Q : Alternative careers in F&B: what does a Research Chef do?
Have you ever wondered how food manufacturers come up with product innovations, or how restaurants, coffee shops or hotels develop new menu items that aren’t just original but also uniquely delicious? Well, it turns out that behind these types of food innovations sits someone with a unique background in not only the culinary arts but also food science, and that’s a research chef.
What is a Research Chef?
A research chef (also often referred to as a culinary scientist or an R&D chef) is someone who’s responsible for guiding recipe and food product development by testing and (re)formulating products, recipes and innovations.
Being a research chef is as much as an art as it is a science. Not only do research chefs explore and experiment with different foods to find original taste profiles, they also have to develop them in a way that they will remain shelf-stable and easy to reproduce in the event of mass distribution.
Thankfully, they have a lot of tools to work with. Research chefs work in a special food research laboratory, where they have all of the equipment and ingredients at hand to truly unleash their creativity.
What does a Research Chef do?
There are lots of types of research chefs. Some work for food companies, while others work in research laboratories or the hospitality sector. And then you have your independent consultants.
Regardless, the overall responsibilities of a research chef include:
Researching food trends and innovations/competitor analysis – through conferences, magazines, textbooks or personal experimentation
Ideation, creation and product development
Presenting - to clients, prospective customers and at trade-shows
Training and education
Food styling and photography
Product and consumer testing
How much does a Research Chef earn?
While the salary of a research chef can vary depending on their particular role, sources report that the average yearly salary of a research chef is $99,500, with some earning as much as $112,000. Candidates have to be prepared to put in the work, though, as the average work week for a research chef ranges from 48 to 57 hours.
How do you become a Research Chef?
As research chefs are a relatively rare breed, there is no single path of education that will lead you to becoming one. Most, however, have a solid background in both food science and cooking – with a thorough understanding of chemistry, engineering and sensory evaluation.
Those who would like to become a Certified Research Chef (CRC®) or Certified Culinary Scientist (CCS®) must meet a set of well-defined standards, as defined by the Research Chefs Association) and take a certification exam to prove they’re familiar with food research development.
Being a research chef is a unique job that’s versatile, creative and can be extremely rewarding. But it also calls for lots of patience and perseverance – as it’s essentially an endless process of experimenting, tweaking and reformulating until the end product is just right.