Depending on the day, Christian Atkinson is making out-of-this-world garlic bread,adorably sized pizzas or homemade cheese crackers. Today, he’s whipping up macaroni and cheese — but there’s no fluid milk, pats of butter or shreds of cheese in sight.
While most 11-year-olds would flip the channel after “Arthur” was over on PBS, Christian Atkinson would stay tuned in, enamored by Julia Child. Then, he would head to the kitchen and make dinner for his family. But forget spaghetti and meatballs, he was determined to try
“I’ve always been a person who tries to make different things work — be creative,” Christian says.
As the development chef for DairiConcepts, a provider of specialty dairy ingredients for many companies across the food industry and a subsidiary of Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), in Springfield, Mo., Christian is doing just that. He provides sales support by working with dairy-based powders and concentrates to inspire customers through a variety of product applications.
Being a classically trained chef gives Christian a solid foundation, but working with concentrates isn’t what they teach in culinary school.
“It’s just a different set of ingredients,” he says. “You have to figure out how to use the ingredients, and then your culinary skills take over — that’s the science behind it.”
While working with powders and concentrates may sound like a science experiment, the ingredients are all made with real dairy, fresh from local farms. The dried and concentrated formats make them perfect for incorporating into shelf-stable food products, like cheese-dusted chips and boxed macaroni and cheese.
For Christian, he is able to marry his creativity with knowledge of ratios to jot down the perfect formula. He often makes powders shine through dips and incorporates concentrates into dressings and sauces.
“I work backward,” says Christian. “I’ll create the classic recipe as a ‘standard’ and then formulate it using DairiConcepts products.”
He will even join the food scientists in the lab to do a little powder development when he has time. One of his favorite table-to-lab creations was a Mexican hot chocolate powder. While it’s not on the market, it made a mean flavored popcorn for taste testing.
Spending his weekdays in the kitchen doesn’t deter Christian from cooking at home — although his style is a little less scientific.
“I meal prep and eat pretty simply — lots of protein and veggies,” he says. “I’m much less precise and more fun and relaxed.”
His signature dish? Jalapeño artichoke dip. But at the end of the day, whether he’s dreaming up a new application for a powder or making a dip for family, Christian’s passion for food is evident.
“No one really thinks about where a product comes from, and I find that part really interesting,” he says. “I love being able to think both creatively and strategically to come up with the best solution for a customer.”