The proverbial battle between art and science in the baking industry has carried on for decades; some might say, since the dawn of the industrial age. Clearly, they were antithetical, and most were squarely in one camp or the other. You either believed in the science of chemistry and machine capability or stayed pure to the traditional art of baking by minimizing use of all "non-natural" chemicals and systems.
I was one of the few who rode the fence: not because I couldn’t decide where I stood, but instead, because I chose to appreciate and believe that both were important. Trained as a food scientist, I was eager to put my academic knowledge into practice and use the most advanced systems. I spent 12 years working in quality control, production, engineering and formulation.
Yet, in my pre-college contemplation of careers, I almost took my passion of cooking to the professional level. I was reintroduced to the "art" during my last seven years of working in an industrial bakery where my chief baker was a first-generation, Polish-born master baker. I would calculate; he would grab a fistful of dough. I took measurements; he tweaked an oven burner. Most of the time, we would draw the same conclusion — more water, additional high- or low-protein flour or a little more heat upfront. On the occasions we disagreed, his solution usually turned out right. The experience gave me an appreciation I have held for the past 25 years: There is room for both art and science in baking, working side-by-side.
This month’s cover story on Culinology finally brings to light the emergence into and acceptance by the mainstream industry — academia and ingredient and equipment suppliers — that the culinary art of baking can indeed be synergistic with the science of rheology, chemical interactions and heat transfer.
Citing examples from all sectors, the article reinforces what I see as a new era in baking. For many hard-liners, it will take some re-education, a paradigm shift in the approach to product development and a renewed focus on the primary goal — customer satisfaction and product loyalty.
We can certainly thank people like Alton Brown of "Good Eats" for taking some of the mystery out of food science and making it fun and understandable to the average consumer. We can also look to the leadership of industry giants such as Kraft and Frito-Lay for boldly going where few have gone before.
As results emerge from these and other companies in the form of new products and concepts, others will certainly jump on the bandwagon. I see this as a positive for the baking industry.
Opportunities to offer consumers improved products are critical to compete in the marketplace. Interaction and integration of various disciplines within companies and the industry will provide these opportunities. Will personal resistance or close-minded attitudes hamper progress? Not if companies plan to stay competitive.
For those who attended the recent BCMA Tech Conference or the ASB annual meeting this past spring, consider the emphasis various presentations placed on cooperation between equipment suppliers and bakers. This should help put the importance of Culinology into perspective.
I would be interested in your opinions on this. Make a comment on Twitter or start a discussion on LinkedIn.
— Steve Berne, editor
www.LinkedIn.com (Baking & Snack)
This article can also be found in the digital edition of Baking & Snack, November 1, 2009, starting on Page 12. Click here to search that archive.