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Chefs and Algebra

Date: 02/05/2002 at 10:56:57
From: Kay
Subject: Chefs and Algebra

Hi. I'm an eighth-grade algebra student and I would like to know how 
algebra (specifically polynomials, the quadratic formula, factoring, 
etc.) could possibly relate to my future career and my life beyond 
high school. I hope to become a chef someday, and I have a hard time 
liking math and wanting to do the homework because I just don't see 
how what we are learning in algebra is going to help me in real life. 
I know that mathematical knowledge is needed for measurement and 
recipe conversions (I've already found lots of resources that show 
this kind of relationship between math and cooking.), but is higher 
math ever used in cooking/food industries?

Date: 02/05/2002 at 12:12:00
From: Doctor Sarah
Subject: Re: Chefs and Algebra

Hi Kay - thanks for writing to Dr. Math.

There's a nice description of what a modern master chef needs to know 
and how math is involved at:

   Chefs' Corner - Chef Bullard   

Here's an excerpt:

   Today's professional chef is much more than a great cook 
   with an artistic manner in plating food. The new professional 
   chef must be an accountant, a business manager, an events 
   planner who can extend recipes to have enough food to satisfy 
   the expected number of guests and have no food dollars wasted, 
   a menu planner who can forecast increases or decreases in raw 
   food costs as the cost is affected by the seasonality of some 
   food products, and use to his or her advantage unpredictable 
   shortages, which increase costs, or surplus, which usually 
   decreases food costs. 

   Costs are also anticipated by effects of altering events such 
   as El Nino. California, for instance, which grows 70 percent of 
   this nation's produce has been devastated by El Nino-provoked 
   rain storms, which means that the produce growing region will 
   shift eastward to Arizona and the central states, which are not 
   in great shape either. Florida, ranking as a top produce grower, 
   has also been hit hard by the flooding waters that have halted 
   much raw food production, and has seen a devastating birthing 
   season for the cattle industry. Alabama and parts of Georgia are, 
   at this moment, under water and probably will not be able to 
   produce peanuts and soy for cooking oil, alfalfa and hay for 
   cattle feed, nor corn or melons, berries, or pit-fruits for the 
   market. The food production situation is not extremely positive 
   at this time, but certainly not to the point of despair. We can 
   adjust and repair what has been "broken." 

   I realize you asked for a dozen doughnuts and just got the bakery, 
   but I feel that you may find more calculus facts from that 
   illustration than can be taught on the job. complete the requirement ...for the A.S. degree in Culinary 
   Management, the student must pass College Business Math. Passing 
   Business Math is not the major problem; qualifying for the class 
   is the problem. Planning ahead in high school is the solution. 
   Business Math teaches: how to look for discounts from purveyors 
   if a bill is paid within a specified period of time - for instance 
   a 2 percent discount may be offered on a bill if the bill is paid 
   within 10 days, rather than the usual 30 days expected payment 
   period (people like to get their money as quickly as possible so 
   they can have more operating/spending power). 

   How to depreciate, or take a tax break, on capital equipment 
   (those pieces of equipment which have a useful life expectancy of 
   more than a year - something like an oven) and when the owner must  
   consider that same piece of equipment as an asset and start paying 
   taxes on it when it proves to be of exceptional quality and just 
   will not die. Business Math is supported by another class, 
   Purchasing for Hospitality Operations, which reinforces discount 
   policies, shipping and receiving fees and forecasting for futures 
   markets. It also teaches how to cut costs through deliberate 
   spending and by establishing purchasing parameters. 

   ... how would you convert a recipe that was written for a 
   particular type of bread that calls for one and one-eighth 
   tablespoon of salt for the full recipe for 200 rolls, as an 
   example, and convert that recipe to make 100 rolls? Baking is an 
   exact science where the success of the baked good may depend on 
   the precise amount of sugar, salt and yeast. Too much salt will 
   kill the yeast and the bread will not rise; too little salt will 
   not strengthen the dough, allowing the yeast to overdevelop and 
   the bread would possibly rise too high and be too soft to enjoy. 
   This is a simple algebra problem ... what is one and one eighth 
   multiplied by one half? The answer could be your house payment ... 
   extended over a period of (successful) years in the business, 
   of course. 

- Doctor Sarah, The Math Forum   
Associated Topics:
High School About Math
Middle School About Math

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