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Ali Bouzari opens his 2014 Tedx talk with a question about dessert. “Who here has had a really tasty cookie?” he asks the crowd, and then, after allowing the audience to acknowledge their assent (who hasn’t had an extremely tasty cookie? Who doesn’t remember it as one of the finest pleasures in life?), he hits them with another question: “Why?”
The “why” here, if you’re not familiar with Bouzari’s work, could come across as judgmental. If you didn’t know that the award-winning chef (his cookbook, Ingredient, recently won the IACP award) was also a doctor of food biochemistry, no one would fault you for thinking that he was about to launch into a full-scale attack on sugar or start discussing America’s obesity epidemic. But Bouzari’s question has nothing to do with personal choices or shaming. Instead, he wants to get granular about why the cookie tasted good — what mixture of ingredients, what baking methods had to be brought together in order to make each bite so delicious.
Bouzari is the co-founder of San Francisco-based food development company Pilot R+D — a research lab of flavor. As such, the chef spends his days exploring the intersection of art and science at the frontier of the food industry.
“I think that we’re fortunate to be in an era where people are increasingly curious and interested in getting more educated about what’s in our foods,” Bouzari says. “They want to know both how to make food delicious, but also how to have it work with their own bodies.”
Pilot’s CEO, Dana Peck, co-signs this thought. “We need to think about food more holistically,” she explains. “Our goal is to really think about it both from a flavor and culinary standpoint and from the food science standpoint, so that it can be both delicious and be engineered to do what it needs to do, whatever that goal is.”