Taste, flavor, looks, texture … and how to achieve it

‘I really like food and cooking, but I don’t want to work as a chef’ says Julius Schneider from Cologne, Germany, when he explains why he has chosen the MSc programme in Food Innovation and Health. ‘What I want to do is to develop food. And this programme was kind of a mix of nutritional science and practical work in the gastrolab,’ he says. The programme has also served as a platform for his launch of a food company, Coquo, which is already operating. When we meet Julius, the Cuquo shop has been up and running for a month.

Julius Schneider, international studerende på fødevareinnovation og sundhed

What did you do education-wise before you came here?

I went to highschool in Düsseldorf and studied in Cologne. I have a bachelor in Sports Science and wrote my thesis about a nutritional topic. Then I went to the US for half a year on an internship at the Cornell University in New York State. After that, I came to Copenhagen because I found out about this programme in Food Innovation and Health.

Was the reason why you picked the University of Copenhagen  that you wanted exactly this programme?

Yes. The only place I’ve found a similar programme is at Boston University. But Boston is quite expensive, so I applied for Copenhagen and now I have been here for almost two years.  I really like food and cooking, but I don’t want to work as a chef. What I want to do is to develop food. And this programme was kind of a mix of nutritional science and practical work in the gastrolab. It’s all about the science behind cooking - what happens when you cook cabbage for example - all those processes. I found it very interesting to have a nice balance of science and practical hands-on work.

Which job opportunities does this give you?

In the industry you could work for big companies like Kraft or Nestlé and develop the next chocolate bar for example. Or convenience food. Or you could work as the link between the chefs and the industry. You can be the guy who understands both sides. How they work and which techniques they use.

What’s the balance between theoretical classes and practical work in the lab?

In the beginning it’s quite theoretical. It starts with nutrition physiology, but I think there is a nice balance, because as soon as you go to sensory science for example, you have to work with the practical aspects of  food, you taste a lot and you learn the methods of how you evaluate and how to use the statistical programmes to visualize what you taste. We had two sensory science classes – that was the main focus actually. It’s basically about how you evaluate food with your senses.

And then finally in ‘Innovation and entrepreneurship in Gastronomy and Health’, the main class, you are in the kitchen almost every day - cooking and evaluating. For instance, you are in the red cabbage group one day, and you have to make a soup, pickles, salad  - maybe nine different ways to prepare this specific food, which you would never do at home - to make you understand how different techniques influence the final product.

Techniques one learned in the sensory science classes are used again in the gastronomy class. ‘Napping’ for instance, which is a sensory science technique to evaluate flavors. This means you can use in practice what you’ve learned before.

How many hours do you spend in class?

Two full days and two half days. And to this should be added the homework, of course.

You are writing your thesis right now. What is your subject?

It’s about food psychology. How the plate sizes influence your choice of food. The hypothesis is that if you are hungry and you for instance have to choose food from a menu card with photos, you will go for a small plate rather than for a big plate. When you compare the pictures, the food looks bigger on a small plate because of the outer circle of the plate. Even if it is exactly the same amount of food on the two plates. It’s called the Delbeouf illusion. It will be interesting to see if this also works with real food, because it hasn’t really been shown.

How do you find the university?

Very good. Compared with Germany, the level of hierarchy is much lower. That has also to do with the Danish mentality. You don’t have to address your professors in the formal way we are used to in Germany. Here we are on first-name terms with the professors. And they have open office hours, so you just go there if you have a question. In Germany you have to make appointments. I like the informality very much. You still respect the professors, because they know a lot about their subject, so they don’t need this formal authority.

Julius Schneider, international studerende på fødevareinnovation og sundhed

How do you find the level at the university?

It’s not very demanding. In a lot of exams, you can use your books, which I like a lot, because it’s not about learning by heart, it’s about knowing how to find information, and knowing how to adapt this knowledge to the case they put in the exam.

We have many half days , and we always have one day free during the week. Especially the guys from Spain and France, where the schools are really tough, are surprised by this.

They find it a waste of time?

No, they find it very easy. But University of Copenhagen has a very good reputation. The point is, that the level is nice and not too stressful. You can have a normal life, and that’s the good thing about it. But it’s not super demanding. Of course, there are times, when we are working late at night to write a report, but it’s not like you don’t have any free time.

Have you been abroad as part of the master programme?

No. But some did. One went to New Zealand and one went to Canada. So it’s possible to make it fit into the schedule.

Do you miss Germany?

Not really. It’s not that far away. Actually I’m going to Germany next week. And I’m going to Cologne in October. I and my friend Alex have formed a company, and we have qualified for the finals in the Ecotrophelia competition. The Ecotrophelia is a prize in food innovation and sustainability.  And the finals are in Cologne, and we are going to compete with 20 other nations.

What is your project?

We are combining slow food and fast food – cooking after the slow food philosophy and then we put the food into a glass jar with vacuum and an airtight sealing with a rubber band. It’s a whole dish – you can reheat in in the microwave oven. So you have a high-quality convenience food, which is cooked by real chefs and by hand – that’s the whole concept. And then we have the packaging which we put a refund on, so the people come back to the shop and bring back the packaging, so there is no packaging waste.

Tell me about your company …

It’s called Coquo, which means ‘I cook’ in Latin. The university supported us with a 35,000 DKK funding, which was a good help in the beginning, so we could buy all the glass jars and do the catering. We started one year ago – actually in the context of a course on the master programme where you have to develop a product. This French guy, Alex, had this idea about putting food in jars. I joined his group and the two of us decided to develop the product and make a company out of it. During the course, we did the whole scientific part about the sensory science, and evaluated the texture of the food and so on, and after the class we continued and had our first catering jobs. We did a big catering for 300 people and one for 150.

And then we applied for a stand at Roskilde Festival (a big Danish music festival, ed.), where we made French fries in duck fat and some sandwiches. It was quite a success, people really loved that. And one month ago we opened our shop at Torvehallerne (a food market in the center of Copenhagen, ed.), the best place for selling food. We built our own wooden house in Alex’ backyard with some help from a carpenter, and brought it by hand and carts to Torvehallerne. Now it’s running quite well.

So you have a lot of work and you have to make your thesis too?

Yes. But Alex and I are sharing the work, each of us being there four hours a day. One person can manage the shop.

Do you want to stay in Denmark?

Probably. Now we are setting all this up and we do three caterings with the jarred food in the next weeks. Actually we are looking for an investor now. We have to try it, otherwise we would never now if we can succeed with this.

How do you get by financially?

I’m supported by my parents. Sometimes I have a job at Torvehallerne, and thanks to my parents’ support, it’s enough to get by.

For some international students, housing is quite a problem. How has it been for you?

I thought it would be easy to find a room. It wasn’t. It was my own fault, because I came in August, and the programme started in September. So I went to the housing department at the university, and they gave me a room which I shared with another student. One little room with two beds and a very small kitchen in the corner … and this was for six months. It was not very nice, because you had no privacy. Still quite expensive: 2600 DKK. We’re students, so it’s not supposed to be like that - but you have to live somewhere. I’m not very happy about that. Now I share a flat with three other students, which is very nice.

What about the social life. Is it hard to join a group of Danish students, where some of them already know each other well?

In the beginning I was in a class with several Danes. They were very nice persons. I know them and I see them from time to time, but it’s not that we are close friends. Mostly I’m together with international people. I live with two Spanish persons and a Slovakian girl, we do a lot together, and I know some French people but strangely enough  no Germans – I don’t’ know why, there must be a lot in Copenhagen. And not that many Danes.

Why is that?

I think they keep a little to themselves some times. I don’t really get into their community. That’s what I have heard a lot of internationals say, they are not really in touch with Danish people. I don’t know if it’s language barrier – everyone speaks English here, and I speak a little bit of Danish, but still there’s a barrier. On the other hand - when I think back on the time I was in Germany, I wasn’t in touch with foreign students either.

But Danes are very nice and very open people. That’s what we experience in our French fries house too. A lot of people just come by and ask what we are doing there and what we have to offer. I don’t know what that would be like in Germany.

There’s nothing really bad to say about Danish people. And now I start to meet some really cool and interesting people through my work with Cuquo.

Anything to criticize about the university?

Yes, the food in the canteen is not that good. And it is quite expensive for a student. I mean, everything is expensive in Copenhagen, but I think the food in the canteen should be cheaper. We pay around 30 DKK for a meal and when I compare to Germany it is quite expensive. Of course you cannot compare one to one, but anyway …

Do you like the city?

Yes. It is very nice. Very livable, not too big, not too small. You always run into people you know, because the city is so small (around 1.5 million inhabitants in Greater Copenhagen, ed.)

So would you recommend going here to others?

Yes. In general, I can recommend studying in Copenhagen.