PROVIDENCE — Johnson & Wales University has taken a leap into the future, updating its College of Culinary Arts with expanded programs for innovation and technology.
The private, nonprofit university’s new College of Food & Innovation has appointed a new dean, Jason Evans. He has been on the job just two weeks, working on-site with a team ready and equipped for the new challenges, he said in a phone interview.
The expanded mission of the college will be to educate students to become big thinkers in the world of food systems — sustainable, economic, agricultural and nonprofit among them. JWU will still train chefs and bakers, but also more entrepreneurs and food scientists.
“We will be educating students for jobs that haven’t even been created yet,” Evans said. “The whole idea is to get ahead of change.”
Even with all that has happened in a pandemic economy, people still “go to a store and what they find there is everything they dream of buying, and not spending a lot of money.”
He said people don’t change until they have to, as evidenced by how the rise in gasoline prices over the years resulted in the building of fuel-efficient, hybrid and electric cars.
“Getting change to happen needs innovators to act in an ethereal way and meet consumers where they are,” Evans said.
For example, small farms really struggle when people don’t put their money where their mouth is and pay for their more expensive goods.
Innovation is needed to get products to where consumers are shopping and eating, he said.
Classes in the university’s first food innovation and technology master’s degree will begin in the fall. Evans expects 40 students. The newest degree program, for sustainable food systems, launched last year and has 15 students, he said.
The first year of study will follow the traditional track of cooking and baking classes.
Evans said the students will get their hands dirty to gain an appreciation for all that goes into food purchase and prep.
“We have to create food thinkers, and it starts with understanding the basics of food,” he said.
After the first year, they will pursue a different path, studying entrepreneurship and supply chains. There will also be food-system exploration courses, economics and ecological classes to see global context, studies of culinary nutrition for food and health and science classes using microbiology to develop new packaging or products.
Evans described himself as a farm kid from West Virginia whose doctorate is in natural-resources economics with a focus on pasture-based livestock.
Evans chaired The State University of New York Cobleskill Agricultural & Food Management department, which offers degrees in the culinary arts and food systems and technology. He was also executive director of SUNY Cobleskill’s Institute for Rural Vitality, whose mission is to revitalize rural communities across New York.
Unlike previous culinary deans, he will wear a suit and tie rather than a chef’s white jacket.