Everybody knows what a chef is. It is right up there with astronaut and doctor on the list of jobs that kids learn about and want to be when they grow up. But no one knows what a food scientist is. The most common reaction I get when I say I’m a food scientist is: “So are you some kind of chef?”.
I admire and respect chefs, but I am not one. Chefs go through a rigorous culinary arts program. Food scientists get a degree in food science. The names say it all: science verses art. Both food science and culinary arts deal with food, but they have different purposes. Culinary arts focuses on food preparation for individuals, whereas food science focuses on bringing food to the masses.
One is not better than the other, rather, they compliment each other. But most professionals do not get training in both. Typically these fields of study lead to different applications as well. The chart below compares food science with culinary arts. This chart is by no means definitive of the two fields since it is based on generalities.
|Food Science||Culinary Arts|
|Industry||Food Industry||Food Service|
|Deadlines||Few Months||Minutes – Weeks|
|Uniform||Lab Coat||Chef Coat|
Professionals with food science training typically go into the food industry. This industry provides food to consumers. Ingredient suppliers, food companies, and grocery stores are all part of this industry.
In contrast, professionals with culinary arts training go into the food service industry. The food service industry provides meal preparation outside of the home. This includes restaurants, bakeries, cafeterias, and catering services.
The culinary arts trains a person to feed individual customers. These customers request service and pick out the food to be prepared. Even when catering for a big event, there is a customer involved that makes the food decisions for the group that will be served.
Food science trains a person to meet the needs of populations. Consumers are grouped into target markets based on similarities in taste preferences, lifestyles or something else. A food scientist almost never works directly for a customer who will be consuming the product. Their customers are people who want to sell the product to other people.
A food scientist creates prototypes of what will be produced within a plant in mass quantities. A chef creates the food that consumer actually eat. This leads to a distinct difference in the day to day work. A food scientist makes something over and over again, tweaking it until it is ready to be mass produced then starts the process over again with something new. A chef creates items from a menu over and over again indefinitely. Chefs create new things too but they either become specials or regulars on the menu.
Since culinary arts professionals create food that consumers actually eat, time is a critical factor. Just think of your favorite restaurant. You order food and (hopefully) in less than an hour you are eating it. Even caterers, who get order months in advance, make the food relatively close to the time it is eaten so it tastes fresh.
Food science professionals do not have immediate deadlines. Their deadlines are set by when the product needs to go to market. Many companies have deadlines every three to six months.
Food science professionals work in labs. These labs look a lot like industrial kitchens. They have whatever kitchen appliances are needed: ovens, refrigerators, microwaves, mixers, etc. Of course, there are scientific instruments as well: pH meters, refractometers, beakers, etc.
Culinary arts professionals work in kitchens. These industrial kitchens have more work space then home kitchens do. They also have bigger appliances to accommodate the larger volumes of food that need to be prepared.
This category is really just an issue of semantics. A recipe is a formula, a formula is a recipe. Both are a set of instructions that list ingredients, ingredient amounts, and preparation instructions.
By convention, most culinary arts professionals wear a chef’s coat. The iconic chef’s coat is white, with a double row of buttons down the front, and comes down to the waist.
Most food science professionals wear lab coats. A standard lab coat is white, with a single row of buttons down the front, and comes down to mid thigh.
Food science and culinary arts are two different fields of study that lead to different kinds of jobs. Culinary arts focuses on food preparation, whereas food science focuses on bringing food to the masses. There is some crossover. Culinology is the blending of culinary arts and the science of food. Individuals also switch industries. Someone trained in culinary arts can go into the food industry and be a valuable member of a product development team. And a person trained in food science can start up their own food service business (restaurant, catering, bakery, etc). But overall, the two fields are separate.
Photo: Giuseppe Mascia