Local food scientist hits Netflix with ‘Snack vs. Chef’

After releasing a children’s book earlier this year about playing with food, local food scientist Ali Manning took her own advice.

Manning is one of 12 contestants participating in a new Netflix show called “Snack vs. Chef.” In the show, which is being released Wednesday, Nov. 30, the chosen chefs race against the clock — and each other — to recreate classic American snacks and develop new snack concepts of their own.

Hosted by comedians Megan Stalter and Hari Kondabolu, the show promises to join a growing number of light-hearted food competition shows available across streaming networks. With one winner and a prize of $50,000, viewers will watch competitors attempt to imitate iconic snacks such as Hot Cheetos, Pringles, Oreos and more.

Manning shot the show in Connecticut during summer 2021. Over the course of the month-long shoot, she became friends with the other cast members, including one person she already knew.

“My classmate Lauren (Jude) is a part of the show,” Manning said. “She also went to Alabama A&M University. She is also a food scientist, and it is great to have two Black woman food scientists represented. So (this show) is just a really fun time to share our work, share what we do, share our story on this bigger platform.”

Despite the word “chef” appearing in the show’s title, the contest features food-industry experts of all kinds, with food scientists such as Manning, restaurateurs, food developers, editors and more. But Manning says food scientists like herself and classmate Jude are an especially great fit for the show because they understand the chemistry necessary to keep snacks shelf-stable.

“As scientists, we know a lot about preservatives; we know about how food is prepared and produced for large-scale production,” Manning said.

Unlike most food competition shows that solely focus on fresh products, “Snack vs. Chef” allows the competitors to delve into the chemistry and science of snacks, playing with natural and artificial flavors, colors and more.

Manning also noted the diversity among the show’s cast; part of what drew producers Jonty Nash and Christopher Potts to the “snacks as a show” concept was how versatile and accessible snacks are to just about everyone.

“Snacks are a fiercely relatable subject matter; everyone has an opinion on it,” Nash said.

Moreover, everyone assumes that snacks are simple, but that’s not necessarily true.

“There are no real snack-makers,” Potts said.

Snacks are typically mass-produced, using manufacturing rather than people. The producers knew that finding the right contestants — people who would be interested and brave enough to attempt making snacks on TV — would make for an entertaining show.

Nash and Potts, both originally from the United Kingdom, have created a number of unscripted reality shows under their production company, Nobody’s Hero. Those include “Bullsh*t The Game Show” with Howie Mandel on Netflix as well as the forthcoming “Farming is Life” for National Geographic. They are also behind Netflix’s “Nailed It!” and “Sugar Rush.”

Manning said that the production team found her on Instagram. With nearly 5,000 followers, she is a self-titled “food influencer” who uses her platform to talk about food and sustainability, primarily in the Memphis area.

Manning also has her own business, Umami Food Consulting, where she works directly with restaurants and companies to develop food products. She also continues to expand “Food Science 4 Kids,” her in-school program for grade schoolers; her self-published children’s book, “Can I Play With My Food?” released earlier this year.

She says that one of the primary goals of her work is to encourage children and families to explore the world through food.

“Sometimes our children haven’t left their neighborhoods, have not tasted other cuisines from other cultures,” she said. “And so I try to make sure that they have a global perspective of food.”

More than that, she said she believes in giving everyone permission to play with their food, something that is directly in line with “Snack vs. Chef.”

“We’re playing with our food; we’re getting messy; we’re making mistakes,” Manning said. “Some of the greatest lessons come from making mistakes.”

“This was originally published on dailymemphian.com

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