Meet Phil Fox. If you were ever curious about how we come up with our addicting flavors or take something as nostalgic as a cinnamon bun and turn it into Cinnamon Bun Popcorn, you're in luck. I sat down for an interview with our talented Director of Research and Development, Chef Phil Fox. Phil brings some serious culinary expertise to the kitchens here at Popcornopolis. He attended culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago and possesses a degree in Food Studies and Nutrition. We’re pretty much in awe of him.
A trained chef who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago, Phil also possesses a degree in Food Science and Nutrition. We’re incredibly thankful to have him!
Q&A with Popcornopolis chef Phil Fox:
What exactly is food science? How is it different from cooking?
Phil Fox: Pretty much everything that one does in a kitchen is science. When you brown a chicken breast, that’s a chemical reaction. For any large food company to do something efficiently so that you have quality control and consistency, you need to know food science.
How do you come up with new flavors?
Phil Fox: We do a lot of talking with consumers … A lot of consumer research to understand which trends are resonating with people… Beyond that, there’s always the intuitive sense of chefs as people who are fanatics about food. We listen to those consumers and pair it with our creative insight to create interesting new products.
Last year, you came out with Red Velvet Popcorn. I couldn’t believe how much it tasted like the cake. What were the challenges of turning such an iconic dessert into popcorn?
Phil Fox: It takes a lot of iterations, a lot of attempts to bring it to life. We know typically with the Red Velvet, you’re using artificial colors, but we didn’t want to do that, so we wound up using a carrot and beet-based color instead of Red [dye] 40, so we were really proud of that flavor, but it really comes down to the chef to test a lot of batches.
What flavor has been the most difficult to create?
Phil Fox: We did a new one that is a Pesto Mozzarella*—it’s really good! So, it’s got to have the basil element—that herby nuance—but you also have to have the parmesan and garlic. It was hard to get those flavors to marry. Initially, we had some struggle with the basil notes coming off too strong or the garlic coming too strong, so it just comes back that iterative process.
Do you have a dream flavor that you would like to create for Popcornopolis?
Phil Fox: I make popcorn at home all the time, and I do one that I call Umami Pop. Umami is that fifth dimension in cooking—a little salty, a little sweet. It’s that savory nuance you get in cheeses and broth and even tomatoes. So at home, I use nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, garlic and black pepper. It’s a really nice flavor profile. It’s my go-to flavor at home.
What’s the coolest part of your job?
Phil Fox: Given it’s a family-owned business, the people are really awesome. It’s really entrepreneurial. But beyond that, to be able to eat popcorn all day is pretty fantastic too!
What’s your favorite Popcornopolis flavor?
I would probably say it’s between Nearly Naked, which is our basic white butterfly [popcorn] and the Lemon Heaven, I love a nice, tangy lemon bar, so...it’s one of my favorites, if I want to go sweet.
* Pesto Mozzarella popcorn will be available for purchase beginning this summer.