Scientist, ‘supertaster’ enjoys working, playing with food

Dave Marciniak at home in his kitchen.

It’s not every day that you have a home cook with the background of the person we are featuring today. Suggested by his wife, Anita Holz Marciniak, he’s had a fascinating career.

She wrote, “Beyond being a great cook, he is witty and has a great understanding of what makes food taste good. I feel he should have his own cooking show.”

Name: Dave Marciniak

Age: 65

Residence: Johns Island

Occupation: Food scientist/consultant

Family: Wife (Anita), four children, nine grandchildren

Q: What does your work entail?

A: I am a food chemist by training. I have been a food consultant since moving to the Charleston area in 2002. I have worked in the food industry for over 40 years. My current consulting includes food safety certification of food manufacturers. My customers include beverage manufacturers, seafood processing, confection and prepared meals manufacturers, fruit and vegetable processing and honey processing.

I travel to customers from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Honolulu, Hawaii, and everywhere in between.

I work with these food processors to ensure that the food we eat is safe and healthy. Some of my customers include Ocean Spray, Smucker’s, Mott’s, Snapple and Dr Pepper, Coca-Cola, Bigelow Tea Company, Sue Bee Honey and McCormick Seasonings.

I also work with a biotechnology company as a consultant to develop new food products containing probiotics. These foods contain micro-organisms beneficial to digestive health in humans. Projects have involved probiotic fortified yogurts, milk, juices, beverages and bakery products. These foods are classified as nutraceuticals or foods that delivery unique nutritional benefits.

Q. Your wife says you’re also a “supertaster.” How and when did you find that out?

A: Prior to starting my consulting business, I was the VP of Quality and Product Development for the largest private label juice manufacturer in the U.S. We manufactured juice and beverage products for almost every grocery chain in the country, including local chains such as Harris Teeter, Publix, Bi-Lo, Food Lion, WalMart, Costco and Target. I was responsible for formulating beverages to meet our customers’ expectations for such organoleptic properties as aroma, flavor, color and texture.

In developing these products, I worked with flavor chemists from several large international flavor companies across the U.S. My job was to develop new products with very specific flavor profiles. The profiles were based on industry recognized flavor properties such as bitter, sweet, salty, sour and umami. Specific combinations of flavor compounds are responsible for these unique flavors. For example, in grapefruit juice the sweetness is determined by the brix or sugar content of the juice. The sour flavor is determined by the acid components such as natural citric acid. Bitterness is determined by the levels of compounds naturally incurring in the juice such as limomin and naringen.

I was classified as a supertaster by several flavorists due to my ability to distinguish very low levels of these flavor compounds such as limonin and naringen. Everyone’s taste buds are different. Where I may taste a product and determine that is very bitter, another taster might describe it as sweet or sour. Each individual is unique in that sense. The supertaster is defined as someone who has the ability to perceive these flavor components at very low levels.

Q. I’ve read that supertasters often have a particular sensitivity to bitter foods, and can have an aversion to vegetables. Sometimes an aversion to fatty foods as well. Is that true with you? What are a few foods that you especially like, and especially dislike?

A: The key in controlling bitterness in a food is balancing all flavor components. Saltiness and sweetness can balance the perception of bitterness. Since I have a higher sensitivity to bitterness such as is associated with many greens, I might add salt or a sweet component such as honey to obtain a better flavor balance in a food.

There aren’t too many foods I have an aversion to. When cooking, I will always try to balance all flavor components. I have never been a huge salad eater, perhaps due to my sensitivity to the bitterness of the greens. I am an avid fisherman and enjoy all types of seafood and enjoy preparing new and unique seafood recipes.

A unique property of foods is described as umami. Umami is often described as a pleasant savory taste with a long-lasting, mouthwatering and coating sensation over the tongue. Ingredients such as soy sauce or teriyaki can impart umami to several dishes. I quite often add soy or teriyaki sauce to recipes or marinades to impart umami.

Q. We’re told that you like to cook. Where did you grow up, and who or what in your past shaped that?

A: I grew up the son of a butcher (been called worse). My dad was a butcher and ran a small meat market and grocery store in Batavia, N.Y. Growing up, we would always eat whatever was left over in the store. We quite often ate soups and stews as well as chicken parts such as wings, necks, gizzards and hearts or fish that we caught. We ate chicken wings before chicken wings ever became popular.

Both of my parents liked to cook. To this day I still make fresh and smoked sausages with my dad’s recipes. My dad also smoked meats such as bacon, hams and fish for sale in the market. I still enjoy smoking and regularly make various hot smoked local fish and cold smoked salmon (lox), smoked brisket, jerky and a number of venison items.

I worked my way through college as a laboratory technician in a dairy plant. I obtained a chemistry degree and after graduation worked for Borden’s as a laboratory director in a dairy plant that also made cottage cheese and other fermented dairy products such as buttermilk, sour cream and yogurt. This began my fascination with fermented and cultured food products.

I worked my way around the country working in quality assurance and product development for such companies as Frito Lay, Welch’s, Sara Lee and General Mills. I eventually ended up working in Nebraska and enrolled in a Ph.D. program in Food Science at the University of Nebraska, later transferring to the University of Minnesota.

Part of my development responsibilities was to develop new applications for our food ingredients. One of the most interesting developments resulted in granting of a patent for the manufacture of honey roasted peanuts. Before beginning my consulting business, I was the director of manufacturing quality for approximately 40 food manufacturing plants operated by Winn Dixie Stores in the Southeast.

This experience along with my industry background started me on a path of applying science to my culinary adventures. Every time I cook, it becomes a science experiment. I am always trying new combinations. I always take a scientific approach to my culinary exploits.

Q: What are a few things that you like to make and do well?

A: I probably enjoy different fish or seafood dishes the most. Over the years we have acquired several killer recipes for things such as lox, oysters Rockefeller, shrimp and crab bisque, crab cakes as well as blackened, fried or grilled fish. My wife and I live on the Kiawah River. Our family always enjoys a fresh catch of shrimp, crab, oysters or fish from our dock. My summer projects include shark jerky and seafood sausages.

Q: What is one of your most unusual food experiences or discoveries?

A: One of the most unique seafood experiences my wife and I have discovered was during our visits to Hawaii for business and pleasure. We discovered poke! While visiting the supermarkets in Hawaii, most have a poke section, which would display as many as 30 different types of poke.

Native Hawaiians would line up daily to buy their poke. Poke is a marinated seafood salad generally made from raw tuna. However, it can also be found made from a variety of mainstays including raw or smoked octopus, shrimp, salmon and smoked beef.

Several national cooking shows such as Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” have also highlighted poke restaurants in the Hawaiian Islands, some of which we have visited. The dish offers a great balance of salty, sweet, sour and umami. We prefer the spicy version, which also combines mayonnaise (Duke’s of course), jalapeno pepper and sriracha hot chile sauce.

Having grown up near Buffalo, N.Y., I am always experimenting with the Buffalo-style foods. We have tried different styles of buffalo wings, buffalo shrimp and most recently buffalo style crab cakes. The basic crab cake recipe comes from working with an industrial chef at one of the seafood companies I have worked with. The buffalo touch adds a unique spin to the classic Charleston style recipe.

Ingredients

1 pound raw yellowfin tuna

2 scallions, finely chopped

2 tablespoons Hawaiian Poke Seasoning (see cook’s note)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 small jalapeno pepper, finely sliced

2 tablespoons mayonnaise, Duke’s preferred

1 tablespoon sriracha chile sauce

1 teaspoon tobiko or masago (fish eggs) (optional)

Cook’s note: Seasoning contains sea salt, dehydrated seaweed, onion, chives, macadamia nuts, coconut flakes, sesame seeds and red pepper. Available on the Internet.

Directions

Cut raw tuna into 1/2-inch cubes and reserve.

Combine half of the scallions, half of the poke seasoning and remaining ingredients and whisk until smooth.

Add the raw tuna and gently mix to coat. Garnish with remaining scallions and poke seasoning. Refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours. Note: Basic poke recipe can be made without mayonnaise, sriracha chile sauce or jalapeno pepper. May substitute raw salmon, smoked brisket, smoked octopus or shrimp for raw tuna.

Ingredients

1 whole large egg, well beaten

1/4 cup mayonnaise, Duke’s preferred

11/2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Juice from half a lemon

1 teaspoon lemon pepper

1 teaspoon hot sauce, Frank’s preferred

2 tablespoons sweet sherry wine

1 pound lump crab meat

Panko bread crumbs

Topping ingredients:

1/4 cup Frank’s Hot Sauce plus 1/4 cup melted butter

1/2 cup mayonnaise plus ½ cup finely chopped blue cheese

Directions

Mix all ingredients except crab meat and panko bread crumbs. Gently fold in crab meat and bread crumbs until consistency allows crab cakes to be formed. Form round 3-ounce crab cakes and refrigerate overnight. Pan fry with 1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil until browned or spray with olive oil and bake at 450 degrees until browned. Cover each crab cake with butter/hot sauce mixture and top with blue cheese/mayonnaise dressing. Serve on a bed of greens or on a bun.