Hands-on experience with local foods played a part in Stephanie Laham’s academic career and continues to this day. She taught nutrition to kids in Hartford while at UConn, was a Connecticut food lab intern and researched wild blueberries in Maine. Now, this CAHNR graduate is a culinary scientist with a South Windsor pasta company. Here is what she said in an interview.
What was your major in the College? When did you graduate? With what degree? In 2010, I got my BS in nutritional sciences with a minor in food science. My 2012 master’s degree is in food science and human nutrition from the University of Maine.
What CAHNR class was most useful to you? In addition to the usual chemistry and biochemistry, two of the courses I took relate especially well to my current job. I took animal food products with Professor Richard Mancini, which was a hands-on animal science class. We made sausage and learned about the various cuts of meat.
My food composition and preparation class was very interactive and exciting. We were able to try out different ingredients in a recipe to see how they affect the outcome of the finished product. It was a little like the television show, America’s Test Kitchen.
Tell us some of your fond memories of UConn. I enjoyed going to all the UConn basketball games, especially when the women’s team played. In addition, I met many interesting people in student organizations. I was involved in the Nutrition Club, Fishing Club, Hellenic Student Association Paideia at UConn and UConn Outdoors.
Please describe your current job. I am a culinary scientist at Carla’s Pasta. We develop products for the food service industry, like chain restaurants, and retail outlets, such as supermarkets. We formulate products with a strong culinary focus and strive for the customer to have the best eating experience possible. Carla’s makes everything in South Windsor, Connecticut.
I am on the culinary innovation team, which constantly pushes the envelope in terms of flavor development and processing capabilities. Part of my job is to develop new products, which range from pasta to pesto and risotto to fried rice. In addition, I source new ingredients and create production specifications that serve as the blueprints for our production department to make the product.
I also help solve technical problems. For example, we had to make sure that one of our newer items, a burgundy striped braised beef ravioli, maintained its vibrant color throughout the cooking process. We use beet powder in the pasta as a natural color, but it easily degrades in the presence of heat. In order to prevent the color from fading, we had to find the exact time and temperature for which to cook the ravioli in production.
Are you doing what you imagined you would be doing at this point in your life? Yes. This was my first job out of graduate school, and it was a great fit for me. I enjoy the hands-on nature of what I do, the creative process and growing with the business. Plus, there is always a new problem to be solved.
Do you have any advice for current students that will help them in the future? 1) Find internships in your field or major. That way, you discover if you are suited to a career before it is too late to adjust your academics. I interned in a lab at Watson Foods in my sophomore and junior years and worked with both nutrient premixes and edible film.
2) Get involved in different activities. UConn offers so much. I tried to be active in areas outside my academic career. I think this helped me understand what I wanted to do in the future.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? I did undergraduate research with Professor Richard Bruno through the Office of Undergraduate Research. We studied the catechins and caffeine contents in commercially available green tea. Then, when I did research in Maine, I could draw on that experience of quantifying phytochemicals. For my master’s degree, I studied antioxidants in wild Maine blueberries, which involved the same measurement systems as my previous UConn research.
By Patsy Evans