Class of 2012 Alumni Spotlight
– Posted Fall 2016
Master of Lifelong Learning
Liam has moved from being a master of culinary content to a master of lifelong learning, and he is confidently prepared for whatever the future holds.
In 2012, Liam MacLeod of Millbury was the BVT Senior Class President. He was an aspiring restauranteur who had completed the school’s Culinary Arts program and earned coveted admission to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY. It had been his dream since the age of five to one day own his own restaurant, and he was sure that BVT’s culinary program had given him the basic skills he would need to reach that goal. He was also confident that his academic courses had prepared him for the more challenging coursework he would experience at the college level, and that his BVT extracurricular activities — which included cross country, track, Student Council, a term as the student representative to the School Committee, and much more — had nurtured the character traits of teamwork and problem solving that he would need to be successful in the restaurant business.
After completing the Associate’s degree program in Culinary Arts at the CIA, Liam decided to stay an additional year to study Culinary Arts Management in the school’s accelerated Bachelor’s degree program. He credits a course in Culinary Fundamentals Theory, taught by Dr. Chris Loss, with changing the whole direction of his career.
“Rather than teaching us how to sear meat,” Liam says. “Dr. Loss taught us why meat sears. I realized then that I was more interested in why than how.”
Liam explains that, while plating of food is an art, cooking is actually a science — the culmination of physics, biology, and chemistry. He ended up completing a Bachelor’s degree in Professional Studies of Culinary Science and now says his new career goal is to work as a scientist in corporate research and development for the food industry. But don’t expect to be able to picture exactly what that job will entail. Liam knows that more than likely, he will be working with technology and systems that have not yet even been invented. After all, he’s spent the past year experimenting with the first powder-based 3D printing — of food!
About the time Liam finished his degree at the CIA, 3D Systems, a South Carolina company that originated the concept of 3D printing and is at the forefront of shaping future 3D applications, partnered with the CIA to test new uses for 3D printing in the foodservice industry. The company provided the equipment and a salary for a chef scientist to research possibilities for a prototype 3D food printer retrofitted in stainless steel.
“The position fell into my lap and was too good to pass up,” says Liam, who describes his year-long role as both “interesting and neat.”
“3D printing has been around since 1987,” he explains. “The printer I used at the CIA was originally developed for use with plastics. I had to research the chemical and physical properties of all the food ingredients to try to mimic the properties of plastic in our edible powder formula.”
Liam describes perhaps his most challenging effort to create a wasabi-flavored eggshell which could hold a quail yolk vinaigrette for serving with steak tartare. The difficulty was finding just the right amount of wasabi flavoring to mask the sweetness of the confectioner’s sugar base in the printing medium.
He noted that there have been no scientific papers on powder-based 3D printing, and he is now synthesizing the data from his year of work with the hope of submitting it for publication. In the meantime, his research on 3D printing of food was featured in the May 7, 2016 edition of The New Yorker magazine and several other media outlets.
Now that the 3D Systems grant funding for his research has concluded, Liam has accepted a promotion to Manager of Client Relations in the Consulting Department at the CIA. He is still the school’s 3D printing specialist, but now also has responsibility for promoting new partnerships in research and development with the food industry.
“The Culinary Institute is interested in getting more involved in the industry setting,” he explains. “I will make site visits and participate in product development to make that happen.”
Liam credits his BVT education with preparing him for this new role on multiple levels, both intentional and unintentional.
“I can’t do what I do now without the basics of cooking, which is what BVT intentionally provided,” he says. “The unintentional part resulted from being surrounded by 17 different shops. This inadvertently opened my eyes to collaborative possibilities.”
Liam explains that Valley Tech’s integration of academics and vocational-technical learning, as well as friendships with students on other career paths, exposed him to many disciplines including engineering, architecture, mathematics, physics, and chemistry while focusing on the basics of food preparation.
“You can learn more by surrounding yourself with people of different skills, mindsets, and interests than you can by just surrounding yourself with those of the same skills and mindsets,” he explains.
So while BVT shops provide the small learning communities that nurture relationships between students and teachers to lay solid foundations of career-specific knowledge, the close proximity of each of those shops with other very different career pathways fosters collaboration and instills a willingness to learn from others.
“I found you could learn a lot from others around you and take those skills to create something new,” Liam says. “Basically, Valley Tech taught me how to think.”
Clearly, Liam has moved from being a master of culinary content to a master of lifelong learning, and he is confidently prepared for whatever the future holds. When asked where he sees himself in five years, Liam hesitates.
“Thirty days ago I wouldn’t have pictured myself where I am now,” he muses.
He hopes to complete an additional degree in Chemistry and says it’s quite possible that in a few years he could be working as an R&D project manager.
“Eventually, my goal is to be the manager of a lab for a major food conglomerate.”
Who knows, he could even be using his extensive knowledge of the chemical and physical properties of the foods we eat to be developing 3D printing of tasty and nutritionally satisfying meat products someday!