Bringing Food Innovation to Life

I went to culinary school, cooked in a five star hotel and worked as a consulting research chef. Now at gravitytank, I am part of the Industrial Design team. Strange fit you might say? At first glance perhaps, but developing a new food product and designing its packaging are more similar than they seem. The tools and raw materials are of course different but the iterative process used to continually improve the product, as well as the balance of skill and creativity, are very much the same. 

As a chef at gravitytank, I have the exciting challenge of bringing gravitytank’s food innovation to life by creating edible prototypes of new concepts. Rather than gluing or fastening different partially or completely inedible components together to represent an intended product, clients and research participants will be able to taste a very real representation of a product they could see on their supermarket shelves in the near future. 

Before becoming a full-time team member, I had the opportunity to support gravitytank’s food innovation projects as a contractor. As a team we brainstormed around new food products and new ways to package and brand them. Some ideas weren’t technically feasible (Them: Can you deep fry a whole parsnip and keep it crunchy? Me: Well, no, not really), but we talked through them until we arrived at a version that was. The communications and industrial designers were busy building packaging prototypes and figuring out how to tell the products’ stories and I was consumed by transforming drawings of food into actual edible products. All of us would bring our different iterations to the team for critique and feedback and then were back at it again, building and tasting, slicing and sanding, seasoning and painting, until we had a product that was as complete as possible to show to consumers. 

It was exciting for the team and I to witness the power of edible prototypes during the consumer labs. The expressions on people’s faces ranged anywhere from skeptical to disgusted to eager while listening to a description of a concept and handling a beautifully designed package complete with branding, graphics and messaging. Then they were presented with a sample to try. Eyes widened and expressions changed as they thoughtfully chewed. There were ‘yums’, ‘wows’ and requests for seconds. Also (less excitingly and less often) scowls of displeasure, ‘yucks’ and ‘no ways’. Being able to actually eat what they were being told was inside the package elevated the experience, enriched the feedback and allowed gravitytank to take the project to the next level by jump-starting the product development process for the client. 

My culinary and food service experience as a chef brings in-depth knowledge of cooking techniques, flavors and trends, as well as an understanding of food manufacturing, product development and national chain accounts. I have written and presented new menu concepts to chain restaurants, worked with clients to innovate and develop new food products, and created recipes for clients’ websites. Fast food and classical French cuisine may seem to be completely different, but it takes knowledge of cooking techniques like searing and steaming, different types of sauces, and global flavor profiles to produce a Korean-inspired burger for a fast food chain. The same skill set enables me to build edible prototypes on the fly and continue to improve them. As a chef, it is important to me to foster relationships with a client’s culinary and research and development teams to learn as much as I can about their processes, capabilities and pain points so that ultimately our innovation is as meaningful as possible. 

Food is a universal language and it excites people. Thanks to the Food Network and celebrity chefs, consumers are always on the lookout for the next goji berry or Greek yogurt, making food innovation more vital than ever. By enhancing already ground-breaking innovation with edible prototypes and a deeper understanding of the food service and manufacturing industry, gravitytank is able to offer a more complete food innovation experience to our clients.

written by: Kyleigh Wawak