Business Dictionary: in·no·va·tion

By Chef Adam Busby 

“The process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay.”

To be called an innovation, an idea must be replicable at an economical cost and must satisfy a specific need. Innovation involves deliberate application of information, imagination and initiative…processes by which new ideas are generated and converted into useful products. In business, innovation often results when ideas are applied by a company to further satisfy the needs and expectations of customers.

As an example: Teaching students the fundamentals of cooling a freshly prepared and steaming hot stock, whatever the flavor, is a pretty simple affair.  The idea is to get the temperature down and through the danger zone as quickly as possible so that the product may then be refrigerated or frozen.  Simple, right?  The best container for the stock is metal because its conductivity and the most available cooling ingredient is ice which can be easily made into what we chefs call an ice bath.

Simple, cheap and effective, immersing the hot stock in its metal container into an appropriately sized ice bath will bring the temperature down quickly.  When the process is complete the water is discarded, and the stock is packaged, labeled and stored. The huge but mostly ignored issue with this method is the discarded water used to cool the stock.  Nonetheless, chefs and educators have been applying and teaching this method to our students who dutifully adhere to these procedures since we can remember.

Recently, with thanks to students in the culinary science program at CIA and specialized tools and equipment manufactured by NAFEM member companies, we have finally overcome this issue.

We now make the same stock, with the same amount of water but this time with double the amount of ingredients for flavor extraction.  We quickly cook the stock in a pressure-kettle to keep the aromatics intact, reduce cooking time and before long we have a double-concentrated finished product.  We weigh out the correct amount of ice to bring the stock back to the correct concentration and put the ice into a temperature resistant sealable bag.  Adding a measured amount of still-hot stock, we seal the bag and watch it go cold.  No more ice bath, no more stirring, no contamination, no more water down the drain.  Quadrillions of gallons of good water saved…now that’s an innovation we can all relate to!

Sometimes we ideate to devise truly innovative products and sometimes they hit us out of the blue; it really doesn’t matter how it happens.  More often, we need to question the very things we take for granted in our culinary world.  At the end of the day, saving time, money, labor, and creating better places to work all benefit from innovation.  There must be a better way to do some things, and it’s exciting to daydream about new solutions.

Repetitive kitchen chores and skilled labor shortages are bursting with opportunities for robotics innovation.  Extracting fossil fuels and lighting them on fire to cook our food is unsustainable in the long run.  Massive amounts of energy are expended to heat, cool, and move interior kitchen air outside.  Trucks pound our freeways with food transportation that could easily be delivered autonomously.  Climate change is altering the viability of traditional farm practices, ushering us into the vertical farming age.

It’s just a few short months until The NAFEM Show where we’ll be treated to mile upon mile of E&S innovation.  I’ll be on the lookout for your game-changing ideas and excited to see what progress we’ve made together in two short years.  See you there!