Thursday, August 25, 2016

Postdoc side gig: chocolate maker

From a Naturejobs post about non-traditional positions, this rather wonderful tidbit about a chemist:
Even so, scientists who are committed to a side pursuit say that they sacrifice their social life, and sometimes their rest. “I didn't do much else besides my research and making chocolate,” says Adam Kavalier, a chemist who developed the logo and concept for his company, Undone Chocolate, during his postdoc at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. “I didn't sleep much: I worked weekends and nights. I did not take vacations,” he says. “But I already had a passion for making chocolate, and once I decided to make it a business, that became an obsession.”
From a brief Google search, more about Dr. Kavalier's early experiments:
Adam Kavalier came across cacao, the plant used to make chocolate, while he was studying plant biochemistry and how plants make medicinal compounds in graduate school at the City University of New York. (He then got a post-doctorate degree at Weill Cornell Medical College.) He started making chocolate at home and bringing it into the lab to test its antioxidant levels. He became obsessed with finding beans to craft the most antioxidant-rich chocolate possible. 
“It sort of started as this analytical processing thing,” Adam Kavalier says. “Making chocolate takes several steps and involves making some of your own machinery. I love to build things and love to make things ... So it filled a lot of different passions for me, both on the science side and the artistic side.” 
Adam Kavalier spent about five years experimenting with recipes in their 700-square-foot New York apartment. The couple had to put an acoustic sound barrier wall over their kitchen door because they’d often have two or three noisy chocolate grinders going at once. Then, because they were worrie about the vibrations disturbing their neighbors downstairs, they stacked up yoga mats. The entire space was filled with huge containers of beans, and nibs, ginders, a temperer, a fan, and other equipment. “It just took up the entire apartment,” Kristen Kavalier says. “The only room that never had chocolate in it was the bedroom, and actually at one point I think it did.”
Sounds like a lot of fun. (For those interested, here's Undone Chocolate's website.)

What is it about scientists and starting food manufacturing businesses? The obvious answers are obvious: cooking is chemistry, after all, and all the lab skills we learn port very naturally to the kitchen. It also appears to be a business that has a relatively low barrier to entry, i.e. you have free capital in your kitchen. At the same time, I can't help but note that food manufacturing is a low-margin, high-volume affair (albeit somewhat higher margin in the luxury chocolate business that Dr. Kavalier is in.) If I had a nickel for every chemist who has started a food-related business or talked about starting one, I'd have a lot of nickels...

1 comment:

  1. i think you hit the nail on the head; the skills are just very transferable from one to the other that it is assumed one has great cooking talent if one is a successful scientist. & as the thinking goes, if there is a talent, money should be made from it!