Fascinated by the art and science behind what we eat, Claudia Lee has turned her love for food into a career, embarking on a diploma in the culinary arts, following her degree in food science and life science. Today she’s a food technologist at Next Gen Foods, conducting cutting-edge research and developing new plant-based protein products.
Why did you choose to get involved with foodtech?
Well, like most Singaporeans, I love food! This passion sparked my interest in the science behind the dishes we eat. After graduating with a double major in Life Science and Food Science from the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2019, I trained at a culinary school before being introduced to alternative proteins during a food science internship with a cultivated meat company. My next big step was joining Next Gen Foods at the beginning of 2021.
Claudia cooking Next Gen Food’s plant-based ”chicken”
Can you explain more about the marriage of science with the culinary arts?
Food science takes the fundamentals of life science into the world of food, exploring its chemistry, agricultural production, the broader ecosystem, and the origin of ingredients we use. Food science also considers how ingredients are prepared, how they interact, and how they are processed and manufactured to feed everyone.
This deep understanding of the synergy between life and food sciences forms the bedrock of my approach to food. What’s exciting about my current role is that I get to apply this understanding in my exploration of other related areas.
For example, many plant-based proteins can’t replicate the flavour and texture of meat very well. This is where our knowledge of various sciences come in, where a good understanding of food chemistry helps tremendously in elevating the taste and texture of plant-based meat alternatives.
What must you consider when you’re developing new products?
To develop a new type of food, you must make food that people enjoy. Looking back, diving into the world of gastronomy straight out of university was an invaluable experience. As a culinary trainee with Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts in 2019, I worked closely with chefs at three restaurants to learn first-hand exactly what they needed to perfect their dishes.
It was fascinating seeing how chefs work their culinary magic to transform raw ingredients into flavourful, appetising dishes. Flavour, I firmly believe, is something that should never be compromised when creating food.
What’s the best part of your job?
At Next Gen Foods, my primary responsibilities are R&D and new product development. My scope is global too, as we’re developing products not just for Singapore and the rest of Asia, but also for other major markets including Europe and the United States.
I’m involved in every stage of the R&D process, from benchtop product development to overseeing factory-scale trials, which allows me to pursue my love for experimentation and trying new things. Right now, we’re hyper-focused on perfecting our plant-based alternative to chicken. Known as TiNDLE, this product is already available to order in numerous Singapore restaurants.
Starting next year, we plan to take things up a notch by going into full-scale production and exploring new technologies to create a more diverse range of alternative proteins. Further down the road, we want to explore creating additional plant-based foods that will help reduce our reliance on animal agriculture.