AJ Schaller is the Culinary Research Specialist at Cuisine Solutions and CREA, the Culinary Research and Education Academy founded in 1991 by sous-vide pioneer Dr. Bruno Goussault.
Fatless whipped cream and chickpea mayo? If these products of cryoconcentration sound like mad food science, that’s because they are—and CREA culinary specialist AJ Schaller wants to bring them to kitchens everywhere.
“I’m hoping it’s going to be the next wave of sous-vide,” Schaller says of cryoconcentration, a method for distilling flavor from liquid without applying heat (also used to desalinate sea water). “Bruno [Goussault] develops the technique, but I’m sort of like a technician that tests all the theories on it. I love experimentation.”
Schaller insists she’s no scientist, but a trained chef first and foremost. Though, as culinary manager for chef Daniel Boulud, she was equal parts chef, food safety officer, cookbook editor, food stylist, and photo editor.
“I also did his column in Elle Decor,” she says. “We’d come up with ideas, I’d do some recipe testing, then he’d try it and tweak it. What impresses me in a dish is the combination of textures and flavors. And responsible sourcing is important to me.”
Her favorite recipe from Boulud’s column is an Heirloom Tomato Tart with corn custard, blistered tomatoes, and smoked paprika—though it’s a far cry from Schaller’s family heirlooms.
A Type K probe thermometer is Schaller's secret weapon in the kitchen. "With the step-by-step cooking technique that we teach at CREA, it is imperative to know the core temperature of the product because we measure cooking by temperature, not time, for precision."
“We weren’t a farmers market family,” she says, laughing. “I hadn’t had fresh asparagus until I went to culinary school.”
Growing up in Maryland, Schaller ate schnitzel, shoo-fly pie, and “dump and stir” casseroles from her dad’s Pennsylvania Dutch roots. She discovered the hands-on pleasure of cooking at 10 years old when she began making a few dinners a week for her family. Shortly after, she started cooking courses and riding her bike to a catering job.
“They told me if I was really serious about being a chef, I had to go to the Culinary Institute of America,” she says. “I still keep in touch with CIA, but it doesn’t really matter where you go to culinary school. It’s all about attitude and willingness to learn.”
For CREA and Cuisine Solutions, Schaller discovers new things about food all the time, including the potential to enhance flavor and utilize food waste through cryoconcentration.
“We’re just in the beginning exploratory phase. Leaves and trim can have a lot of flavor,” she says of the food scraps that would otherwise go in the trash, “but people don’t know how to use them.”
Schaller’s go-tos for cooking and dining echo her affinity for both high and low. Her kitchen must-have is a Type K probe thermometer with thermocouple tape. It allows a home chef to monitor the core temperature of their food through the sous-vide bag—gauging doneness accurately while keeping the food’s moisture sealed in the pouch.
Her theoretical last meal?
“A good fried chicken, preferably not made by me,” she says. “It’s not necessarily sous-vide, but with a buttermilk brine and the proper breading, a pepper-heavy gravy and a good biscuit—I love fried chicken so much.”
Interested in learning about sous-vide—and other exciting techniques—from the experts? Sign up for a CREA course and soak up some knowledge from the comfort of home. Explore courses and register here.