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I don’t mean to lump in all of the remainder of these experiences on to one post, as they really should each be given their own. To be honest, I actually finished my project experience today! I was able to give a presentation about everything that I’ve learned over the past few weeks. It was so nice to have been able to reflect on all that I’ve accomplished in making progress towards having my idea become an actual product.

However, I feel like while everything is still fresh in my head, I want to be able to recap the last few opportunities I got to learn something from.

#1. Going to a real food lab for surveys and sensory analysis!
Well, it’s actually a  food lab unique to Drexel University! Located in Philadelphia and just across the street from Monell Sensory Center, the Food Lab is part of Drexel’s School of Hospitality and Management, and they offer an array of courses under the umbrella of their Culinary Science program. This is one of the schools that I applied to but ultimately did not choose because they do not offer students to get an undergraduate degree in Food Science. That being said, through connections I have I was able to schedule myself an opportunity to sit in on a class. Moreover, I was allowed to bring in samples of my product for culinary students to try. I brought samples of the desserts pictured in the previous post, and gave them the option to take a survey that I created. While it wasn’t the most optimal way to conduct a survey, students were pretty honest about what they thought. Even still, I got pretty positive feedback, which is promising!

I asked them these questions such as these:

  • What was your first response to the product?
  • What were the least favorable qualities about the product?
  • What were the most favorable qualities about the product?
  • How innovative is this product?
  • Would you recommend this product to a friend?
  • Over the last 30 days, what specialty food products have you purchased? (They could choose from a list, such as gluten-free, high-fiber, low cholesterol, organic, non-GMO, etc.)
  • Responses to the dessert sensory qualities such as appearance, taste/flavor, texture/consistency, aroma/smell, and overall acceptability.

After the surveys, I was able to have some help reformulating my recipe from the students. I had a student studying pastry arts help me! The improvements helped the efficiency of the making of my dessert, removed some of the “gritty” or “starchiness” some people tasted, and improved the density by focusing on a factor called over-run.

This feedback and reformulation of my recipes showed me the importance of collaborating when turning an idea into a product!

#2: Visiting another organic, sustainable farm!

It was like a re-hash of Z-Food Farm, but this visit felt much more personal to me. I visited to pick up a dozen farm fresh, free range eggs. Not only did I get these eggs, but the reinforcement to continue my persistence into supporting local agriculture.

The eggs are pricey, to be sure. From speaking with Mike, a farmer at North Slope Farm whose “project” is the raising of the hens, a $7 carton of eggs is a more than fair price to pay, and it might not even be enough to support the worker responsibilities at 10 dollars an hour.

 

 

I was able to see ethically and sustainably raised egg-laying hens and their pastures in which they have a symbiotic relationship with. The hens live a stress free life and are truly free to run around and graze on the grass and the chicken feed and bugs. This is closer to the ideal in which they should be living; not cooped up in battery cages where they are forcibly ravaged for their eggs, pumped with hormones, and crowded so tightly together that they can barely move, breathe, or see the light of day.

I don’t think my summary here encompasses what I experienced and learned on that day, but I can say that it has been a defining event for my own personal values and what is important to me. We can’t be perfect in everything we do, for sure, but it’s the little things we do to help that can make a big impact. I’d like to be able to support more operations and farms like the ones I have visited throughout my experience some day. It’s amazing to me that the product that I am currently in development of now can one day be a means of change in the food system, local economy, animal welfare, and environment!

#3. Drafting new ideas for product formulation.

There’s not much to say here except that I spent a portion of my time creating new ways my recipe can be made when I was away from shadowing my experience facilitators, popping up at farms, or making my dessert the “traditional way.” One variation simply utilizes free-range, organic, grass-fed, etc. ingredients (the model I’d like to move towards someday); and a variation that is allergen-, vegetarian, and vegan-friendly. It’s a plant based formulation that I’m not so sure I will share just yet as it is still in the very early phases of formulation, but it has potential! It’s promising because it will allow for a wider range of people to be able to enjoy my product without worry of an allergic reaction or their morals and ethics being compromised.

#4. Creating a proto-type website for my product! Perhaps the link will come soon.

Well, that sums it up for my product experience. What is seen here on this blog is a very condensed version of what actually has transgressed over these past 3 weeks. If you’re interested in learning about more, please don’t hesitate to contact me! I’m wrapping up my high school experience in these next few days, and I’m excited to start writing about more food science, cooking, and nutrition findings again. Thank you for taking the time to read and coming along on the journey with me!

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(From May 26, 2016.)

Part 1: Sharing my recipe…?

My project experience facilitator Kate was able to watch today as I made a batch of my custard. It was interesting to get her opinion on each step of the process, and she was even bold enough to taste it at different steps along the way. I was initially apprehensive for someone other than my family to see how my dessert-making unfolds. However, she seemed pleasantly surprised and remarked that my dessert wasn’t as bizarre as I’d made it sound. I learned an important lesson today on letting other people “in” on your secrets and being vulnerable. I can’t deny that the ingredient combination has always seemed weird to me, and having someone observe me while I blend them all up in a food processor has had me thinking if I will be judged. But, as I learned today, having other people’s opinions is truly important when developing a product. You need someone other than yourself to objectively experience it. Kate and Guy were excellent people to have taste it, as their palates are pretty refined and they know what “real” and “good” food tastes like. Because they enjoyed it, I could breathe a sigh of relief that it’s not truly terrible after all! I’ve always liked how it tasted, but I knew that I may be biased because it’s my own creation.

Relaying the process to Kate made me realize how much I’ve mastered it. I was explaining to her the process as I went along, and peppered in with my instructions I’d include past observations when I’d tweak the recipe or add in something different. She wanted to know why I used the ingredients that I used and I was able to explain for each in detail.

Just because I’ve been doing this for a while doesn’t mean it doesn’t need changes. Kate said that it’s very creamy and rich, and probably doesn’t need as much thickening agent as I’ve been using. She likes the taste, so it seems. After some discussion I revealed to her my ideas of refining my custard making process: perhaps using vegan friendly ingredients, or using from more sustainable sources. She then told me that this shows that I am refining my craft—meaning I am well along my way in the experimentation and creation process. Rather than adding a ton of things in to my recipe like I did during the early phases, I’m starting to understand how my custard is made well enough to experiment with substitution or taking out an ingredient.

Part 2: Photography

I brought a separate pint each of my vanilla bean custard and my dark chocolate custard, pre-frozen. These would be used for a photo shoot that Guy helped me out with. Kate had me look at the different textured kitchen towels and place mats, and different slates and boards to serve as a background for my desserts. I also looked through her cabinets and drawers for bowls and spoons. As food photographers and recipe developers, they have so many.

Eventually, we settled on a few and now we had to be patient for the custards to thaw, so they were smooth enough to spoon out. This was a very long wait! My custard doesn’t melt, so the defrosting took longer than usual. In the meantime, Kate and I compared the different textures and colors of the props and decided on the lighting. I liked the simple and clean items, with some that might add a little bit of color. I was able to roast some cashews for the topping, have her sample the cherry jam I made and the date caramel. The custard at this point was still not thawed out, so I was able to take a lunch break.

After finally deciding to microwave the custard, it was eventually a scoopable texture. We laid out the vanilla bean custard originally on a gray ceramic bowl, topped with my date caramel and the chopped, roasted cashews. We set this bowl on a slab of black slate. Guy had difficulty photographing this one. It was awkward and the caramel looked grainy because coconut oil hardens when it’s cold. Kate and I both agreed that we should try to take another shot after putting the caramel in a double boiler and melting it down a bit. It was a success! We spooned more custard into a clear glass and layered it with the now melty date caramel and the roasted cashews. These pictures were much more appealing. Guy was explaining some of the tricks and techniques he uses to change the focus of the photo and the lighting, which creates different effects on the mood of the photo.

The second flavor, dark chocolate with cherry chia seed jam and brownie pieces, was a lot easier to photograph. We dished out two smaller servings into two small white bowls, added the toppings, and laid them out on a marble slate for a more organic yet minimal look. We sensed that there was something missing from the picture, so we added a violet table cloth on the side and some bamboo spoons. Something about these pictures was reminiscent about Valentine’s Day to me. And it was fitting, because I love them!

It was so amazing to see my desserts come to life. There is such a difference to be made when you have people helping you out that understand color, depth perspective, lighting, and aesthetic.

This was my vanilla bean flavor with roasted cashews and date-coconut caramel sauce!

And this was my chocolate with sweet potato brownie pieces and cherry-chia seed jam!

Thank you to Kate and Guy for these amazing photos! Be sure to stop by their website if you have the time, andweate.com !

Today I was in for a sweet treat—literally. I got the chance to have an insider’s loo
k (scoop?) at what it’s like behind the counter of thebentspoonThe Bent Spoon in Princeton New Jersey. I entered in through the back of the store, to a man in the midst of making chocolate ice cream. It was here that I looked all around me—different flavor ideas and their ingredients, recipe cards, ice-cream making contraptions of all kinds, food scales, double boilers, giant storage containers… the works. It was only a matter of time before Gabby came in to meet me, and she promptly introduced me to my helper of the day, Kristin. Squeezing through the crowded kitchen space she led me out to the store front and I got to work. This wasn’t your typical daily toil, unless you consider taste testing all 24 current flavors something particularly demanding or something you do every day.

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We started with the mellow-er flavors: vanilla bean, sour cream, ricotta, mascarpone, and olive oil were a few. Then we moved on to sorbets: rhubarb, raspberry lemon, blood orange, and kiwifruit. We tried some more exotic flavors, like goat’s milk coffee and caramel, chocolate earl gray, and cardamom ginger. There was even some flavors that were dairy free, but tasted just as rich: a dark chocolate sorbet, and a coconut-milk based ice cream. I’ll be sure to stop back in the winter for some mushroom hot chocolate!

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I got a scoop each of marscapone and ricotta! Yummy.

Gabby brought me outside to discuss what it is like to run the place, and some of the barriers she faces doing so, including the sheer size of work room they have and the cost that comes with making small batch ice cream fresh every day. It is this, along with the seasonality of the ingredients and their local sources, that makes for the irreplaceable essence of the store. By knowing exactly where every component of her ice cream comes from, putting a premium on relationships she has with the local farms instead of prices, this not only ensures a quality product but also one that she can truly feel good about making.

It is plain to see that this is no ordinary ice cream shop, and it is based on no ordinary values. Talking with Gabby, seeing everything that goes into the place, and knowing that everything that goes into the gelato-like frozen treats is from local and sustainable sources, inspires me to strive to recreate my product with these values in mind.

 

(*From May 23, 2016)

Sometimes, dealing with and preparing food isn’t always just the meal and its ingredients themselves. The space in which you are cooking needs to be set in order too. That was the focus of today’s experience. I spent some time decluttering and cleaning out the studio refrigerator, sorting out the wilted produce from the firm and crisp. After that, I helped Kate brush some olive oil on pita bread and cut out tortilla strips and did the same for them. These would turn out as chips for two different recipes. The pita chips went along with grilled shrimp that was marinated in tomato and white sultana chutney and topped with a spicy cucumber salad. The corn tortilla strips will be for a taco salad that we make tomorrow after noon.

The former dish was presented to Applegate Farms’ Creative Director who was at Kate and Guy’s studio today. We made this for her as they discussed what would be done with the photos they took last Thursday at the shoot. In addition, Kate uploaded the beautiful shrimp dish onto their Instagram, @andweate. While I was cleaning up dishes and loading and unloading dishwashers today, Kate was also preparing a tomato salad that was drizzled with a bacon grease (!!!) vinaigrette, scallions, thyme, and crumbled Applegate bacon (by which I cut up and reduced myself!). Guy photographed this process, step-by-step. Applegate will take these shots and use them for Pinterest.

            So, while today was a light work day for me, I devoted much of my mental energy to truly thinking about how it can answer my essential question…

            First off, something to consider when bringing my product to market is its’ shelf life. Just like the withering herbs and rotting cabbage in some of the refrigerator bins, my food product can and will spoil if it’s left for too long without being used (eaten). Kate told me to take the unsalvageable vegetable scraps and throw them in her compost bin, a very admirable and sustainable thing that they do in their kitchen. I can’t do this same thing with my left over dessert product, which is why I make very small batches at a time. It makes me wonder if I should use preservatives in my product, or will keeping it frozen prevent spoilage well enough.

            All of the cleaning that I did today hones in on the importance of keeping your prep area clean to prevent contamination from pathogenic microorganisms and bacteria. I think it’s pretty neat that Food Science is largely to thank for the recognition of food safety. Food science, according to the IFT, “provides the scientific base that ensures our food supply is safe—from initial storage through processing, transportation, and retail channels, until the consumer purchases the product—and beyond. Every day, food scientists are developing new processes, monitoring conditions and testing foods for contamination in order to prevent foodborne illness.” That being said, we can still get into trouble if we don’t do our part in ensuring the last step of the consumption process, preparation in the kitchen, is clean.

            The pita bread that Kate utilized happened to be a high-protein, lower carb variety that she stated that she didn’t like because it tasted like chemicals. I checked the pita bread bag, and sure enough, the ingredient list was your standard, long list of various components that are typically found in “processed” bread products. I don’t eat enough of these products to compare the difference, but I thought it was interesting that her taste buds could discern the taste of these “chemical-y” pita chips from traditional, whole food ingredient based ones. In my own product, I use some less than natural products that I am looking to phase out, and it makes me wonder what the impact on the taste would be.

            The last thing I was able to observe today, in yet another way, is just how important social media has become as a platform for marketing products and how much time goes into just a single advertisement. I was speaking with the creative director, and she said that it has taken them years to make progress on re-envisioning packaging design and the new website layout for Applegate. I was also able to see the process of making an Instagram-worthy food dish, all the styling that is involved and what equipment is needed. Guy has multiple professional cameras that are operated with something like a tripod, but much bigger and moves around on a track built into the ceiling. The photography of the tomato salad was a multi-step process for Pinterest, and the placement of each and every element of the photograph, down to the parsley sprigs “tossed” on the table is purposeful.