Ep. 018 Part 1 – The Power of Culinary Science with Ali Bouzari, CSO of Pilot R+D

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Forbes named him 30 Under 30. Zagat did the same. UC Davis wrote an article about him. HIC The Useful Tool and The Culinologist interviewed him. He gave two TED talks and is about to roll out a book. He will now be interviewed for this podcast. His name is Bouzari, Ali Bouzari. He is a Culinary Scientist at Pilot R + D, holding a doctoracte in food biochemistry and having served as a research chef for the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group. His interview with Adam Yee not only inspires many food industry members to strive for a better tasting and more creative food product, but also brings to light humble beginnings of how a man, a dream and a passion can make the world a better place to cook, eat and understand the impact science has on both. For culinary science!

About Ali Bouzari

As an Iranian Texan, Ali Bouzari grew up with exposure to different cuisines, but most notably, beef over an open flame. His affinity for food and science lead him to become the guy where all the top chefs call him for help on the science of food. After waking up from a nightmare, he googled on his phone, “food chemistry PhD” and found himself at the University of California, Davis for Food Biochemistry. Strategically located near Napa and Sonoma’s food scene and San Francisco’s thriving entrepreneurial food and tech hub, Davis was his master plan to be the guy where chefs call him.

Between being an instructor for the Culinary Institute of America and a graduate student at Davis, he juggled being a freelance consultant for chefs, tapping into the new market of research chefs. Later, he co-founded a consulting firm with top research chefs and a stealthy food lawyer to help make his dream of becoming the go to people for solving food problems.

Pilot R + D

The genesis of Pilot R + D came through by recognizing collaboration between chefs with diverse research and development backgrounds is much better than independent work. As a special operations delta force, the band of chefs, Kyle Connaughton, Ali Bouzari, Dan Felder and Dana Peck (part lawyer and part chef), became the founding members of an innovation and development firm. Who you gonna call when you’re in need of help as a food and tech entrepreneur? Pilot R + D. Who acts as the hotline during the 11th hour as a fast casual service advisor? Pilot R + D.

Research starts with eating a load of good food as a business expense. That’s a job worthwhile where one gets paid to eat food because of science and research! Aside from research, Ali and his colleagues solve problems with a hybrid ideology of product development/food science and culinary/chef mindset. With the approach of flavor being important and ingredient functionality in the context of the whole food, the team tries to figure out their limitations on each project to develop to their clients’ expectations. At times, they think about how pragmatic some projects are and aren’t afraid to admit the impractical demand of the project. That is not to say they are highly selective with their clients. They equally accept any range of proposals.

To learn more about Pilot R + D, you can find more information here.

Key Takeaways (this episode only)

  • Read Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking
  • Culinary Science
  • Food ingredients in the context of chefs is to look at the whole ingredient, not the purified form

What we talk about (this episode only)

TED Talk
Culinary Science
Harold McGee
UC Davis Biochemistry PhD
Culinary Institute of America
French Laundry
Alton Brown Good Eats
Pilot R&D
Kyle Connaughton (Fat Duck)
Dan Felder (Momofuku)
Dana (Morrison Foerster)
Grassroots consultancy for chefs
Chef scientist
Trend forecasting
Ingredient Functionality
Advice: Learn how to say I can’t do that or it can’t be done
Flavor and Taste

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