Looking for serious foodies, UH struggles to build program
A combination of culinary arts and food science, Culinology is the new path UH is taking, but so far, it has only one graduating student
By: Jim Bea Sampaga
10 December 2018
University of Hawaii's Culinology program was expecting about 30 students to enroll when it launched in 2015. But three years later, only one student has finished and is graduating.
Lori Maehara, KCC Culinary Arts advisor, said there are other students interested in the program. Yet, the core requirements have seemed to discourage them from taking the novel Culinology path, one of the few Research Chefs Association-approved programs in the country.
“A lot of students change their mind when they see the requirement of Math 140,” Maehara said.
Dr. Soojin Jun, department chair of UH Manoa’s Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences (HNFS) department, said the science requirement also has given potential students pause, adding “whenever we talk about this science core requirements, some students they have a little bit of fear about the chemistry course.”
According to the Research Chefs Association, Culinology is “the blending of culinary arts and the science of food.” Culinologists, also called research chefs, work with food and manufacturing companies to develop safe, better-tasting food that can be reproduced on a large scale.
A former president of RCA, Jeff Cousminer, developed the curriculum in 2001 for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Now, there are 15 RCA-approved Culinology programs in the United States, including the one at UH Manoa, which launched in 2015.
According to HNFS, the Culinology program is an answer to the growing demand of food scientists in the industry.
“When we proposed this (program), we feel like, (a) kind of trending pattern [that] the chef needs a bachelor's degree too,” Jun said. “Because they want to know more about the science behind the cooking or the processing.”
During the two year gap between the program’s launch and Martin’s enrollment, there were no students enrolled at all. This year, Martin is the program’s only student.
The Culinology curriculum meanwhile has undergone multiple changes to make it more inviting to prospective students. For example, since the program’s creation in 2016, physics and organic chemistry have been removed from the curriculum.
“We actually deleted a lot to make it more wide open,” Jun said.
Martin was even afraid to take the program at first.
“I was afraid that I couldn't remember stuff, but now that I'm fully immersed into the microbiology, being exposed to so much of it,” Martin said, “I actually have my chef tell me to shut up because I couldn't stop talking about it.”
UH Manoa is the first in the state to offer a Culinology major, and Culinary Arts graduates from Kapiolani Community College can transfer to UH Manoa to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition, Culinology track.
The lone graduate so far, though, 36-year-old Alan Martin, is not a typical undergraduate student. He balances a full-time course load, taking care of his family, and working as a baker full-time as well at the Kahala Hotel and Resort.
After graduating from Kapiolani Community College with a Culinary Arts and Pastry Arts degree in 2014, Martin decided to go back to school in 2017 to take the new Culinology program, as a way to help him get a better paying job. Martin enrolled in the Culinology program two years after it was launched, but he is the only graduate to date.
“Our (KCC) adviser, Lori Maehara, said if we enjoy math and science we should consider,” Martin said. “I kept that in mind throughout culinary school and years after. I really liked how things worked and the science behind how food was processed and cooked."
Alan Martin is a full-time UH Manoa Culinology student and baker at Kahala Hotel and Resort.
However one of Martin’s KCC culinary arts classmates, Sharon Lac, didn’t even know the program existed when she transferred to UH Manoa in 2015.
“I did start at UH around the time that Culinology first started,” Lac said. “I just didn’t know about it because I transferred coming into UH already thinking I was gonna go into Shidler.”
Lac was already midway through her business degree when she bumped into Martin at UH Manoa. Martin asked her about her prerequisites and told her that those classes are “were basically like prereqs for Culinology.”
“If at that time I knew about Culinology,” said Lac. “The fact that it ties back into my previous culinary major, I think I would’ve likely that I would’ve pursued something of that sort.”
According to Maehara, KCC Culinary Arts program includes the Culinology pathway in their handbooks. She also talks to first year students about the opportunity to get a B.S. degree in Culinology. Occasionally, Jun visits KCC to personally endorse his department’s Culinology program to students.
As a Culinology student, Martin learns about the science and chemistry behind the food that we eat. As a baker, he applies what he learns at UH Manoa to his job in Kahala Hotel and Resort.
“I learned a lot about yeast, lactic acid bacterias and fermentation bacterias,” Martin shared. “Those are all huge factors in the process of bread making.”
He works and studies full time. He barely sees his family because he works at the resort until 1 a.m., and his family is already asleep by the time he gets home.
“And I leave before they even wake up but I mean, it’s a two year sacrifice for our future, you know,” Martin shared.
Not only does his family’s future depends on him, the Culinology program also counts on him to further advertise the program to KCC culinary arts students. As the first student to graduate with a B.S. in Culinology from UH Mānoa in Fall 2019, Martin is the face of Culinology in Hawai’i.
After graduation, he plans to work with UH Manoa and KCC to encourage culinary students to plan ahead for their bachelor’s degree, especially in Culinology. He also plans to work with Research Chefs Association to open an RCA branch in the state.
The pressure is on Martin to set a good example for Hawaii’s future Culinologists.
“I don’t plan on leaving Hawaii,” Martin explains. “I want work with the staff here in UH and create something here in Hawaii that really uses the Culinology path that I’ve taken and turn it into something big.”
Martin applies what he learns in UH Manoa in his job as a baker. He uses his understanding of chemistry and yeast to perfect his baked items.
Video by Jim Bea Sampaga
Photo by Jim Bea Sampaga
Photo by Jim Bea Sampaga