August 15th, 2011

Art or Science—It’s Food!

Dr. Chris Loss

Dr. Chris Loss

Is food art or is it science? Anyone who has plated a culinary masterpiece or painstakingly followed a baking formula knows it’s both. And as someone who has made a career of combining the culinary arts with food science, CIA graduate and food scientist Dr. Chris Loss ’93 has a unique perspective on the interplay between the two disciplines—and on why it’s important for busy chefs to take the time to delve deeper into the science behind their cuisines. “Understanding the basic scientific principles underlying culinary methods will allow chefs to be more creative and authentic in their cooking,” Chris says. “When chefs ask me why it’s important for them to understand food science, the artist Vincent Van Gogh comes to mind. By creating his own paints, canvas, and brushes he was able to give greater depth and meaning to his creations. This deeper understanding of his medium made him the great artist we all know.I believe that we in the food industry would also benefit from a more complete understanding of our medium, the ingredients we use, and how they interact.”

It was the CIA’s AOS program that first turned Chris on to food science. And with the encouragement of several instructors, he headed to Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, where he earned his doctorate, master’s, and bachelor’s degrees. In addition to his studies, he worked for a small contract R&D group as research assistant in the Department of Food Science at Cornell. With the CIA since 2005, Chris is now director of menu research and development.

Today, with funding granted through the CIA Menu Research and Flavor Discovery Initiative and access to Vi Living’s adult residences provided by CIA Fellow Don Clawson, Chris has embarked on a research project to characterize and gain insight into the food and dining preferences of seniors. Data from focus groups will help guide the development of menu offerings and optimization of dining ambiance.

By taking a science-based approach, the CIA will gain valuable knowledge, which can then be translated by the foodservice and hospitality industry into products and services for this rapidly growing consumer demographic. It is Chris’s contention that “understanding scientific principles will help chefs better meet their customers’ needs.”