Jan 08, 2013 • By

Food education never ends

We have many employees, in many roles around the world, whose jobs put them in a kitchen from time to time.

That includes our food scientists and product engineers – the people behind the products that end up on the shelves of stores near you.

A group called the Culinary Community of Practice (CCOP) at General Mills helps us stay on top of the latest tastes and trends, and provides access to continuing education that translates into innovative, easy-to-prepare, affordable foods.

So that means they sometimes go back to school.

I spent some watching a few employees participating in a culinary technique class at Hennepin Technical College in Brooklyn Park, Minn. This video from that class provides more background on how the course can spark something new.

The CCOP group’s work generates new ideas for the General Mills product pipeline and also enhances the development process itself. Bringing food scientists together from across the company — and bringing them out into the larger food community — means that good-tasting new items reach consumers faster.

Creating new foods is a collaborative effort that blends science with more subjective factors like taste, texture and appearance. General Mills scientists work closely with chefs, flavor companies and other partners at every step, from concepting to creating prototypes to fine-tuning flavors.

The group’s cross-functional work reflects a trend within the food world toward dissolving barriers between science and the culinary arts, according to Michael Cheng, director of Culinology and Hospitality Management at Southwest Minnesota State University.

Food scientists equipped with a strong knowledge of cooking techniques, trends and cuisines can better respond to the growing demand for more authentic flavors, he says.

A growing number of consumers, for example, prefer richer, more complex varieties of chocolate. At an event held in 2007, the group met with chocolate suppliers, tested cacao levels and tried out product samples prepared by a Le Cordon Bleu chef. The sampling and exchange of ideas sparked the development of a new Nature Valley dark chocolate bar variety — one of the tangible results of the CCOP’s collaborative, forward-looking efforts.

“Whether you’re a chef, a food scientist or a product manufacturer, the end-goal is the same,” says Cheng. “Better tasting, more authentic products in the marketplace.”