Lessons in taste, innovation and the 'impossible' from chef Adam Melonas

Lessons in taste, innovation and the 'impossible' from chef Adam Melonas

Here's why he doesn't believe in the notion of complete and views failure as a goal rather than a setback. Hear more from Melonas at Natural Products Expo West.

A career as a chef that's spanned 20 years and five countries led Adam Melonas to found Chew, a food innovation lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2013. Chew is a team of chefs and scientists that apply their skills to turn ideas into packaged food products that are delicious, nutritious, sustainable, profitable and scalable--and to help other companies do that, too.

We caught up with Adam ahead of his talk at Natural Products Expo West 2016.

New Hope Network: We talk a lot about sustainability when it comes to food, but that’s a very broad concept. What principles/values do you prioritize in your own work?

Adam Melonas: I am a firm believer that it's counterintuitive to do “good by your health” if you are destroying the world as a result. As in a situation like this, in the long run it will not be good for you. I have been passionate about standing against rainforest destruction, and being an avid diver, I am all about protecting the oceans. Beyond that, I am a human and a father, and as such I have a desire to prolong the life of the planet and preserve as much of it as possible for my children and future generations. I know this seems a little ambiguous, but I prefer to make these decisions based on common sense versus the bandwagons people tend to get on, while never actually truly knowing the reasons why and the real issues. So in short, I believe in the sustainability of health, people, our planet and, last but not least, the sustainability of a good sound business plan, as it is generally for-profit companies that make the biggest impact on the world.

New Hope Network: What can packaged food learn from the restaurant industry?

Expo West appearance:
Building a Culture of Innovation & Creativity: Methods & Tools
Saturday, March 12
10:30 - 11:30 a.m.
Marriott, Grand Ballroom G/H

AM: Every minute of every day! Packaged food may be made by machines and live on shelves, but it's consumed by people. Food is all about taste and texture, and there is no one in the world that know these two topics better than chefs. Also, a great restaurant is about small details done to perfection--the difference between good and great is merely details.

New Hope Network: What’s been your biggest challenge in developing and scaling better-for-you products that are packaged, rather than served fresh?

AM: Generally our biggest challenge is the fact that we have to first overcome so many psychological barriers of people always assuming no before yes. That somehow it's easier to believe that something is “impossible” and therefore not worth challenging. Lately, as a human race, we seem to have become comfortable with the notion that a lot of things have been discovered, and therefore why not just follow. If you understand ingredients and how they function together, it is really no more or less complicated to make something last on a shelf than it is to last on a plate. I would say that it might actually be harder to make a dish in a restaurant. I used to always have a hard-and-fast rule: If it sat more than 60 seconds without being in front of the guest, then I would discard it and the chef had to make it again.

New Hope Network: How do you create a culture of innovation at Chew Lab? Any ideas that could help other companies encourage their teams to think outside of the box?

AM: We don’t believe in the notion of complete. The developers at Chew become very comfortable with the fact that nothing they ever do will be perfect, nor will anything ever be complete, and that's OK. It's the role of a developer to keep going as deep as they can possibly go to achieve the greatest possible understanding. One of the true expressions of this is the policy I have of a desire to have at least 95 percent of what we do that will fail. By having this in place, we ensure failures are celebrated and they turn quickly from a failure to a lesson, as every error brings us one step closer to the right path. Once you change the perception of failing, people begin to feel a lot better about it.

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