“It was kind of a a spur-of-the-moment decision,” said food scientist Shaun Wahle of his choice to attend Scarlet Oaks. “My brother was in the restaurant industry, and I knew that they have a culinary program, and I had a friend going to Scarlet Oaks.”
Wahle left Clermont Northeastern and attended Scarlet Oaks for his junior and senior year, graduating in 2006. While in the Culinary Arts program, he also worked in a commercial kitchen. “Great Oaks got me kickstarted in the restaurant business. I was working and going to school, and the two played off of each other. What I learned in school I could apply and the restaurant, and what I learned on the job I could take back to help me in school.”
That attitude served him well; after graduating from high school he worked in such local upscale restaurants as Boca and the National Exemplar. He also took culinary classes at Cincinnati State.
Then in 2011 came an opportunity that the young chef couldn’t refuse. “I had the opportunity to go to New York and work in a Gordon Ramsey restaurant,” said Wahle. He packed up and headed to the Big Apple.
But home was in the Midwest, and after a time he moved back to southwest Ohio, taking a job as a research assistant at Kraft Heinz. There Wahle worked on condiments, soups, and sauces, even helping to create new BBQ sauce.
“This position began to bridge the gap between food science and culinary arts,” he said. It seemed to be a logical step for the chef who had originally planned to go into medicine as a career.
And the science was interesting. One challenge was to work on a hot sauce that tens of thousands of people use each day at a national Mexican restaurant chain. “The hot sauce was hotter at certain times of the year, so we had to analyze and understand the ingredients and make it more consistent. The experience all comes down to the sauce packet.”
His career took him next to Oberto Beef Jerky and then to Seattle to become a product developer in Seattle for Starbucks. He’s now a food scientist for Amazon, working on fresh and packaged foods. “I’m working more in the sensory sciences. For instance, I may do research to find out whether consumers prefer crunchy or chewy cookies, and then determine how best to create the product that they want.”
His position gives him some freedom. “I have the chance to look at food very critically, and (Amazon) lets me do any kind of experimentation I want.”
It’s a high-profile position for one who didn’t complete his culinary coursework at Cincinnati State, and Wahle said that in the first part of his career he was a little uncomfortable in the food industry with less formal education than others. After a time, though, he realized that the foundation he received at Great Oaks coupled with his own experience and drive would take him where he wanted to go.
“Great Oaks challenged me to focus on my skills,” he said. “You can talk to me till you’re blue in the face, but unless I can apply the knowledge, it doesn’t stick. At Great Oaks I was able to go straight from the classroom into the kitchen.”
He encourages others to take advantage of their high school opportunities as well. “Always be asking questions. Always learn what you can from your instructors. Ask ‘why’ often, so you get a fundamental understanding of what they’re teaching you.”
What’s next? “I miss the chance to be creative. Eventually I plan to do some consulting, and also become a recipe developer. There’s more to do.”