A graduate of Rhode Island’s Johnson & Wales Culinary Institute, Cup4Cup President and Co-Founder Lena Kwak began her culinary career as a private chef and caterer. While serving as Research & Development Chef for The French Laundry, Kwak was tasked with testing edible innovations. She excelled quickly and was assigned to devise a gluten-free version of Chef Thomas Keller’s famed Salmon Cornet. The result, which garnered a tearful response from a dinner guest with gluten intolerance, was the genesis of “Cup4Cup.” Since Cup4Cup’s release in 2011, Lena has been honored as one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” in 2011 and garnered a Zagat “30 Under 30” award in 2012.
See Lena Kwak June 1, 2014 at “Harnessing Creativity (and the Science of Pie)”
What hooked you on cooking?It was my mother, who is the quintessential Asian tiger mom. When it came to food, this is how she expressed her love for her family through her cooking. Around meals, I would see how her tough as nails exterior would melt as she watched her family eat the dishes she poured her love into. I would say that is how I learned what I loved about cooking even to this day—it is a way to express care and love and a way to strengthen human connections. The coolest example of science in your food?As a chef, I believe the coolest part about cooking is to recognize the series of chemical reactions that occur when you execute a certain recipe. When you begin to understand the technicality behind certain reactions, you are able to hone in on how to make improvements, or for that matter, also innovate a dish based on the science. The food you find most fascinating?Funny enough, it’s wheat flour as it’s something I’ve researched heavily over the years. I’ve grown an appreciation for how complex the ingredient is for being made up of a single composition. It provides structure, flavor, coloring, and a wide range of different textures. I’d say it’s the admiration for the ingredient that pushes me to continue the product development of gluten free products, as it would be truly a shame to not be able to experience those wonderful qualities for someone who couldn’t have gluten. What scientific concept—food related or otherwise—do you find most fascinating?That’s a tough question as I have always been fascinated with innovation in medical science, but as it related to my profession, I am also thoroughly interested in human science. For consumer product goods companies, such as Cup4Cup, there is a heavy consideration of human eating behaviors. The success of any product is not just based on a perception of a single individual, but the perception of millions of people. so, it is important to understand the average consumer perception within different target categories. What people choose to buy provides us with key insight into what influences human perception. Your best example of a food that is better because of science?Chocolate has come a long way from the first records of consumption by the Aztecs and Mayans. Over centuries, it has only been improved by the further understanding of the cacao bean itself. Through science, we’ve been able to figure out processes to improve texture, taste, and performance of chocolate. For example, the improvements that are made through tempering or conching. How do you think science will impact your world of food in the next 5 years?Finding solutions to keep up with the supply and demand as populations of the world increase every year and life span of individuals grows longer. It will be interesting and necessary to see what solutions there are to be able to sustain the growing public. To that same point, finding ways to improve the yield of food sources while being sustainable and not destructive to the environment. One kitchen tool you could not live without?A spoon. Five things most likely to be found in your fridge?Eggs, almond milk, at least one type of hearty greens, hummus, and chocolate covered pretzels (yes, cold).Your all-time favorite ingredient?Hands down my favorite ingredient is eggs. Favorite cookbook?For favorite cookbook (similar to picking your favorite child) I’d say as of this moment it’d have to be Jerusalem. Your standard breakfast?Eggs, sunny side up or a six minute boil, plus starch, vegetable, or grain, plus sautéed greens. (What can I say, I wake up hungry…)