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After graduating from Minnesota’s Carleton College and earning a PhD in food science from the University of Wisconsin, Maya Warren became—an ice-cream scientist! Warren has pursued this dream career at SMiZE & Dream. She spoke to TIME for Kids about the sweet life.
You were the head of research and development at SMiZE & Dream. What was that like?
I created ice-cream flavors. I did a lot of computer work. I’d start with a formula on a spreadsheet: “These are the ingredients I have, this is how much milk fat comes from this substance, whether it’s milk fat or cream or whole milk,” and so on.
Then, in a test kitchen, I’d make a mix. It could be a white mix, like a sweet cream, or a chocolate mix. I’d taste it, and I might think, “Okay, this is a beautiful-tasting mix,” or, “You know what? I don’t really like this. I shouldn’t have used this ingredient. Let me start over.” When I got a mix I really loved, I froze it. Then I had actual ice cream.
Did you do this by yourself?
It depends. I traveled a lot, and worked in dairies all around the world. I depended on technicians at these plants in other countries to help me [create large amounts of mix]. I passed on my formulas to them, and they scaled it up. And the next day, we’d come back and flavor it, then turn that liquid mix into the product we know as ice cream.
Were you planning to become an ice-cream scientist when you went to graduate school?
I had no clue where it would take me, but I followed my heart and did something that truly made me happy. I followed my curiosity, too. I thought, “What is going to intrigue me so much mentally that I can do it every day?”
What was your first job in ice cream?
My first job out of graduate school was at Cold Stone Creamery, as the head of research and development on the international side. That took me to places such as India, Taiwan, Brazil, and Egypt.
I would go to other countries and help design dairies so they could start making ice-cream mix and turn it into ice cream, or I would teach existing dairies how to manufacture mix using local ingredients. There were lots of tea flavors in Taiwan and Japan, and flavors ranging from squid ink to wasabi. Creating ice-cream flavors is not just a science. It’s also an art. There are endless possibilities.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.