Barbara Kirshner: Food Consultant Extraordinaire

It seems you've done pretty much everything within the food industry. Let's start with your part in the  development of the Twix bar. What was this process like?

As in the case of the Twix bar, the process was an exciting one.  It started with a brainstorming session at M&M Mars between marketing and R&D. They wanted to increase their exposure and move to other parts of stores, beyond the candy aisle. They also wanted to create a better-for-you indulgent snack. Since cookies were perceived as healthier than candy (having some redeeming nutritional value), the idea was born...marry cookies with candy. So off to the test kitchen where thousands of tests were done using various cookie formulations, different candy components and different configurations.

The in house taste tested prototype winners were brought to consumer focus group testing with marketing concept/advertising boards to see if, in fact, this new product was a good idea. This process continued for a very long time until the prototype, name, and marketing message for the Twix Bar — and the actual bar made in the kitchen — was deemed a winner.

Then the interface with manufacturing took place to reformulate for large scale production. The production bar was constantly being refined so it matched or was superior to the prototype model in taste, texture, and configuration.

Next, the product went to some select test market cities for evaluation, sell through, and refinement of marketing strategy.

I also had the opportunity to do the food styling for the bars. Getting just the right caramel pull at the right angle to communicate delicious and support trial was both challenging and a lot of fun.

Your work with Black Ice Entertainment involved food photography. How do the skills or equipment needed for food photography differ from other types of photography?

I have done quite a bit of food styling for photography. The equipment needed is a cross between personal care items, art tools, and food. I keep my food styling equipment in a tool box. The items include: tweezers for placing small items in place like crumbs or nuts; cotton swabs for wiping up excess moisture; brushes for brushing off crumbs; oil sprayers for oil or water to keep things looking moist; a magnifying glass for seeing even the smallest black speck; emery boards; eye droppers; and sometimes dry ice and gloves if you are working on frozen items. These are all items that are necessary for fixing up the fine details, but of course you'll need all the larger basics as well: a good set of knives, pots, pans, steamers, slow cookers and any and all other food preparation equipment needed for the items you're photographing. Food styling requires lots of patience and backups as food only looks great under the lights for a short period of time.

Tell me about your culinary development role for Doggity's, the animated program on PBS Sprout. How did that come about? What's the television business like?

I started working on Doggity's four years ago when I was introduced to John McCoy, who created the show with his then four year old son, Jack. Since the original premise was a cooking show for kids, John needed someone who was a food professional who shared his passion for making a difference in the lives of children and their families with respect to health and wellness. I signed up enthusiastically as soon as I met John, Doggity, and his canine friends.

The issue of childhood obesity was beginning to emerge, so the timing was right to create a fun show about healthy eating.

We became partners and began the journey. The universe definitely supported our vision as at every turn, whether it was at camp where I was a teacher for healthy cooking classes for kids, through friends and chance meetings where we were able to get top professionals like the people who created the Rugrats and the Simpsons to join forces with us and help us to polish our character concepts and show presentation scripts. My contribution has focused on the creation of creative food and recipe content for the show.

You also teach pre-school... has working with kids helped shape some of the Doggity episodes?

Absolutely! I have tested all of the recipes for Doggity' with my pre school chefs. Being a part of pre-schooler's daily lives, understanding their ways of thinking, experiences, skill sets, stresses about trying new things (including new foods) has helped me develop strategies and methods of encouraging healthy eatings habits. I have developed a magic with them through cooking and food. I pass along recipes and advice to parents through my blog, too.

What's your typical day like?

It starts at 5 a.m. with coffee and answering e mails and beginning blog drafts. When the sun rises each day evolves with new exciting projects, challenges and connections.There is no typical day.

You've worked in so many areas within the food industry over the past few decades... have you noticed any major changes? And do you have any predictions with regards to where the industry is headed?

The industry is definitely headed on a healthier path. The challenge as I see it is for consumers to be educated about food and to  be willing to retrain their taste buds. It's essential for people to acknowledge that making healthy choices is important —  really believing and experiencing how delicious, healthy foods can be comes with many great rewards.

The challenge in this area is for healthy foods to become more affordable to the masses.  The pricing of organic food has begun to come down, so we're off to a good start.

Is a formal education in the food industry necessary? How should one go about getting started if they're interested in a career such as yours?

One can get a BS degree in food marketing, food science or nutrition. One can also get a certificate in Culinary Arts.

Easter is coming up... any favorite recipes you would like to share?

Sure! I suggest my recipe for Grandparents' Grand Apple Pie — the recipe and photos can be found on my blog.

Photo Credit: Kevin Kirshner