Food Science students place high at national product development event

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A four-student team representing Penn State's Food Science Club recently placed third out of 10 finalists in the 2013 Research Chefs Association Student Culinology Competition in Charlotte, N.C.

The team created a winning dish it dubbed "Crunchy Carolina Chicken" -- a peanut-crusted, smoked, fried-chicken concoction.

Members of the Penn State team include senior Megan Woo, of San Francisco; master's degree candidate Jared Smith, of Lebanon, Pa.; senior Richard Swartz, of Philadelphia; and junior Tony Herdzik, of Rochester, N.Y. All team members are Food Science majors.

The Research Chefs Association, also known as RCA, bills itself as the premier source of culinary and technical information for the food industry. The organization is committed to the advancement of culinology, which represents the blending of the culinary arts, food science and technology.

The RCA annually invites student teams to submit themed product proposals for the competition, held in conjunction with its annual convention.

This year, students were directed to develop a proposal for a North Carolina regional cuisine concept featuring a chicken entree with two side dishes for a casual dining chain that included both gold-standard recipes and the corresponding product formulations.

As its two sides to accompany the chicken dish, the Penn State team made beet coleslaw and sweet potato macaroni and cheese. Finalists shipped their product to the competition site. On the day of the competition, they created a fresh version of their concept product to be judged.

Team member Woo noted that the competition brought together all facets of food science, including food packaging, engineering, microbiology, chemistry and sensory.

"The fact that this competition incorporates culinary arts exposes students to a more creative side of food science," she said. "That is very beneficial and not something Food Science students are exposed to every day."

The team, which is open to all students to join, meets about once a week. The team starts the semester developing potential recipes. This requires investigating the concept, talking with potential consumers, developing recipes and determining which ingredients deliver the desired taste and texture.

"Being on the team is a lot of work, but fun at the same time," Woo said. "Since we began meeting during early September, we have had a chance to get to know one another very well. We are all very close and work smoothly as a team, which is what helped us excel in the competition."

This competition was an excellent opportunity for students to apply their knowledge in a more creative environment, according to Daniel Azzara, Alan R. Warehime Professor of Food and Agribusiness in the College of Agricultural Sciences, who advised the team. "They get a feel for what it will be like in the food industry, as many concepts are developed, but only a few make it all the way to the marketplace."

Azzara was impressed with the team's performance.

"After all the hard work the students put into the project, it was rewarding to see them get third place," he said.

"This was a tough competition against groups with much more experience. They should be very proud of their accomplishments."

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Last Updated April 27, 2013