OneHaas Alumni: Ep 42 – In this week’s episode, we had the opportunity to chat with Soh Kim, a Ph.D. ’13 alumna who did her research on Open Innovation Ecosystem: Chez Panisse Case which encompassed Food Innovation. She was guided under Henry Chesbrough through the Berkeley Haas Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation.
Soh is currently the Executive Director of Food Design Research at Stanford University. She’s also the founder of FoodInno Institute, a community that brings food innovators together to build the future of food. Soh shares with us how a simple dining experience led her to switch directly from the hardware industry to food and restaurants.
- After a few years of being rejected, her persistence and admirable determination got her to complete her Ph.D. research.
- The importance of food innovation especially during this pandemic crisis.
- Contactless communication between customers and food makers is going to be part of the future of food.
- The development of food packaging, in terms of sustainability, is really important in the food industry now.
On why she’s chosen her research topic – “I really wanted to study restaurant chefs. I would do a Ph.D. only once in my life. I really want to choose this topic.”
Her take on what food innovation is – “To me, food innovation is to look at three areas: 1) the future of food, 2) the future of the kitchen, and 3) the future of restaurants.”
Why sustainability is a big issue on food innovation – “Now, especially generation Z, they care so much about sustainability. Sustainability is becoming a new premium in their lifestyle. It’s not about the financial value but as a lifestyle value.”
[00:00:00] Sean: Welcome to the OneHaas podcast. My name is Sean Li and I’m joined by my co-host, Ellen Chan.
[00:00:16] Ellen: Today we are joined by Soh Kim. She’s an Executive Director of Food Design Research at Stanford University. She’s also the founder of the FoodInno Institute.
[00:00:26] How are you doing today?
[00:00:27] Soh: I’m doing great. I’m calling from Palo Alto. It’s raining over here.
[00:00:32] Ellen: Well, awesome. I’m glad you’re enjoying the rainy weather.
[00:00:35] Sean: So, can you briefly share with us your background and your relationship with Berkeley Haas?
[00:00:40] Soh: Yeah. So, I came to Berkeley in 2007 as a Doctor’s student. I actually started studying mechanical engineering at the beginning, but I changed to interdisciplinary studies. I was trying to, designing my major in between mechanical and Haas. And I have my co-advisor at Haas.
[00:01:06] His name is Henry Chesbrough and he’s leading the center called Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation. And he’s the one who coined the concept of Open Innovation. And I believe he’s teaching a moonshot thinking in innovation management in Haas now.
[00:01:25] So I had a three people in my thesis committee. Sarah Beckman, who teaches design thinking at Haas, can you just for innovation management. And I also had an Alice and casino and mechanical who’s also teaching design thinking.
[00:01:42] Ellen: Awesome. Should we go a little back in time to talk about your research with Chez Panisse and your involvement there?
[00:01:52] Soh: Yeah. So, I actually didn’t study food at all. Before I came to Haas, I was actually in a hardware industry. I was working at Cisco as their engineer, and then I worked at Mercedes in Germany as a design engineer. I was actually studying Airline Engineering at the beginning of PhD. But all of a sudden, because I dined at Chez Panisse one day, I completely changed my topic because I fell in love with that restaurant. So, it was a very strange moment, but I totally enjoyed it. I just had to go back and interview people. And that’s how I began my research journey from Chez Panisse. And also, I’m studying Alice Waters.
[00:02:52] Ellen: You are involved with the Edible Schoolyard Project as well, which is how I met you.
[00:02:58] Soh: Yeah. So, actually, I didn’t intend to study Edible School Yard. It was pretty interesting why I studied from there because, I went to shipping Chez Panisse to interview chefs and Alice. Actually, at the beginning they said, no. They didn’t want to have a researcher or a journalist sitting at their kitchen.
[00:03:22] They had a pretty negative experience having a lot of journalists before, so no more journalist or writers at their kitchen. I actually asked for about two years, getting a permission to write about their restaurant. And they said, they keep saying no. So, the only way to be friendly with them was actually going to Edible School Yard in Berkeley to do volunteering.
[00:03:53] So I became a regular, doing volunteering and, you know, helping kids there, cooking in there. So that’s how I became a circle of Chez Panisse. They noticed me. I went to all the book tour of Alice Waters. So, she found me in all the book tours, wherever she goes. So, to say, Oh, I recognize you finally. And later she said, yes, now you can study.
[00:04:23] So, yeah, I it took about three years to get in.
[00:04:27] Sean: That’s, you know, I have to say, I really admire your determination there. For most people, they would just be like, alright, I don’t think I could get my foot in the door in any way, right. But you really went about finding different ways to engage with them and that creativity is very entrepreneurial view.
[00:04:45] I really admire that.
[00:04:47] Soh: Yeah. Thank you. So, I was at Stanford before I came to Haas. I was studying design and mechanical at Stanford and my focus was studying creativity. And I found chefs are very creative, but they’ve never been studied as a designer or creator. Restaurants were studied as a business or they were studied as a culinary institute, but not as a chef, not as a designer. I framed it, chefs as a designer. So, I was trying to unpack their creativity process as a design process. So that was my thesis. And, I also found there is a great ecosystem around Chez Panisse.
[00:05:39] A lot of alums became great chefs, farmer, cheesemakers, florist, purveyors, coffee roasters. So, they truly became the birthplace of California cuisine and behaved as our great learning Institute for a lot of people, especially for people in Berkeley.
[00:06:03] Ellen: So, after this research, you got involved with the Garwood Center at Berkeley. How did that happen?
[00:06:09] Soh: I actually was at Garwood studying airline industry with Henry Chesbrough and he initially didn’t liked my idea of studying restaurant as your PhD topic. He was very concerned if I can get a job in academia or even going to industry. He was very concerned. Are you going to get a job in a restaurant or what?
[00:06:37] But I really wanted to study a restaurant and chefs. So, I said, you know, I would do PhD only once in my life. I really want to choose this topic. Berkeley and Chez Panisse, they’re really, really unique to me. I really want to study. So, I just went on.
[00:06:58] Ellen: Apart from all the research work, you also started the FoodInno Institute. How did that happen and what exactly does it do?
[00:07:07] Soh: My PhD research was studying actually history and trajectory of California cuisine for the last 50 years. And when I was graduating, I thought this is a great time to study the future of food. And future of food innovation. And it was actually great timing. I didn’t know that will happen, but that’s when a lot of food startups were coming up in the area.
[00:07:35] Good example was Impossible Food out of Stanford medicine. So then, Venture Capitalists they saw this will be great example, that food startups can be a unicorn. That has a good impact on academia. So, at Stanford, at Design division where I work now, they created a new program on food design and food innovation.
[00:08:06] I moved on here and I am leading the research program and also, I am hosting international symposium called the FoodInno every year.
[00:08:20] Sean: Can you share a little bit about what exactly is food innovation?
[00:08:24] So, for Alice’s time back in the sixties and seventies, what I learned was there was no farmer’s market, no organic farming. So even chefs, they had to go to a superstore like Walmart to buy packages, vegetables, all frozen meats.
[00:08:49] So there was no organic, or farm to table movement was not around.
[00:08:57] So to me, food innovation is to look at three areas – on, future of food; second, future of kitchen. In third, future of restaurant. So that’s what we are studying right now.
[00:09:15] And, we will see very different kind of food in the future. Very different kinds of kitchen appliances and also new concept of restaurants in the future. So that’s what I’m studying in terms of food innovation.
[00:09:32] Sean: That sounds insane because that sounds like a cross disciplinary of so many things right from agriculture to mechanical engineering to probably software design for kitchens. And then you have interior design, space design. That’s how do you manage all that?
[00:09:54] Soh: Yeah, so I’m being fortunate working at design division at Stanford. Here, design means pretty broad. You study as their product design, but now we have people who are working in car design, health, medical, biomedical design, space design, design thinking framework. And I’m leading food design.
[00:10:21] So it has like various topics of design and although it’s a part of mechanical engineering, it’s very interdisciplinary. Even in my group, we have a student from medicine, students from MBA, students from computer science, mechanical. So, it’s very diverse.
[00:10:46] Ellen: So, you started FoodInno a couple years ago, with the hackathon in Barcelona and it’s scaled very nicely over the last couple of years. What is your vision going forward and what are you looking to achieve with this?
[00:11:02] Soh: We’re doing more seminars and speakers series now.
[00:11:07] Ellen: And who is the target audience for these symposiums?
[00:11:11] Soh: The we invite chefs, food academics, students, large companies, and also startups. We also invite NASA. NASA has been a really great inspiration for food innovation. Interestingly, they’ve been actually working on the product called Food in Space.
[00:11:34] So, they were working on 3D printed food. Also, the air protein, kind of creating a protein out of air. So, they have a lot of technologies they developed like 30, 40 years ago. We’re trying to commercialize now. And so, they have been great, great inspirations for food innovators.
[00:12:00] Sean: That’s amazing. You know, with what we’re going through with Covid-19, I’m curious if you see or foresee any shifts in food innovation, meaning, are there any shifts in focus on, what should we call this? Not post-apocalyptic, but, emergency time foods and times for cuisine during this period.
[00:12:23] Soh: Yes. So, it’s very interesting time. Food has been essential business, although they’re losing a lot of people, so I have my heartbroken there. So, one thing I noticed was that they’re looking for like contactless, delivery contactless communication between customers in food makers and restaurants.
[00:12:49] So that’s something that is coming up. And also, the use of ghost kitchen. Do you guys know ghost kitchen?
[00:12:57] So, ghost kitchen is a new concept of restaurant. They don’t have a front end, but they only have a backend and they just connect with deliveries.
[00:13:13] Sean: Oh, that’s what Travis, Uber founder was working on.
[00:13:16] Soh: Correct. Some people call it a cloud kitchen or ghost kitchen.
[00:13:22] Sean: Funny enough, I was just brainstorming with some buddies yesterday on some of the implications for food supply and restaurants, right? And, in this period, and one of the things that was brought up, was this idea that’s similar to ghost kitchen, but that’s much more popular in India where home cookers, they cook and prep meals, and then there’s like an app where you can order from different, I guess families. Do you see anything like the US trending in that direction?
[00:13:58] Soh: Yes, so California is the very first state that they approved the new bill. They call it a home kitchen. I have to look at exact, the name of the bill. Every home, once they get approved by the county and get a permit to sell their food, they can actually, sell up to 50,000 per year.
[00:14:26] So that will be the extra income for the families who are very skillful in their home cuisine. So particularly, I heard it’ll be great for a lot of ethnic food. So, makers, they can use their home kitchen to turning into their revenue.
[00:14:48] Sean: So, to that point, another question just popped up in my head, which is around food packaging. That’s been a pretty hot topic, especially out of Berkeley, the sustainability. What are some new developments in that area?
[00:15:01] Soh: Yes. The packaging has been a big issue. They are looking for a lot of interesting source of packaging. For example, now people are using seaweed to see if they can make sustainable packaging, which can be easily do the job within 90 days. And some people are looking for like banana leaves.
[00:15:24] Yeah. So, they’re looking for the bio gradable alternative packaging. I think the good example will be the Boba guys who is also Haas alumni. Especially Boba, the straw is essential. He shows the whole collection of the straws he was prototyping. So, yeah. It was very interesting. So, he was one of the vapors, people who committed to a sustainable shop. So, it’s very important now, especially generation Z. They care so much about sustainability and sustainability is becoming a new premium in their lifestyle.
[00:16:10] That’s what we found. So, it’s not about financial value, but they see as a lifestyle value. So, it’s really important in food industry now.
[00:16:20] Sean: That’s really key. Thank you so much for that. You know, to wrap that part up, if students want to get involved or follow up with you, what’s the best way to reach your team?
[00:16:31] Soh: So, I love Haas students. I still talk to them. And we still keep in touch and I still work with them. And so please copy me and through my email, SohKim@stanford.edu or email@example.com. I’ll be available. Happy to chat.
[00:16:55] Sean: That’s great. Thank you. Ellen’s got some quick fun round questions for you to wrap this interview up.
[00:17:01] Ellen: Yup. So, first question, what are you doing to keep yourself sane during this quarantine?
[00:17:08] Soh: So, the first week of shelter in place, I completely lost a sense of day and time. This brought me a corona blue. So, what am I trying to do, is to wake up at the same time and go to sleep at the same time. And, I definitely try to go for a walk in my neighborhood at least once a day.
[00:17:36] Ellen: Yeah, that’s a good note. Second question, what content are you consuming right now? It could be a book, a show, or a movie.
[00:17:44] Soh: So, I haven’t watched Netflix much before, but now I had to sign up. I finished Chef’s Table, Black Meter in some Cajun or was, and I also signed up for the online Zumba class. So, when I was living in Berkeley, I had my favorite teacher. Since I moved to Palo Alto, I couldn’t attend their class, but always missed her class.
[00:18:14] So I found she’s now offering free or night classes, through June. So, I signed up and I saw like nearly 150 people are taking now.
[00:18:28] Sean: Wow, that’s amazing. Okay.
[00:18:30] Next up we have, what is your best productivity hack?
[00:18:33] Soh: I’m a person who can get so easily distracted by texting and surfing online. So, I used a method called Pomodoro. I bought a Pomodoro timer. I tried to focus for five minutes. And extended to 10 minutes in 20 minutes, and then it’s easier to get focused.
[00:19:02] Soh: Yeah. So, and then I started just streaming Zoom, working with my colleagues now, so as if we are just working at the same office. So, we don’t talk to each other. We muted our audio, but just like seeing each other or just together.
[00:19:18] Sean: I’ve been having to do that actually. At least three times a week, classmates.
[00:19:24] So that’s like the best advice actually. Just to more social proof. And the last quick question is, what is your favorite thing about Haas or Berkeley?
[00:19:36] Soh: I really liked the community, especially just going around the Bank of America forum. I get to see a lot of people. I still go to Bank of America forum. Sometimes I go to our seminars at Haas, I still see some familiar faces, so yeah, I have a great memory. Just chatting, a lot of friends and students there, so that’s a great, great place to just work, having coffee over there.
[00:20:07] Ellen: Well, thank you. So, it’s been great and I do miss seeing your face at Berkeley. But, thank you so much for coming onto our show today.
[00:20:15] Soh: Thanks for the invite.
[00:20:16] Sean: Thank you for tuning in to another episode of the OneHaas alumni podcast. If you enjoy our show, please subscribe to us on your favorite podcast player and give us a rating or review. If would like to hear more about current student perspectives check out our sister podcast Here@Haas, or you can subscribe to our monthly podcast newsletter on onehaas.org. That’s spelled onehaas.org. Until next time go bears!