Chicago has always been at or near the top of the "food chain" when it comes to restaurants, and its interest for foodies was made even keener when Alinea, the restaurant run by famed chef Grant Achatz, was recently named the best restaurant in the U.S., and seventh in the world.
Part of Alinea's charm for gastronimists is that it uses many techniques and even food items developed by molecular gastronomists and research chefs.
Research chefs -- sometimes also called product development chefs or innovation chefs -- create new foods for quick casual restaurants, fast-food chains like Oakbrook, Ill.-based McDonald's, and large food manufacturers such as Kraft Foods, based in Northfield, Ill.
Culinology(R), a term coined by the Research Chefs Association (RCA), sums up what research chefs do as "the blending of culinary arts and the science of food". Research chefs need to understand areas such as mass production, food preservation and chemistry. They also need to be creative in developing new foods that are responsive to trends in dining and consumer preferences (not to mention affordable for a restaurant or food company to produce).
And the field is growing. This article in Food Processing quotes Chris Koetke, who was both a research chef and a restaurant chef and, as dean of Chicago’s School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College, teaches culinology to his bachelor students. "Food scientists and chefs traditionally received radically different training," he says in the article. But that is changing as an increasing number of chefs, like Grant Achatz, embrace food technology and the skills of research chefs.