, sales, and consumption—a review, quite literally, of the journey of food. Human health and wellness, as well as sickness and disease, is largely correlated to the quality and source of the foods that we eat. Therefore, it would make sense to observe each and every step in the process of food production.

My study begins on a sunny day in early May on a visit to Z-Food Farm, a certified organic plot of land and storefront started up by David Zaback (also known as Farmer David). “With a double major in Anthropology and Environmental studies,” David believes that “organic farming was [his] most logical career choice” (Z-Story). He realized, as I have, that food is an integral aspect of worldly culture and the potential implications of conventional, industrial agriculture and modern food consumption on environment (to that I add, the health of humans) are severe. Through volunteering on a small organic farm, and creating connections with other organic establishments, David realized his niche and realized that he wanted to own and manage his own farm. Through hard work, lots of passion, and taking chances with opportunities presented to him, he has converted an 11-acre plot of land in Lawrenceville, New Jersey into a mini agro-ecosystem. Fresh vegetables, fruits, grasses, and herbs grow in abundance here, just as Z-Food Farms has likewise been growing in critical acclaim. David and his family’s farm have been featured in publications such as The Huffington Post, Philly Times, Fox News, and more.
David supplemented me with some crop-growing knowledge, farmer to future food scientist. This will be helpful to me as I begin a journey that is entwined with agricultural studies. After all, knowing and having an understanding of the mediums with which you work with enables you to create a better product.So, how did David and I cross paths? Though our friend, Gabrielle Carbone of the Bent Spoon. He supplies Gabby with produce for some of her more exotic flavors, like kale for her kale streak[ed with chocolate], pumpkins and squashes for her roasted pumpkin, and herb-based sorbets. This is the kind of model that I’d like to follow for the invention of my own flavors for my dessert products. The straight- from-the-source sustainability isn’t the only element that inspires me here: it’s also the ingenuity in taking a traditionally savory ingredient and remastering it to create an overall more exciting sensory experience.

David supplemented me with some crop-growing knowledge, farmer to future food scientist. This will be helpful to me as I begin a journey that is entwined with agricultural studies. After all, knowing and having an understanding of the mediums with which you work with enables you to create a better product.

The first stop on our tour of the farm was to the Greenhouse. It was here that I got to see just a handful of some of the crops (currently sprouts) that he will be growing this year. In the greenhouse, climatic conditions (temperature and light) are regulated to ensure that plants can develop on schedule. Then, David moves some of his plants to an intermediary location before moving them directly out to the fields where they can mature into recognizable crops. This process is called transplanting—it is a beneficial process that extends the growing season of plants, protects them from disease until they are sufficiently established, and avoids any germinating problems with seeds.

The next stop was out to the fields. I didn’t see acres upon acres of flourishing crops and green like I’d expect at first. The cruciferous vegetables that he introduced me to in the beginning were covered with something David calls plastic mulch, ground cover that suppresses weeds and conserves water and temperature.

He says that it’s a long contested debate over whether or not organic farmers should use this plastic mulch, because there are concerns over them accumulating in soil and causing reduction in crop yield and causing environmental strain. An alternative to plastic crop covering uses biodegradable polymers, which are naturally broken down by the living microbes in the soil (to be discussed later). They provide all of the same benefits as plastic mulch, without the problem of synthetic materials accumulating in the soil (Müller 2006).The next stop was out to the fields. I didn’t see acres upon acres of flourishing crops and green like I’d expect at first. The cruciferous vegetables that he introduced me to in the beginning were covered with something David calls plastic mulch, ground cover that suppresses weeds and conserves water and temperature.The first stop on our tour of the farm was to the Greenhouse. It was here that I got to see just a handful of some of the crops (currently sprouts) that he will be growing this year. In the greenhouse, climatic conditions (temperature and light) are regulated to ensure that plants can develop on schedule. Then, David moves some of his plants to an intermediary location before moving them directly out to the fields where they can mature into recognizable crops. This process is called transplanting—it is a beneficial process that extends the growing season of plants, protects them from disease until they are sufficiently established, and avoids any germinating problems with seeds.

In this light, I asked Farmer David about the legitimate differences between fertilizer and pesticide use on conventional versus organic farms, something I have discussed and researched on my blog website. He told me what I already knew: an organic farm’s number one priority is to hold environmentally-responsible stewardship. This means they’ll take extra care to use farming practices that do not negatively impact our environment.

And aside from quizzing me on different botanical families—like, what crops make up the Solanaceae and Apiaceae families, Farmer David also highlighted on the importance of certain cover crops. Cover crops circulate nutrients throughout the soil, suppress weeds, and help to control pests and disease. The current cover crop found in David’s fields is rye, and it is special in that it’s roots form an essential, symbiotic relationship with fungus. This symbiosis is called mycorrhiza(e). These mycorrhiza relationships are the host for nitrogen-fixing bacteria. These bacteria convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into a form that is readily useable for plants. Legumes, too, have a similar function in that they also have structures called root nodules that host these nitrogen-fixers. Both of these key crops play an integral role in crop rotation.

Crop rotation is unique to organic farms, and is a method that leads to dramatic increases in the fertility of the soil and helps to optimize nutrient and water use. Conventional farming practices do not include cover crops or rotational systems, which leads to the degradation of soil structure (Baldwin 2006).

On our way out we got to munch on some of nature’s delights: fresh kale flowers, mature kale, lemon thyme, mint, sage, and asparagus spears. The taste was remarkably different from what you’d find at a grocery store. It tasted crisper and sweeter, and it was really cool to know the farmer who put in the hard work to deliver it to me.

Works Cited

Baldwin, K. R. (2006, June). Crop Rotations on Organic Farms. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from


Müller, R. J. (2006). Biological degradation of synthetic polyesters—enzymes as potential catalysts for polyester recycling. Process Biochemistry, 41(10), 2124-2128.

Meeting with Gabrielle Carbone of The Bent Spoon was an invaluable and essential component of my research project learning experience. Her mind and way of looking at the creative side of an entrepreneurial endeavor is exactly what I am trying to model, and the ideas that she posed to me I hadn’t thought of myself.

Gabrielle, or Gabby, is the founder of a little ice cream store in Princeton, NJ that has aggrandized in popularity among frozen dessert connoisseurs of all ages. With over 550 rotating flavors at their brick and mortar which began nearly 12 years ago, it goes to show how much a little creativity and a lot of passion can grow to be something bigger than a pipe dream. Gabby’s business truly began when she was about 13 years old and she was introduced to the world of ice cream making with her first ice cream maker. She told me that this was what really “planted a seed in her head (…) and lead her to the place [where she is today].”

This reminds me a lot of myself. I began making my product when I was roughly the same age, just substitute in a different kitchen appliance (a food processor) and a different “cooking” process. Though our two products are slightly different, I think we both had the same sweet end product in mind.

On Curiosity:

Gabby reinforced the importance of creativity and curiosity in entrepreneurship. This curiosity is necessary for sparking inspiration, so you can collect more information which will help to form new ideas.

On Psychology:

There is a psychological component involved when you create a product for consumers. Gabby and I both want to know “why do people choose certain flavors?” when we’re busy brainstorming the next theme, taste, or texture for our respective dessert products.

I look forward to going down to The Bent Spoon one afternoon and surveying customers about that very question. They might be choosing plain old vanilla because it brings them back to their childhood, or maybe they intrinsically just enjoy the combination of all the chemical compounds of that specific flavor. They might even be choosing it because their parent(s) swayed them to… Gabby told me that this is a prevalent issue at her ice cream store. A child might be excited to get a quirky scoop of Basil or Ricotta ice cream, but an adult will dissuade them from their choice. It makes me think about how consumers tend to limit themselves from branching out and trying something left-of-center. It is this sticking to the status-quo that could be a huge barrier for me in trying to get people to try my product. When I tell people what goes in to making my dessert (weird ingredients…!) they might turn up their nose!

On Sustainability and Health:

Right down to the metal spoons that Gabby is trying to use for sample tastes of ice cream at her scoop shop, The Bent Spoon is a business that is truly all about sustainability. They receive their milk, eggs, honey, and flavors from local and organic places and people. They know each and every person and every step involved in their ice cream creating process.

This is one of my own core values—something that I want to honor right from the beginning in creation of my custard. It can be a challenge to always meet these criteria. It’s far too easy to buy conventionally farmed eggs, dairy from cows living in close quarters being fed off of sub-optimal feed and administered inhumane doses of growth hormones and antibiotics. It’s really easy to rely on artificial flavors and sweeteners. I’m “guilty” of using conventional ingredients and ingredients that were made in a lab. It weighs on my conscience, but in this early and experimental phase of my product development, I know that it’s a good idea to put all my focus into mastering the processing of my dessert. I know I can always fine-tune the steps along the way.

Gabby told me a few things that made me feel even better about how I am approaching the creation of my dessert. For starters, she can see the value in balancing out the natural ingredients with the unnatural ingredients. As an example, she explained to me that diacetyl, a natural flavoring found in butter which can be extracted naturally or synthesized artificially, can be looked at as either good or bad. It can be used in exorbitant amounts in junk foods to get people “hooked” on them, but they can also maybe be used to entice an older adult to eat a food product that will give them nutrition. The compound, regardless of where it comes from, can impart a flavor on a dessert that can bring someone back to a moment or experience, or create balance for the other flavors within the product.

Gabby also told me that there is a huge difference between buzzwords like “local,” and “organic,” and it’s really a very sneaky thing. Apparently, there is a huge industry for products labeled as organic, but they are conventional just like any other run of the mill, un-organic grocery store product. They may be sprayed with chemicals, may be harvested unsustainably, or may otherwise have something going on behind the scenes that consumers may not be too happy about knowing about.

Having met Gabby, I feel invigorated to continue my quest and stay creative and inspired, and always remain questioning. Hopefully this meeting was a promising beginning for good things to follow 🙂